How to capture the essence of street food in photography

Focus on the ingredients, not just the food. Photograph the details of the street vendors and local cuisines outside the frame to get a more authentic representation.

What’s street food? Street food is, as you know, food sold on the streets or in public spaces like a market or fair. Street food is now a more important concept. It can open up a world of culture and heritage or unify people from all walks of society.

Street food is an exciting feast for the senses. People flock to the streetside for the mouthwatering aromas. You can expect beautiful and vibrant dishes and stunning photography from the wide range of ingredients.

It is difficult to capture all of the elements that make street food unique. But, you can do it with these tips.

Movement

Street food is the original fast food. Street food vendors have perfected the art and skill of quickly preparing delicious meals so that customers can enjoy them on the go or at the curb. It is important to capture the speed with which dishes are prepared and eaten.

Motion blur in photography can capture the bustling street scene of street vendors. Images offset via Paco Flores/ KaosPhoto, and Peter Adams

Photo of motion blur is a great tool to show these fast movements. Images can look blurry if objects are travelling at high speeds. It takes approximately 100 milliseconds to encode all the information in our brains. Depending on how fast your shutter speed is set, it can take much longer. The motion blur effect can be used to bring life to a photograph.

Smoke and Steam

You can smell the steaming soup in the photos or the smoke from a wok. It is what brings together the flavour of stir-fry to give it its umami flavour. Research has shown that pictures of hot foods can stimulate our senses, tricking our brains into believing we can smell the aromas in the dishes.

Even better, steam and smoke emitted by hot food trigger our smell memories. Capturing steam and smoke from freshly prepared foods can give viewers the sensation of inhaling various aromatic smells while also giving them an appetite. Because smoke and haze are always moving, it provides the image with a sense of motion.

Preparation

Preparation is a key element that makes this experience so exciting. This adds to the excitement of the dish being prepared. While bustling food markets and vendors can appear chaotic, it’s organized chaos, further illustrated by how each word is ready–methodically, efficiently, and skillfully.

The process of making street food gives viewers a better understanding of the skills, knowledge and work involved. Your photos will reveal the final dish.

Context

Everything is connected. Take your viewer on an emotional visual journey to capture the food stall or the surrounding environment. A photo that captures street food vendors on the side of the road while the rest of the world passes by is likely to be more interesting. The contrast between the two elements creates context.

The Chef

Street vendors can dedicate many decades to perfecting a dish. Street vendors can also be family-owned businesses that have passed on their legacy to future generations.

High-profile chefs often overlook street vendors selling modestly priced food. Photographers often ignore street food vendors, but it adds an element of humanity to your photos. It also shares the (usually) unknown story behind the dish. It captures the passion, history and heritage behind each word.

The Customers

Nothing can compare to the authentic and delicious food you will find at the roadside. The people are aware of it.

A loyal customer base with different backgrounds is behind every great food vendor. Street food is a great equalizer. Street food brings people from all walks of society together to enjoy authentic, local food. It’s not like the kind you will find in a five-star restaurant. The food quality is evident by the photos taken of the diverse customers.

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