Top food photography tips from award winning photographers
June 30, 2022
As Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year enters its second decade, Tracy Calder asks 12 successful entrants to share their secrets – while offering tips of her own on how to make the grade
Celebrating the art of food photography and film, Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year is entering its second decade. Open to all, this prestigious contest never fails to show how food can help to build and sustain communities, provide sustenance, and encourage greater connection to Earth’s natural resources.
This year, Debdatta Chakraborty won the overall title with his picture of a street vendor in an alleyway in Srinagar, Kashmir. ‘There is so much to reassure us here,’ says Caroline Kenyon, director/founder of FPOTY. ‘The beautifully captured billowing embrace of the smoke, the golden light, the subject’s expression as he prepares the food for sharing. This image, gentle but powerful, nourishes the soul.’
The hospitality industry has taken a huge hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so it’s great to see images celebrating weddings and restaurant dining. Even more moving, however, are the pictures of extended families gathering around dining tables, communities enjoying celebratory feasts and street vendors preparing their unique food for marketgoers. It’s a reminder of what we’ve all been missing.
To see the winners, finalists and commended entries from Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2022, visit pinkladyfoodphotographeroftheyear.com. An exhibition of this year’s finalists will be held at The Royal Photographic Society in Bristol from 20 November to 12 December 2022.
Kebabiyana by Debdatta Chakraborty
Overall Winner and 1st Place – Street Food
Occupation: Superintendent at the High Court in Calcutta
Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 lens, 1/100sec at f/8, ISO 450. Nikon SB-700 flash unit
‘Khayyam Chowk is an alleyway in Srinagar, Kashmir, which is no different from other streets during the daytime. However, in the evening, charcoal ovens are lit up by vendors and the aroma and smoke of wazwan kebabs turn the street into a food-lovers’ paradise. I’ve been to Srinagar many times before, but this was my first visit to Khayyam Chowk. I didn’t turn up with any preconceived ideas, but I’d read about the food joints in the area, so I knew there would be plenty of opportunities for pictures.
Including smoke in the picture was always going to be tricky – especially as I was shooting outside. Smoke adds plenty of atmosphere to an image, but there’s no way of controlling it and it’s hard to predict. To enhance the smoke, I mixed ambient light with a burst from a camera-mounted speedlight. I asked for permission from the vendor before I started shooting and he helped me a lot, but I still needed to be patient. In the end, watching and waiting really paid off. I think what makes this picture is the atmosphere, the orange and teal colour grading and the sparks.’
Top tips from Debdatta Chakraborty:
- Patience is key for this type of picture. Outside you have no control over smoke, so you have to wait and observe what’s happening.
- Be bold enough to mix ambient light and flash.
- A shot like this takes time, so seek permission and explain to your subject what you’re trying to achieve.
Medusa by Emma Dunham
2nd Place – Fujifilm Award for Innovation
Occupation: Professional photographer
www.emmadunham.co.uk, Instagram: @emmadunham.foodphotography
Nikon D810, 50mm lens, 1/200sec at f/13, ISO 200. Tripod with bracket arm, Elinchrom D-Lite 250 with Elinchrom Rotalux Octabox softbox.
‘The idea for Medusa was in my head for a while before I worked out the details. I knew I wanted to use spring onions and leeks in the shot, but Zoe Tiley (my theatrical make-up artist) suggested using Romanesco broccoli to cover the model’s hair at the front.
I had one meeting with Zoe before the shoot and then we messaged each other with ideas. We knew the shot had to be a flat lay, because we wanted the ‘snakes’ to stay in the model’s hair. We lay her down, pinned the vegetables in place with grips, and twisted the vegetables to make them more snake-like (then used Liquify in Photoshop).
I shot the black-eyed peas separately and added them later. The model was lit from above with one light and a softbox. I wanted the brightest area to be her face with the light falling off as it reached the outer snakes.’
Top tips from Emma Dunham:
- Plan well in advance.
- Find a model that suits the creative idea you have in mind.
- Identify what you want to see on looking through the camera.
Putting on The Ritz by John Carey
1st Place – Food at the Table
Occupation: Professional photographer
www.john-carey.com, Instagram: @johncareyphoto
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM lens, 1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1000. Bowens flash head with softbox.
‘Having shot The Ritz cookbook, I was familiar with the restaurant and it’s ‘Arts de la Table’ table-side theatre when I was commissioned by the PR department to take this picture. Having a good idea of what I wanted, and how to get it, helped me to manage the time issue, as we had to shoot between lunch and dinner service – we only had about 20 minutes to set up and 20 minutes to shoot.
It was tricky to balance the exposure, juggling my lighting with the light from the flame. We carried out one or two tests of the flame to see how much light it threw off. I think the sense of controlled theatre/drama and the sense of tradition – the room, uniforms, equipment – make the picture. The professionalism of the restaurant manager and head chef shows. The warmth of the flame and the warmth of the gold statue and wall lights create the ambience.’
Top tips from John Carey:
- Think of the whole frame, every detail.
- Don’t over-direct – get your subjects to do what they do naturally and comfortably. Respect their roles and their craft.
- Manage where the reflections are and where the light hits as much as possible.
Gathering Prunings on Corton Hill by Jon Wyand
1st Place – Errazuriz Wine Photographer of the Year – People
Occupation: Professional photographer
Nikon D700, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, 1/250 sec at f/14, ISO 1600
‘I was shooting at Corton Hill, Burgundy, for my own photo book – the idea was to spend a week a month there for 13 months. Here, I wanted to capture the work of pruning in the vineyard on a bright, cold December morning. I was chasing authenticity. This winter job can be repetitive, so you get the chance to see what works without interrupting the action.
The greatest challenge is finding your own viewpoint – not just for each shot, but how you think about it all. Shooting low to the ground often results in muddy knees, but it gives you a fresh perspective and a better idea of what it’s like to work with a bent back! It’s important to observe and anticipate. It’s also a good idea to send your subjects a picture after the shoot. With digital you can experiment; one thing I learnt on this shoot was to play with shutter speeds. After all these years I tend to work automatically but am still learning to break the rules!’
Top tips from Jon Wyand:
- Learn about your subject. If you get a chance, reshoot the pictures you took on your first visit as by then you will have learnt a lot, and the locals will understand you better too.
- Get in close and try a low viewpoint. Shooting low adds emphasis and provides a fresh viewpoint.
- Be humble and show respect for everyone. Get involved. Don’t gossip!
Food After Work by Faisal Azim
1st Place – World Food Programme Food for Life
Occupation: Professional photographer
Sony Alpha 7 III, Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4, 1/8000 sec at f/2, ISO 320
‘I’ve taken pictures at a few brick fields in Bangladesh – it’s one of a number of photo projects I’m working on. This image shows workers at a brick field in Dhamrai, Dhakar during winter. It’s an unhealthy environment, regardless of the time of year. The workers get a short break to eat food brought in from home before they start work again.
On the first day I visited it was foggy and the whole place was just dusty and dark. But I decided to go back early the next morning – the sun was just breaking through and after shooting for maybe 15 minutes I got this frame. The environment, timing and the story behind the image make this a memorable picture.’
Top tips from Faisal Azim:
- Spend plenty of time observing what’s going on around you.
- Be patient.
- Find the story in the scene.
Market Days by Juan C Arias T
3rd Place – Unearthed® Food For Sale
Occupation: Civil engineer specialising in the conservation of historical buildings
Canon EOS RP, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM, 1/200 sec at f/10, ISO 640
‘This market in Guimaraes, Portugal, is held once a week. I regularly buy food there and I even taught myself how to take pictures while carrying the grocery bags! My camera is set up so I only have to adjust the aperture depending on the light. On this day, the light filtering through the window only lasted a few minutes. But the most challenging part was remaining unnoticed long enough to get the shot; if the lady had seen me, the naturalness of her posture would have changed. It’s an everyday scene celebrated as something special and unique.’
Top tips from Juan C. Arias T:
- Take your time and follow the light. Enjoy the moment. Don’t get overwhelmed by Instagram!
Silver Sardines by Kasia Faber
3rd Place – One Vision Imaging Cream of the Crop
Occupation: Part-time photographer and IT Architect
Nikon Z 6, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, 1/60 sec at f/6.3, ISO 125. Strobe light with conical snoot and honeycomb grids, black cards.
‘To create this picture, I had to think about the composition, the effect I wanted, the light, the background and props to help me to achieve the monochromatic style. I wanted to concentrate light in a small area and highlight the sardines’ scales. It was bright outside so the main challenge was controlling the light. Also, in a dark scene you need to be conscious of where the focus is and how narrow or wide the depth of field should be. In my home studio there’s a skylight, so I used black cards to block the light.
I used a tethering cable so I could see the results immediately on my laptop and make any adjustments. It’s a good idea to check the effect of your work on a large screen as images are captured. People often describe my dark moody pictures as spiritual or mystical. The light and composition combined with the subject seems to generate an emotional response.’
Top tips from Kasia Faber:
- Study light. Think about natural light’s intensity, direction and temperature, then learn to replicate natural light with artificial sources.
- Learn to use the manual settings.
- Have fun, shoot lots of frames; think about how you want the viewer of your picture to feel.
Happy Birthday by Karolina Krasuska
3rd Place – Champagne Taittinger Food for Celebration
Occupation: Professional event, brand and lifestyle photographer
www.karolinakrasuska.com, Instagram: @karolinakrasuskaphoto
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, 1/180 sec at f/5, ISO 3200
‘You know you’re onto a winner when you have local legend Bob Dockerty as your model, seen here celebrating 35 years of the microbrewery he founded in Chiddingstone, Kent. This image is part of a personal project documenting Larkins Brewery, while also highlighting the rich brewing traditions of the region. Their award-winning real ales are a hit with locals, as they grow all their own hops on their farm. Bob’s charisma and energy are palpable here as he blows out the candles.
To prepare for the shoot, I made a cake and grabbed some balloons! I moved in close and used the lens at 24mm, which gives the picture an intimate and dynamic feel. The wide shot also showcases the entire setting, which adds to the story without detracting from the subject. It was a sunny autumn day with light streaming through a window to the right. This created a dramatic high-contrast effect with natural side light illuminating Bob’s hair. I shot in raw to ensure the shadows could be brought out in post. A high ISO and shutter speed ensured the image was in focus while capturing this impromptu moment.’
Top tips from Karolina Krasuska:
- Be part of the moment.
- Keep things natural and not too staged.
- Work quickly to capture fleeting moments.
Pasta and Fake Curls by Remko Kraaijeveld
3rd Place – Food for the Family
Occupation: Professional food photographer
Ricoh GR II, 28mm lens, 1/160 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200
‘Our children were eating dinner and when I saw my daughter really diving into the pasta, I grabbed my camera and took a shot. As adults we often eat with our eyes and not with our stomachs. Children are still very much in touch with their stomachs, so my advice would be to eat like a child! It’s an authentic photo – she’s clearly enjoying her meal, and people can really relate to that.
To catch a picture like this you need to have your camera by your side and act quickly. I was using my beloved Ricoh GR II with built-in flash. I’ve made a personal custom setting where I combine daylight and flash to get a specific look. This shot features in our family cookbook Insane, written by my wife Vanja van der Leeden.’
Top tips from Remko Kraaijeveld:
- Play with the balance between daylight and flash til you find your sweet spot. I tend to use a bit more flash than daylight.
- Keep your eyes open for the right moment. Spontaneity rules!
- You can only achieve this kind of look by using flash close to the camera (or the built-in flash).
Sharing your Breakfast at Giraffe Manor Kenya by Georgia Glynn-Smith
Highly Commended – Food at the Table
Occupation: Professional photographer/director and content producer
www.glynnsmith.co.uk, Instagram @ggsmith
Canon EOS 5DS, EF 24-105mm lens, 1/80 sec at f/5, ISO 640
‘This was commissioned by Liz Earle Wellbeing. We only had the room a short time and there were other hotel guests so I had to try to be unobtrusive. I was working alone and it was hard to get enough light. I placed a Lastolite on a table to throw light on Liz’s face. The giraffes only arrive for a short time. And they are messy when eating! I was calling out instructions to Liz. I cloned out the debris the giraffe left on the table and floor so it looks like a magical moment.’
Top tips from Georgia Glynn-Smith:
- If you get a chance to go to Giraffe Manor, take it! Use a fast lens and a shutter speed as fast you can manage without things getting too grainy. A tripod is essential.
So Near and Yet So far by Daisy May
2nd Place – Pink Lady® Apple a Day
Occupation: Sustainability & NPD Manager
www.daisymaydefined.smugmug.com, Instagram @daisymaydefined
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 Art, 1/200 sec at f/10, ISO 100. Manfrotto tripod, two Godox softboxes, 2 Godox TT685 Speedlights.
‘My two Clumber Spaniels, Bramble and Woody, love to keep watch over everything that goes on in our kitchen, so I didn’t have to do much planning to get this shot! Obviously, I set up the lighting (two speedlights diffused with softboxes) and stood behind the apples to make the dogs look my way. Apart from that, it all happened relatively naturally.
I guess the biggest challenge was removing all the scuff marks on the wall to give the image a clean, sharp look – thank goodness for Photoshop! I was over the moon to get eight images shortlisted, and wowed when three of them reached Finalist level. To be awarded 2nd place in the Pink Lady® Apple a Day category was the icing (and cherry) on the cake. I think as a nation we are dog lovers, so this was a relatable scene, which goes some way to explain its appeal.’
Top tips from Daisy May:
- Be creative.
- Be patient.
- Work the lighting to suit the scene.
Agricultural Art by Paola Crocetta
1st Place – Food in the Field
Occupation: Professional photographer
www.greenfly.it, Instagram: @green_fly_images
DJI Mavic Pro drone, 24mm lens, 1/320 sec at f/2, ISO 100
‘Sometimes the best things happen by accident. There had been heavy snowfall and I wanted to get some shots of my home country (Italy) covered in a lovely white blanket. The drone had been in the air for a few minutes when I noticed the geometric shapes made by the trees. It took a while to find a composition that showed the formalism and cleanliness I was looking for – the apple plots in this area are small and arranged in a rather disordered way, so including a few more sections here and there would have destroyed the balance of the picture.
To obtain the level of minimalism I desired, I also had to think about the light. I wanted to create the illusion of a white sheet on which lines had been drawn with a pencil. To achieve this, I had to wait for a large cloud to cover the sun, so the light was as uniform and flat as possible. By moving the drone up and down by a few metres I managed to exclude any distracting elements from the frame – I wanted the road to be the key element and everything else to be positioned on the diagonal. The final image is an abstraction with just two colours. At first glance, it makes the viewer question whether it’s a photograph or a drawing.’
Top tips from Paola Crocetta:
- Look at what surrounds you in a different way – this is the basis of a good photograph! Modern equipment and software will allow you to photograph everything from the rarest animal in a rainforest to the remotest star in our galaxy. But being able to show what surrounds you in your everyday life in a fresh way is where the real magic happens. In this instance, by raising the viewpoint a few metres off the ground I was able to change the way we look at the landscape.
Top tips for entering photography competitions:
- Don’t enter at the last minute. It’s hard to judge work when you’re in a rush. Plus, websites crash, forms might require more information than you have to hand, and life can sometimes get in the way of submitting your work.
- If your picture was taken on a phone, bear in mind that there might be a minimum file size for exhibition/book purposes. FPOTY has a mobile phone category, so look out for this.
- Submit the largest file/print allowed. If the rules state ‘maximum size print 8x10in’ then make sure you send 8x10in.
- Unless it’s a requirement, do not include watermarks on your images. It’s tempting to think this will protect your work, but most competitions are judged anonymously and it’s just annoying.
- FPOTY supports the Artist’s Bill of Rights, and copyright remains with the photographer at all times, but it’s important to be aware of ‘rights grabbing’ competitions where this is not the case.
- Read the rules and then read them again. If you ignore a requirement (however small) you can guarantee that the next person the judges come across won’t have.
- Some competitions require pictures to have been taken in recent months (although images submitted to FPOTY may have been taken at any time). Check this before entering.
- If your images have been digitally manipulated (for competition purposes this usually means altered beyond simply cleaning up and tweaks to saturation, contrast etc) you might be asked to declare it. Don’t fib, because competition organisers may well ask to see the original.
For more food photography tips, see our Guide to photographing food here.
Best photography competitions to enter in 2022
Best photography exhibitions to see in 2022
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