Editor’s Note: Hello everyone….with Food and Wine just around the corner, Ben Hendel is back on the blog with a post about food photography while you’re sampling the fine cuisine around World Showcase……
The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival has started! And with it comes lots of fun food and drinks to enjoy, and share with your friends and family… even if they’re not with you at EPCOT! How is it shared? Why, pictures of course!
It doesn’t matter if you’re sending pictures messages, Snapchatting, posting to Twitter or Instagram, or have a Facebook album for all your noshing; you’re taking lots of pictures of your food and drinks. So it seems timely to talk about taking pictures of food and beverages. While these photos are taken on a DSLR, do not let that scare you away from using your phone. Most of the principals I’ll go over do apply to any camera, and I’ll be sure to point that out where I can. Learning some of the more “manual” controls of your cameraphone before heading out will give you a distinct advantage in making your food look its best! This article will not limit itself to Food and Wine, however; it will also go over documenting fancier meals you may enjoy, from Disney Cruise Line’s Remy to the Grand Floridian’s legendary AAA Four-Diamond rated Victoria & Albert’s.
First, I’d like to talk about setting a scene. Just because you’re taking pictures of food on a plate doesn’t mean you can’t continue to tell a story. And there are a variety of ways to tell that story, not all of which apply to every situation. Firstly, a good background goes a long way to telling your story. While a trash can makes a great substitute for a table on a busy EPCOT weekend, do you want all of your pictures to have a lot of brown as the foreground? Do you mind the rivets or stamping where the pieces of metal meet? This is not to say that that trash can will ruin a picture, but think about what’s in the background of the shot as well. Take, for instance, this shot of the escargot croissant from the France Pavilion. While I would have loved to have a picture with the Eiffel Tower in the background, angles and places to put my food down didn’t allow for that.
Instead, I chose a background that included France’s water feature and the recognizable water fountains. One lucky benefit of this was that droplets of water coming off the fountain reflected the sun nicely, and provided me with some interesting bokehs for my shot! I do regret, however, not cleaning my plate better and removing the errant piece of croissant. I find it super distracting, and you should too now that I pointed it out. Learn from my mistake, and make sure your food looks the way you want it before you take the picture. Whether that’s cleaning the plate, or perhaps accessorizing your food, it all will make your pictures better. How much more interesting is this sushi picture, when the shot includes not only the sushi, but common sushi “accessories” like chopsticks and soy sauce?
Here, I spent time and thought about the layout of the Japan Pavilion, about a suitable background, and realized I could include the booth itself if I went to the landing halfway up the stairs to Tokyo Dining. Not only did the booth now feature into the picture, but so did the crowds, and the beautiful sand-and-bonsai garden. And these pictures were not taken with incredibly shallow depths of field. Both pictures were taken with my general walkabout lens, an old Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8, right in the lens’ sharpness-sweet-spot of f/5.6, though I have another version of the sushi picture that was taken at f/11 that looks fantastic too. How do you get such depth of field on a cell phone? Use selective focusing, usually activated by tapping on your subject on your phone’s screen.
Sometimes, you don’t have the luxury of choosing your background, or having great natural lighting, to make sure your shots shine. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to enjoy a dinner at the fancier Disney restaurants, on land or at sea, where dishes are carefully constructed, like art. Once-in-a-lifetime meals scream to be documented. However, the ambiance isn’t always conducive to photography. The lighting is often dim very dim, quarters are often close, and you certainly can’t set up a tripod to nail your focus and enjoy long shutter speeds. You’ll be fighting to get a good shot, to get an interesting framing. But it can be done.
First off, you’ll want to equip yourself with fast, short (but not necessarily wide) glass. I don’t own any primes, but if you do, especially in the f/1.4 to f/1.8 range, you’ll want to bring them. This is like shooting any nighttime parade; you’re trying to get a sharp image in tough lighting conditions. A good, budget lens for this type of work is a photography’s trusty 50mm f/1.8 prime. Because of the light conditions, you’re going to be working with a narrow depth of field, whether you like it or not. When fighting low light, your aperture is your first line of defense. You will also want to shoot either in shutter priority or in full manual mode. Being able to set your shutter speed is critical for sharp images. Use the aperture to set your depth of field, keeping in mind that shallow is not necessarily a bad thing, and use ISO to expose the image properly.
Because you’re likely working with shallow depth of field, make sure you pick the right subject for your dish. In the above photo, I made sure the picture focused on the octopus, and not the broth it was in. That dish, beyond behind delicious, was beautifully photogenic as well. The orange broth pops against the white bowl, and the greens (both the green ones and red ones) provided excellent contrast as well. Additionally, the bowl is textured too, and I love the way that it starts out of focus and then falls into it, before going back out of focus at the back. I didn’t have the luxury of time, because you can see there’s a bread plate hanging out in the background. Would I like it gone? Yeah, I would. But at the same time, I didn’t want to hold up dinner. It’s a fine line between documenting a meal, and being a nuisance.
Don’t just focus on food, as well. There are so many details at a meal that people may miss. One of our bread courses at Victoria & Albert’s had butter hand-carved off of an all-butter sculpture of a chef’s toque. Because it was hand carved, it formed the most beautiful ribbon curl, and the inside of that curl had a wavy texture to it. I had to take a picture!
But it might not be butter that catches your eye. Both Victoria & Albert’s and Remy have stunning plates, literal plates, that greet you as you sit down at your table. They’re not used for food, just as a billboard to welcome you to dinner. Artist’s Palate on every Disney Cruise Line ship has bespoke butter knives that can’t be missed!
Editor’s Note: The food looks delicious Ben! Great job on the article.