Samui Wining & Dining
Rude? Nude? No – Food!

When it comes to the art of photography, there’s some knowledge and skill involved to capture that amazing holiday meal.


16How many times have you done it? Go on, be honest. All of us do it. And some with more passion than others. Some do it with scientific skill and objectivity. Some, with more enthusiasm than subtlety. There are a few who actually make a good living at doing it, although most of us are cheerful amateurs, happy enough to give it a go and see what happens. Yes, we all take photos. But when it comes to taking photos of food, most of the time it’s anybody’s guess as to the end result.

      How many times, for another instance, has that gloriously luminous sunset failed to look the same in your viewing-screen? You’ll move a bit and take another one but it’s still the same. And it’s exactly the same thing with food. (I recall from years ago, a friend who was a wedding photographer. He told me that the perpetual question asked afterwards by the married couple was “. . . did they come out?” He always used to grin at that. He knew about film speed and ISO, contrast ratios and exposure. He knew how to synchronise his flash to match the background lighting and ‘bracketed’ his shots. He always carried three cameras, one with a long lens, one with a short one and another one in his bag for a spare, plus several flash guns. His photos always ‘came out’ because he understood the processes of photography.) Today we don’t need to understand photography. We just have to push the button. Therefore, it’s vastly more annoying and confusing, when our foolproof cameras don’t produce results!

      One unfortunate aspect in the middle of all this is that today, at a guess, about 80% of holiday photos are taken with a telephone and not a camera. And that’s much the same principle as carrying a 50-inch flat screen ‘smart’ internet TV around with you just so you can plug it in and check your e-mail – it’s really not the right thing for the job. The results from today’s super smartphones are simply spectacular – mostly. Likewise, the ‘point and shoot’ pocket cameras. And if my old (and now deceased) wedding photographer friend could see these, he’d twitch about with professional envy in his grave. But don’t be fooled by those multi-mega pixels. It takes more than merely a high resolution to catch those tricky shots. And you, behind the camera, need to understand one or two very basic ideas for it all to work.

      The first idea is how not to use flash. If you have an option to turn off the auto-flash, then use it. Even if you don’t know how – read the handbook and find out. Try one shot with flash and a shot without, and then compare them. In daylight, this isn’t so important. (And don’t be shy about taking your plate outside, where the light is better: the chef will adore you for being so appreciative!) But avoid direct sunlight; try it in the shade instead.

       As a general rule, actually look carefully at the shot you’ve just taken – the vast majority of people don’t bother to do this and then groan with annoyance when they later notice the lamp post growing out of someone’s head. Look carefully, and then try another one or two, changing the angle and background. ‘Snaps’ are for kiddies. ‘Photographs’ are what intelligent people make. So don’t just push the button and forget it. Probably 98% of your daylight photos will be just great. It’s that 2% that are the problem. And these are usually the ones you want the most – those awkward sunsets . . . the gorgeous evening dinners and plates of fabulous food!

      Here’s a tip straight away. Your flash throws out a strong bright light. This causes heavy dark shadows. Your food will look odd like this – un-natural. So grab the nearest tissue or white napkin or two, and prop it/them up on the table, just out of the picture, so that they reflect some of your flash into the deep shadow areas. Experiment with a couple of shots, until you get a good one. Even a cheap phone camera will give good results like this, given a few moments of awareness and patience.

       One person on Samui who makes his living by ‘doing it’ (of course not with a camera phone but with an amount of equipment which fills a truck) is Claudio Cerquetti. He’s a seriously long-term photographer, journalist, teacher, international award-winner and exhibitor, and author of several books on the subject. In fact, it’s a 50-50 chance that the pictures in any hotel or resort advertising brochures, adverts in magazines, or websites you see here, originate from Claudio. He really knows his stuff. And he’ll be the first person to tell you that commercial photography, even of a humble plate of food, is a whole world away from just taking photos with your pocket camera. (In fact, I know that hotel owners have called upon him in the past because they just couldn’t use their own little cameras to do the same job, hard as they tried.)

         “It’s a skill that takes years to master,” he told me. “While it may seem like it’s easy just to arrange some food on a plate, what actually goes into a professional food shoot is quite the opposite. To learn how to take high-end pictures of food, photographers must acquire a knowledge of light, camera angles, and the nature of the food being photographed. If lighting or other photographic elements are off, pictures of meals can look unappetising, ruining the purpose of the photos and thus failing to sell the product.”

         “By mastering the light sources we can make the food look like a masterpiece of culinary art,” he continued. “But if you feel that something is wrong in the composition, then you place the lights and rearrange all the little details until you feel relaxed. This instinct develops over years of experience, and the ability to learn from your own mistakes – this is part of the human experience at all levels.”

         Thus spake Claudio, pro-photoman extraordinaire. But we other mortals, who just want to go home with memories, take note. Somewhere between the photo guru and the novice lies the middle ground of everyday photography, but with a difference. Hopefully, now, the differences explained here will mean better personal photos for you, whether they be rude, nude, or even – food!


Rob De Wet


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