Freelance photographer Leon Day spills the beans on getting the perfect food shot…

FI- photograper profile

It’s a job people dream of – to travel the UK, visiting the hidden treasures of our green and pleasant land and explore manor houses, country pubs and fine food. It’s what photographer Leon Day does all through the year. Day is one of a handful of photographers working for Food & Drink Guides, capturing the best restaurants across the UK to feature in the regional eating out guides: snapping pictures of this calibre:

Albion & Loch Fyne

LEFT: Dessert at The Albion Taverna. RIGHT: Smoked salmon at Loch Fyne.

A shot like this captures a single moment. The gently falling icing sugar, reflecting the light, connects the viewer to the chef. We are mesmerised by the promise of a mouth watering dessert and teeter tentatively as its creator adds the final touches. This is one of my favourite photos that Food & Drink Guide photographer, Leon Day has taken, and one that he too is particularly proud of. “It makes all the difference when chefs get involved in setting up the composition; after all they know the dish inside out and have their own creative vision to communicate. This picture was taken at The Albion Taverna in Faversham, Kent on a recent shoot. The chef came out with this incredible dessert (I mean, it already looked pretty impressive) and just sprinkled a touch of icing sugar over the top. In that moment, it just looked so beautiful, and I had to capture that cascade of light, sugary dust, so I got him to bring out some more icing sugar and do it again. The result is this glowing snowfall of sugar.”

Leon Day is a freelance photographer, and has been snapping restaurants all over the country for Food & Drink Guides for the last two years. “Photographing restaurants and food is wonderful. I’ve discovered so many gems, that I would have otherwise missed and travelled to some really beautiful parts of the country. I’ve just returned from the Kent shoot and it is a region full of gorgeous manor houses as well as lots of trendy bars that are a delight to photograph.

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The delicious food and hidden gems you discover when working as a freelance photographer.

The Marriott at Kent Tudor Park, for example, was a particular highlight on this trip. As I was being shown around the building, I was casually invited through one doorway which took me straight into the indoor pool, complete with palm trees and rockeries. It was like a wonderland and so unexpected. It’s an amazing place, located right in the heart of the New Forest and I’d definitely go there for a holiday. But it’s a prime example of somewhere I wouldn’t normally stumble upon.”

“It’s the same even my own city. I moved to Bath from my home town of Dunstable in order to pursue my photography career and in doing so have discovered so many unique establishments. Until this year, I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit St Nic’s market in Bristol. I’d heard people talking about it, but never actually been in. For those who are not residents of Bristol it is can seem like a hidden secret. The market is contained right in the centre of Bristol and accessible through archways that seem to appear from nowhere and down tiny cobbled alleyways. I have to admit that when I was sent to shoot it, I got carried away – I was literally taking pictures of everything. It’s such a visually stimulating place and so vibrant that I wasn’t just snapping food stalls, I took pictures of everything from bike stands to clothes!”

M-st nics

St Nic’s Market is in the heart of Bristol and is a visual sensation. It’s Bristol through and through, from its fresh street food, smoothies, vintage shops, books and jewelry.

So how do you get a job this great? Day actually studied illustration at college, not photography. “We were required to take a photography module, which consisted of spending one day per week learning about composition. What I learned on those scattered days really stuck with me. After I graduated and went into working with computers for a corporate company. It wasn’t long, though, before I realised that the corporate world didn’t excite me at all. I talked about giving it all up and becoming a photographer – and one day I did just that. I handed in my notice, bought a camera and set up website. Anyone who works for themselves will tell you it is hard work; I can be editing photos well into the early hours of the morning, but doing what you love is worth it. My enjoyment is my own motivation – and helps that I’m already a bit of a night owl!”

Day has developed and honed his skills by knuckling down, learning from portrait and wedding photographers and is constantly honing his skills. “If you want to succeed, you have to be improving and adapting all the time,” Day tells me. “For anyone looking to improve their photographs I would direct them to Youtube for some great tutorials. There are so many professionals sharing their tips and knowledge, and it’s often easier to learn with a visual tutorial. There are also short courses you can do. The most recent I attended was specifically focussed on lighting, and if you want to buy a book I can’t recommend The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby highly enough. It’s written in such a way that it feels as if the author is right there, explaining things to you in person. Kelby breaks processes down into short, concise bits of information, illustrates it with plenty of pictures and there are links to useful websites and videos. There are three books from beginner to professional.”

Leon Day’s top tips for taking food pictures

We’ve all been there: sat in a restaurant, trying to take a picture that will show how wonderful the dish we’re about to consume looks, but it looks blurred, dark and, frankly, inedible. Day has some top tips up his sleeve for how you can improve your food pictures, whether you’re a food blogger or just a serial snapper.

“I’ll say this over and over, but lighting is so important. You need plenty of light to pick up all the details you want to capture. It’s the most important, but also the most changeable, which is why I don’t go anywhere without a flash gun. I know some photographers just work with natural light (and I did too for a time) but when you have, for example, a beautiful view from inside a cosy pub or restaurant and you want to capture both, you’re going to need to a lot of light inside. Use of light is something you can play with, develop and explore. You’ll go through plenty of methods that won’t work before you hit on the one that works best for you. I absolutely love my wireless transmitter that means I can control and direct the light remotely.”

“The key to great food photography is to get the right angle. If the dish is tall or layered or has bits sticking out of it, then it’s best to take it from a low angle, that way you can see the overall shape of the dish. Make sure you take into account the background. For flat dishes like soups, fish and dips an overhead picture is the best option. Flat dishes have the detail within them and so need a bird’s eye view to capture their complexity.”

M-x2 RIVERSIDE RESTAURANT 12 - lochfyne 30

LEFT: The dessert is tall with a complex shape that benefits from a low angle. Day has composed the piece taking into account the stunning scenery beyond the outside dining table. RIGHT: Flat dishes such as fish and soups work better from above.

“If you can, try and keep a little tripod with you. Any little movement will translate into your picture and the photograph won’t be as sharp. If you don’t have one you can get creative; maybe use your phone to lean your camera on. I use a tripod and a timer. A hands-free shot means that the risk of movement is minimised substantially and I am then free to tackle the lighting situation, for example I might need to stand somewhere else with the flash gun to light a particular area.”

Looking for some inspiration? So who does Day look to for inspiration? “Jerry Ghionis is one of the best photographers in the world and someone I really admire. He has won Wedding Photographer of the Year for years in a row. His photos are truly unique because he engages with the psychology of his clients to really capture true emotions. In fact his talent for drawing out emotions is a bit Derren Brown like! I also love Lisa Holloway’s work. She is an award-winning portrait artist from Arizona and is entirely self-taught. She takes pictures of her ten children and they are worth a look if you’re looking for some inspiration. She’s also made very good use of social media and become a bit of a photography star on the web.”

M-x2 photographers

LEFT: Jerry Ghioris RIGHT: Lisa Holloway


If that’s inspired you to pick up a camera and get snapping here are some great places to visit:
Shakespearian-inspired taverns in the UK well worth a photo 
The age of steam is a gloriously chic and even better when accompanied by a Michelin-starred meal 
Celebrity spotting at these UK film locations 
You can never have too many pictures of tea 

Emma Cullen

Emma Cullen

Emma is an ex-Fed Up & Drunker who has now been released into the wild.

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