Joe Routon is a longtime contributor to my Budget Travel, and we've spotlighted his images on our site and on the cover of Budget Travel's June 2009 issue. We recently noticed he often takes sharp images of his food, so we asked him for some insights.
What prompts you to take a photo of your meal?
Anytime I go to a special restaurant or go on a trip abroad, I photograph my food. It's fun, and it provides a visual record that will help me remember how much I enjoyed the meal. I love food and I love photography—combining the two is a great joy.
Probably my favorite image is "Mexican Dessert" [shown, above] which shows a dish of mango ice cream topped with fresh strawberries. I took the photo for a friend who had just opened a restaurant, Tortilla Press in Collingswood, N.J. He needed pictures of several dishes. In return, I got to eat the food.
Any advice to others on photographing food in a restaurant setting?
Most professional food photographers use lights, but I prefer to use natural light, sometimes with a reflector disk or two. I select a table near the window and, with my camera on a tripod, take many photos of each dish, rotating the plate and shooting it from different levels, high and low, and different angles. I also vary the aperture setting to try different depths of field. It's important to work quickly—food tends to "wilt" after a few minutes. For that reason, I'll set up the shot with a "stand-in," a piece of fruit or a crumpled bag; so, when the food is placed in front of me, I'm ready to start shooting immediately.
Do you have any professional experience that trained you for food photography?
I'm a portrait painter by profession. After studying music in college I went to seminary to get the master of sacred music degree, after which I served as an organist/choir director in a Methodist church in Tennessee for 10 years. With my wife (also an organist) and three small children, I moved north to study portrait painting in N.Y.C. at the Art Students League and at the National Academy of Design. I worked as a newspaper photographer to help pay my way through art school. After a few years, my wife and I moved south to Haddonfield, N.J.
The publisher of The Haddonfield Times asked if I would be the paper's restaurant reviewer/critic, so I did that for a year, just for fun. I quit after I started gaining weight. It was a real ego trip to go into a fine restaurant and see my review framed and hanging on the wall or taped to the front window.
Has your painting influenced the way you take photographs of food in any way?
When I paint, I prefer natural light, so that's a carryover. It's much easier for me to get natural colors with natural light. Composition is extremely important, whether painting portraits or photographing food, and a little knowledge of color helps. I'm careful about arranging colors that complement each other, and I try to avoid photographing food on orange or blue plates. I prefer simple white dishes.
CALLING ALL READERS
Give Us Your Best Food Shots!
We're now looking for your photos of the tastiest meals you've eaten while traveling. The best will be featured in an upcoming article in Budget Travel. Tag your photo "food and drink" to make sure other my Budget Travel members can see and rate it. UPLOAD NOW