Travel Photography Subjects: Food Preparation - Digital Photography School

Travel Photography Subjects: Food Preparation

Morning Porridge Going hand in hand with the previous Travel Photography Subject: Food, is what goes on behind the scenes. Some will consider food and food preparation one and the same and photograph them as such. But I have often found the ceremony, skill, art and heart that goes into creating the meal deserves its own category.

While food photography on the road may be fairly easy (it’s placed right in front of your or you grab it from a cart, after all) shooting food preparation is going to take a little more tenacity.  You’re going to have to get behind the scenes and often through kitchen doors to get the low down on where your food comes from.  For the most part, previous techniques of smiling and asking politely are a great place to start. If it’s a food cart out in the street or a market where everything is in the open, it’s always appreciated if you sample the fare first.  I won’t discourage you from simply walking around and shooting, but I have found I get a better response when I’ve stopped and made a purchase, shared a smile and show genuine interest in what’s being cooked.

Restaurants can be a different nut to crack.  In more developed countries, with their strict rules and health concerns, getting into the kitchen can take some work.  A good first step is, after enjoying a wonderful meal, ask to meet the chef.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If the chef is busy, they are busy.  But sometimes they will come out to talk shop.  Everyone has an ego and many of us enjoy hearing compliments about our work, especially if we pour ourselves into it.  If you’re a good conversationalist, you may be allowed to sneak a peek in the kitchen.  In third world countries there will be less barrier between the kitchen and the eating area and it may only require simply asking your waitperson if a photo is ok.

Another great way to get a feel for food preparation is to go couchsurfing.  Couchsurfing is the act of staying in someone’s home, either on a couch or spare bed, while on your travels.  I had great luck with the site couchsurfing.org (there are others out there as well) on a recent trip to Morocco.  While I don’t have a lot of photographs inside the home, I was welcome in the kitchen to watch the mother of the house prepare a tremendous, delicious couscous dish.  This wasn’t some cookbook method, it was simply the way she made it for her family week after week and it was a pleasure to be involved.  Cooked on a two burner camping stove with multiple washings and steamings and other techniques I don’t use, it was a delight to behold and I do have a few quick snapshots of the mother in action.

Chances are, if you’re not out in the hot sun of an open-air market, things are going to be dim.  Resist the urge to use your flash.  In the end you may need to, but cooking is an active, lively event, so let a little blur into your pictures (blur of motion that is, not blur of everything).  Practice at home with higher ISOs to see what is tolerable for you.  I’ve found great luck at times with ISOs as high as 6400 and used the grain in the image to an effect.   Be careful of getting in the way of the food preparation if you’re in small spaces.  Before your step in, observe the flow and understand what’s really going on in the cooking space.  Watch out for all the hot stuff, obviously, and slow your shutter to around 1/15th of a second to experiment with capturing better looking flames from a burner or direct fire.  Focus on faces and the action.  When people are really focused on meal preparation their faces will reflect the concentration and add emotion to the shot.  Cover the mechanics, but don’t forget to bring some emotion (smiles, frowns, curses, sweat, etc…) into the frame.

I’d like to see what you’ve managed to shoot while on your travels.  Share a photo or five of Food Preparation in the comments section below.

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Previous articles in the Travel Photography Subjects series include Water, Old People, Young People, Religion, Sports, Socializing, Icons, Rich, Poor, Transportation, Economy and Food. These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and highlight thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.  Be sure to subscribe to this site to receive the other nine subjects as they are posted!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer who now is spending a large amount of time going back through 6 years of travel photo and processing them like he should have to start with. He is also helping others learn about photography with the free series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • http://www.cgnservices.co.uk Chris

    Capturing preparation shots I thought was not going to be easy, but as mentioned in the article, if you do not ask you do not get. This is the Opera Restaurant in Chicago. It was an open kitchen so easy to work around, but I asked the waitress to ask the chef if I could grab some shots and the response was yes and the chef even went to change from dirty whites to her best blacks! I was lucky as the restaurant was not busy, but I will definitely be asking again when I get chance

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/a06987/4005279539/in/set-72157622566509436/

  • http://prolificeye.blogspot.com/ Connie M.

    Thanks for your site and sharing your expertise. Your articles are always encouraging and insightful.

  • Scott

    Interesting subject, I’ve never quite built up the nerve to ask for access to the kitchen but we always try to capture a photo of the more enjoyable restaurants.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4760031081/

  • http://biswajitdey.com Biswajit Dey Photoblog

    Travel photography is always a favorite subject of mine…but I never though of food prpearation as subject….nice thought!!

    Hope you like my photos too… :)

  • http://www.davehodgkinson.com/ Dave Hodgkinson

    Street food is always a good start!

    This young lady got prints the next time we went back. And we got free corn :)

  • http://www.davehodgkinson.com/ Dave Hodgkinson

    OK, that didn’t work. This should be a link at least:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/davehodg/4603333097/

  • Gary Davies

    I travelled as far as my brother’s house to sample this fine fayre…

    url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/' title='Baptism by Fire!' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/4954039782_cba11c1880.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/]Baptism by Fire![/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/gsdavies/]gs.davies[/url], on Flickr

  • Gary Davies

    I travelled as far as my brothers house to sample this fine fayre…

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/' title='Baptism by Fire!' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/4954039782_cba11c1880.jpg']

  • http://www.belleariel.blogspot.com bellearielparis

  • http://www.belleariel.blogspot.com bellearielparis

    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellearielparis/1429239159/][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellearielparis/1429239159/' title='India RSCN0307-1' url='http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1006/1429239159_3557ad21fd.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellearielparis/1429239159/]India RSCN0307-1[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/bellearielparis/]bellearielparis[/url], on Flickr

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixeltopia/ Jeff T

    While technically not IN a restaurant, this entrepreneur set up shop on the sidewalk in Mashiko, Japan

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixeltopia/4174453323/in/set-72157622849249283/

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/maffafesea/ maffafesea

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/maffafesea/4954095508/' title='ikan panggang' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4105/4954095508_4b822460c4.jpg']

  • Gary Davies

    I travelled to my brother’s house for some of these..

    GD

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/' title='Baptism by Fire!' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/4954039782_cba11c1880.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/]Baptism by Fire![/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/gsdavies/]gs.davies[/url], on Flickr
    [/img]

  • Gary Davies

    I travelled to my brothers for some of these…

    GD

    http://flic.kr/p/8xLKr1

  • Carolyn

    Question, and please forgive me if it’s a dumb one.

    What about releases (model?)? I’m working on learning my camera for my retirement job (traveling, selling the pictures I take as stock photos, etc.). If you are in the kitchen and take a picture of the chef, with the intention of selling it, how do you break out the release and ask for a signature?

    Thanks!!

  • Caroline

    Aren’t you supposed to avoid eating street food, though? I’ve gotten food poisoning while traveling, and believe me, it’s not worth getting a good picture for.

Some older comments

  • Caroline

    September 4, 2010 05:34 am

    Aren't you supposed to avoid eating street food, though? I've gotten food poisoning while traveling, and believe me, it's not worth getting a good picture for.

  • Carolyn

    September 4, 2010 03:33 am

    Question, and please forgive me if it's a dumb one.

    What about releases (model?)? I'm working on learning my camera for my retirement job (traveling, selling the pictures I take as stock photos, etc.). If you are in the kitchen and take a picture of the chef, with the intention of selling it, how do you break out the release and ask for a signature?

    Thanks!!

  • Gary Davies

    September 4, 2010 12:56 am

    I travelled to my brothers for some of these...

    GD

    http://flic.kr/p/8xLKr1

  • Gary Davies

    September 4, 2010 12:54 am

    I travelled to my brother's house for some of these..

    GD

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/' title='Baptism by Fire!' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/4954039782_cba11c1880.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/]Baptism by Fire![/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/gsdavies/]gs.davies[/url], on Flickr
    [/img]

  • maffafesea

    September 4, 2010 12:39 am

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/maffafesea/4954095508/' title='ikan panggang' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4105/4954095508_4b822460c4.jpg']

  • Jeff T

    September 4, 2010 12:25 am

    While technically not IN a restaurant, this entrepreneur set up shop on the sidewalk in Mashiko, Japan

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixeltopia/4174453323/in/set-72157622849249283/

  • bellearielparis

    September 3, 2010 10:37 pm

    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellearielparis/1429239159/][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellearielparis/1429239159/' title='India RSCN0307-1' url='http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1006/1429239159_3557ad21fd.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellearielparis/1429239159/]India RSCN0307-1[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/bellearielparis/]bellearielparis[/url], on Flickr

  • bellearielparis

    September 3, 2010 10:31 pm

  • Gary Davies

    September 3, 2010 09:38 pm

    I travelled as far as my brothers house to sample this fine fayre...

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/' title='Baptism by Fire!' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/4954039782_cba11c1880.jpg']

  • Gary Davies

    September 3, 2010 09:34 pm

    I travelled as far as my brother's house to sample this fine fayre...

    url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/' title='Baptism by Fire!' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/4954039782_cba11c1880.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsdavies/4954039782/]Baptism by Fire![/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/gsdavies/]gs.davies[/url], on Flickr

  • Dave Hodgkinson

    September 3, 2010 08:08 pm

    OK, that didn't work. This should be a link at least:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/davehodg/4603333097/

  • Dave Hodgkinson

    September 3, 2010 08:06 pm

    Street food is always a good start!

    This young lady got prints the next time we went back. And we got free corn :)

  • Biswajit Dey Photoblog

    September 3, 2010 04:11 pm

    Travel photography is always a favorite subject of mine...but I never though of food prpearation as subject....nice thought!!

    Hope you like my photos too... :)

  • Scott

    September 3, 2010 03:52 pm

    Interesting subject, I've never quite built up the nerve to ask for access to the kitchen but we always try to capture a photo of the more enjoyable restaurants.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4760031081/

  • Connie M.

    September 3, 2010 07:25 am

    Thanks for your site and sharing your expertise. Your articles are always encouraging and insightful.

  • Chris

    September 3, 2010 06:22 am

    Capturing preparation shots I thought was not going to be easy, but as mentioned in the article, if you do not ask you do not get. This is the Opera Restaurant in Chicago. It was an open kitchen so easy to work around, but I asked the waitress to ask the chef if I could grab some shots and the response was yes and the chef even went to change from dirty whites to her best blacks! I was lucky as the restaurant was not busy, but I will definitely be asking again when I get chance

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/a06987/4005279539/in/set-72157622566509436/

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