What is the Secret Sauce in Professional Food Photography?

hospitality and hotel photography

Last week, I mentioned how our taste begins with our eyes. This week, I want to discuss my secret ingredient that I use to entice diners before they even set foot in a restaurant – light.

When a plate of beautifully presented food arrives at the table, your senses and appetite are awakened by the prospect of what you’re about to experience. Its colours and textures combine with aromas from the dish and the ambience of the room to evoke memories of flavour and drive anticipation of delight.

When taking still images of these exquisite dishes, it’s my job to draw those same feelings and reactions from the viewer. Without fragrance or location to assist, I need to employ texture and shade to season each shot and turn a photograph of food into the promise of something exceptional.

Just as a chef might, when it comes to commercial food photography, I have a ‘secret sauce’ which helps me to achieve that aim – light.

Palazzo Versace

Food Photography: Versace Dubai
Professional Food Photography at Versace by Gerry O’Leary

Striking and regal, the Palazzo Versace Dubai hotel is a Neoclassical palace on the Jaddaf Waterfront. Elegance and opulence flow through its dining venues and this mushroom starter is crafted to embody that indulgent luxury. In this image, the light creates a vibrancy which highlights the playful and tempting colours and textures of the dish, all framed in the rich design of the restaurant’s bespoke serving plate. By using the light to generate a glow around each ingredient, the photograph is given an extra dimension which provokes expectation and curiosity.

Nobu Dubai

Food Photographer Dubai: Nobu, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

One of 29 bars, restaurants, and lounges at the iconic Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, Nobu is a sophisticated spot serving world-renowned Japanese cuisine with a Peruvian twist and was selected as one of the best restaurants in Dubai by the MICHELIN Guide 2023. Seductive illumination and stark contrasts between light and dark are features of the restaurant décor, and I have continued these themes in my photograph of this signature dish. Under the light, the viscous mahogany sauce glistens against the delicate pink of the salmon, showcasing the vivid hues and contrasting textures. Sharpness sits within softness without either giving up its integrity. By letting the light reveal the distinct qualities of each element, we instinctively know how our first bites will feel and taste.

Food Photography at Nobu Dubai by Gerry O’Leary

Beef Bar Dubai

Food Photography: Beefbar Dubai. Gerry O'Leary
Steakhouse Photography at Beef Bar by Gerry O’Leary

Al Naseem is the newest and most contemporary hotel in the breathtaking Madinat Jumeirah complex. As one of 10 extraordinary restaurants at the hotel, and 50 across the whole resort, Beef Bar Dubai is under pressure to stand out. It does so by redefining what a steakhouse should be while ensuring every cut served is of the highest standard. It was my privilege to create pictures that would demonstrate that mission. When photographing the restaurant’s tenderloin, I used my experience in lighting to bring the distinct qualities of each section of the meat into sharp focus. The rich char on the beef’s crust is contrasted with the warm, pink centre to show the depth of flavour and texture throughout the slice. Connoisseurs of steak know exactly how each morsel should feel and taste, from the resistance of the outer edges to the succulent juice which is pushed out by every bite. My challenge is to create an image which shows diners those expectations will be met, and the clear light in this photograph brings that out wonderfully.

Toro Toro

A self-proclaimed celebration of Latin cuisine, Toro Toro is a place where food is served with flair. For this restaurant’s dynamic ceviche dish, the theatre of the presentation is as valuable as the flavours of the ingredients. Here, I created a lighting setup that would capture the ethereal movement of the dry ice as it danced around the vessel and its contents. By using a strobe, I was able to freeze time, giving the viewer a unique opportunity to explore the dreamlike tableau as a masterpiece that might last forever, rather than the ephemeral experience it is obliged to become outside of the lens.

Professional Food Photography: Toro Toro Abu Dhabi
Commercial Food Photography at Toro Toro by Gerry O’Leary

Burj Al Arab

Food Photography: Burj Al Arab Dubai
Professional Food Photography at Burj Al Arab by Gerry O’Leary

It stands to reason that the world’s most luxurious hotel is home to some of the world’s most luxurious food. At the Burj Al Arab, even the pizza is a work of art. Food photography here is required to capture more than the meal, it needs to tell the story of its surroundings and the elevated quality of everything within them. The translucent pink of the smoked salmon and the delicate greens of the avocado create a palette of understated splendour which complements the lavish grandeur of the hotel around it. Soaking the scene in natural light draws out the decadent qualities of the ingredients through the subtle richness of their fragile textures. Just as the Burj Al Arab is no ordinary hotel, this is no ordinary pizza.

If you have questions about food photography or how to use light most effectively when creating images, drop me a message. Feel free to share this article on your preferred platform, I’d love to engage.