For perfect food and travel photos you can't go wrong if you follow these 15 simple tips shared by professional food photographer, Terri Salminen.
About Terri Salminen
Terri was born in the United States and moved to Italy when she was three years old. She spent her growing up years in Italy, mostly in the Veneto region as well as a few years in Naples.
Although Terri now lives in Amsterdam she still feels strongly rooted and tied to Italy.
Terri is a self-taught award-winning food photographer. As a young woman she started off with an analog camera, and about 15 years ago she picked up photography again as a way to capture her food experiences. Now Terri is a professional food photographer and uses a Fuji-film XPro 2 mirrorless camera.
Terri is a very visual person and photography gives her a way to express her vision of food, her primary passion in life.
Find Terri on Instagram and her website.
How to take great food and travel photos
Food and travel photo Tip #1: Practice & Patience
Becoming a good food photographer requires lots of practice and patience. The goal is to reach the point where your food experience and what your eye sees comes across in your photographs. Take photos, with either your camera or phone, look at your pictures and see how closely they represent what you are seeing with your eyes and want to convey.
Pay attention to every detail - light source, distance from the food, plating, background - and modify these elements bit by bit until your photo accurately portrays your food experience.
Food and travel photo Tip #2: Optimise your position vis-a-vis the object, and the object's position to the light source
As you take your food (and travel) photos and go through the process of trial and error look at your position to the food and then the food’s position to the light source.
A popular approach is to take top down or flat lay photos with the camera positioned directly above the plate looking down at the food. If the light source is coming from behind the plate it can be too intense and create heavy shadows and you won’t see the food's details.
In addition your arm or camera can create unwanted shadows.
Instead, try to take photos vertically or horizontally. This will change the light fall and often improve your photo's appearance.
Take a step back. Sometimes taking a photo too close up is a mistake. Your food photograph, just like your experience, needs space for people to understand what is going on.
The closer the object is to your camera lens the larger it will look so you may find some distortion in your photograph, for example a fork may look way too large.
Food and travel photo Tip #3: Take lots of photos!
Many photographers say it's best to take as few photographs as possible but Terri's view is why do that? If you have a digital camera take advantage of the fact that you can take as many photos as you want until you get the photo you have in mind.
Move around and capture your photos from different angles so that the light source hits the food differently and creates different effects. Take your food photos at varying times of day when the light is different. You might see that at 5pm the light is more blue, or it creates a shadow that you like better than midday light.
Try positioning yourself close to the food, and then move away and distance yourself from the food.
Food and travel photo Tip #4: Look through the camera lens not at the object.
When you look through the camera lens you see just the object(s) that the camera sees.
Food and travel photo Tip #5: Use a tripod (when possible)
A tripod will eliminate camera shake and consequently out of focus photos.
Food and travel photo Tip #6: Shoot photos in natural light only (when possible)
This is especially important with food as natural light produces food photos with optimal and natural color.
In addition, elements in your composition can cast their own light on the food you're photographing. For example an orange tablecloth will cast an orange hue on your food. The clothes you're wearing can also cast a color shadow on your food, almost like a color film on your photo.
Anything dark like a black shirt or a black tablecloth will absorb some light. That may be desirable but it’s something to take into consideration.
Automatic versus manual camera settings
Automatic photographs are simple; the camera makes all of the setting decisions for you. What you lose when you shoot automatic is control over your photo both at the time you take the photograph and during post processing.
A great way to transition from automatic to manual is to study the photo settings in automatic. When you take automatic photographs study the camera settings as a way to transition into manual. You'll begin to see that with automatic your camera chooses different aperture and shutter speed settings for different photos and light situations.
Food and travel photo Tip #7: Move into manual photography step-by-step.
Start by modifying just one element in your manual settings: the aperture or f-stop is a good place to start. When you adjust the aperture settings it determines what part of your photo is in focus. The food element, or main object, in your photo might be in focus and the rest of the photo blurred, or alternatively with a different aperture setting everything will be in focus.
Next, begin to experiment with the shutter speed. Depending on the shutter speed you select the photos you take can freeze movement, or give a sense of continual movement. Two examples might be a waterfall or a driving car. Adjusting shutter speed can freeze movement or alternatively provide a sense of continual movement.
Once you get the hang of it you can play around with your aperture and shutter speed settings together to optimize these two elements within your photo.
Lastly you can adjust the ISO or the light sensitivity: generally the lower it is the better. The higher the ISO is the more light it will add to your photo, but a high ISO setting can also lower the quality or clarity of your photo. Great lighting setup is key to this tomatoes photo:
Food and travel photo Tip #8: Underexpose your photos ever so slightly (aperture).
It’s much easier to get photo detail back during post processing with an underexposed photo than with an overexposed photo.
Exceptions are when you are in a low light situation like a wine cellar, at night or in a dark venue like a restaurant. Then artificial light is usually necessary.
Food and travel photo Tip #9: Make a photo set list.
Make a sketch and a photo set list of what you want to show and what you want to visualize in your photo.
Take the time to prepare, as if you were doing a photo shoot. Obviously this might not apply if you are out and about traveling and taking spontaneous photos.
Food and travel photo Tip #10: Don’t feel guilty about post processing
Photo editing is part of the creative process in photography. Just like fashion it's a way for you to create and express your personality.
Look at where your light sources is. Can you pick up your plate and move to a window? If there's no window available take the photo with artificial light. You can always remedy poor light situations with photo editing software.
Also, you might not be satisfied with your photo when you first look at it but often with some passage of time you see that it’s better than what you first imagined. A bit of post processing might be all you need.
Food and travel photo Tip #11: Take photos of your surroundings when you travel.
Be spontaneous but be observant. Take photos of the waiters and the busy restaurant and people sitting nearby, the terrace or the movement; it gives context to your food photo. Your food photograph, just like your experience, needs space for people to understand what was going on.
Take a look at your photos and make sure they've captured what you wanted to photograph and especially make sure you haven’t included something distracting and extraneous within the photo.
If you’re photographing street food turn in a circle to see which light is best, and take the photograph at arm's length so you have more background and context to the photo.
Food and travel photo Tip #12: Glass-front store windows, bars and restaurant photos
This can be complicated because of the shadows and reflections the window creates. Move around and make sure that your reflection isn’t captured in the photo.
Straight on will give you lots of reflection so move around to find a better angle.
Move back or across the street; this can give you a better photo with more context to the storefront or restaurant venue you are photographing.
Food and travel photo Tip #13: Don't compare yourself to other photographers!
What will attract people to your photos is your personal story. Develop your own style and follow your own path. Look at photos in cookbooks and magazines, and on social media, that you love and without comparing yourself to that food photographer use the photo as an exercise. Ask yourself what it is about the photo that you love? Can you emulate it and use it as an exercise to improve your skills?
What can you read and find online to improve your food and travel photography skills?
Food and travel photo Tip #14: Read your camera manual!
Read your camera manual start to finish, and if you take photos with your smart phone read about its photography capabilities and how to use it.
Go online to find lessons for your camera or smart phone model, and seek out YouTube videos.
If you are using editing software like Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop take as many tutorials as you can. Again, your camera doesn’t capture your experience perfectly and editing software is a way to bring the photo close to your experience, and your eye’s experience, as possible.
Check out digital editing software programs like Snapseed and Foodie, or use your native smart phone editing software, especially the iPhone and iPad software.
Play around with your phone's different settings for light, brilliance, contrast, black point (which means how dark are your shadows), saturation, vibrance, warmth and color tint. Avoid delving into filters that will give your photo an altered, unnatural look. Instead go to the tint, and then the warmth, iPhone settings. Then look at your exposure, and finally shadows and highlights.
A great photography book is How to Photograph Food by Beata Lubas
Joanie Simon from the Bite Shot offers fabulous YouTube photography videos.
Check out the Pink Lady Food Photography annual competition. On their website you’ll discover many wonderful food photographers who aren’t necessarily the mainstream photographers you might already be familiar with.
Easy-to-pack, top quality travel camera for perfect food & travel photography
Food and travel photo Tip #15: The top camera choice for traveling
I like the idea of having a wonderful camera with extra lenses at my disposition when I travel but honestly if you like to travel light skip your camera and all the extra lenses and photography equipment. Instead choose an easy-to-pack, lightweight top of the line compact mirrorless camera like this Canon PowerShot Digital Camera [G7 X Mark II] . It's my go-to camera when I'm out and about and on the road traveling. I love it because it slips into my purse and takes up next to no space in my carryon suitcase. And it goes without saying that it takes amazing photographs!
If you prefer to stick with your smart phone camera then make sure it's a good one. I'm partial to the iPhone and you don't necessarily have to choose the latest, most expensive model. I love my iPhone X; it takes fabulous photographs and the price is super affordable.
Interested in a food & photography trip to Italy?
Check out this trip to Italy for a fabulous Italian food & photography experience with Flavor of Italy and expert food photographers.
And how about this weeklong trip to Puglia?
Or any of these Day Trips from Rome so you can experience more than the Eternal City.
I make a small commission on purchases made through links on my website. Prices are identical for you, but purchasing through my links helps support my work to bring you great recipes, podcast episodes, culinary and travel information.