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Food photography in Chicago

Lucy Hewett, the photographer for our Chicago city life feature, explains how she captures the creativity of cuisine

Food photography in Chicago
Image: Lucy Hewett

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In Chicago, food is an art form. Home to some of the world’s top chefs, it’s not difficult to find meals here that inspire the palate and the eye. Shooting food is always a fun exercise for me. My background is in graphic design, and in art school many of my assignments were about arranging basic shapes and colours to make interesting compositions within small canvases. I look back on these practices in all my photography, but it’s most relevant when I shoot food.

I rely heavily on colour and contrast in my work, so when photographing food I’m always trying to create elegant compositions that let the chef’s presentation come to life.

For this image, I wanted to get more than one dish in the picture to get a feel for the seasonality of the ingredients and overall perspective of the menu. It tells a more complete story of the restaurant and makes for an interesting image.

The restaurant, Eden, wanted to schedule the shoot for early evening, when daylight is softer. Chicago weather is about as unpredictable as it gets and the day of the shoot was overcast. There wasn’t enough natural light to make the dish shine, so I used a Profoto B1 head on a light stand. I placed the light behind the plate and turned it away from the dish to bounce light into the corner of the white wall. The result is a nice even light with a bit of dimension that feels like you’re eating next to a window on a sunny day.

I often bring a step stool for shoots so I can easily shoot from above without a tripod. With food photography it means I can move around, trying out different compositions and adjusting the table and garnish elements as I shoot. This was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a 24-70mm lens. The variety of focal lengths it offers is ideal for food and allows me to get the wider, plated arrangements, as well as the close-up images of the ingredients, resulting in a balanced sequence of images with plenty of variety.

Published in the November 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)