Catered social events present some great opportunities for food photography. Buffets and display tables are full of dishes emphasizing eye appeal. However, the catering industry has not always concerned itself with plating, presentation, and making things look appetizing. In fact, the role of the first caterers was quite utilitarian: delivering food to soldiers of the ancient world during military campaigns. By the time the Europe of the Middle Ages had developed into a game-of-thrones feudal society, catering had evolved to also serve an entertainment function for the upper classes. While you don’t have to worry about dodging broad swords or wearing a crown before taking photos at today’s catered affairs, food photography at large events is not without its challenges. Here are a few things to consider when taking food photographs at a catered event:
Lighting – Indoor wedding reception venues and large banquet halls are notorious for poor/low lighting. Use a camera tripod if possible so your camera can remain steady (to prevent image blur) while shooting at the slower shutter speeds required for low light. In the absence of a tripod, you will need to find a way to steady your camera (rest it securely on the back of a chair for example). Try to avoid using flash as direct flash from the front of a camera is often too harsh for food — especially when you are close to your food subject. Seek out good light if available (such as food placed near a window during daylight hours).
Shooting Distance – Many food shooters prefer to be fairly close to their tasty photographic subjects in order to achieve a high level of image detail. Should you prefer this style, you will need to learn the capabilities of your camera for shooting very near to an object. If you are using a compact point-and-shoot camera, familiarize yourself with the macro (close-up) mode and more typical wider angle mode so you have some idea how close you can be to your subject in each mode while still retaining proper focus for important elements in your photos. Similarly, if you have one or more detachable lenses, know the minimum focus distance for each of your lenses (a minimum distance that you have to stand from the subject in order to properly focus on it).
Move Your Feet – Unless the food is part of your own place setting, you will not have the option to reposition plates and dishes in the way you prefer. (Okay, I admit to moving some small dishes around on a buffet table, but I was hired to photograph the event and was able to get away with it. This is easier to accomplish if you can strike up a conversation with the catering staff and they are interested in what you are doing). You will therefore have to position yourself in order to obtain a suitable angle. Also try positioning yourself closer to the level of the food so you are not shooting everything from above. This will often help you achieve a much more interesting point of view — especially for food that is stacked or has some height.