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Smartphone tips and tricks on shooting Singaporean hawker food better

Smartphone tips and tricks on shooting Singaporean hawker food better
Sin Heng Kee Hainan Chicken Rice at ABC Brickworks Market and Food Centre.
PHOTO: Instagram/Audrey Kwok

We can't all be David Gelb when it comes to using an iPhone to get impressive footage or stills of our hawker food. But, that won't stop us from getting the most out of our smartphones' cameras, while feeding our need to record the scrumptious meals we get to eat in Singapore (and posting it to the 'gram).

Inspired by Apple Singapore's recent Shot On iPhone campaign, our local content creators, personalities, photography experts compiled a list of very achievable tips and tricks for smartphone food photography and videography.

Some of these tips are applicable even if you don't use an iPhone since the principles and framing of food photography are brand-agnostic. If you're looking to improve your food photo-taking skills or require meal ideas for your next lunch or dinner, do check this guide out.

All images and videos are provided, courtesy of our amazing local content creators.

Minimise fluorescent flickering in slow-mo videos by lowering FPS


Videographer: Team HWZ

Hawker stall: Pakir Mohd Delights, #01-275, Tekka Market, Singapore 210665

Classic hawker centres and the stalls that populate them generally use fluorescent tube lighting to service their foodies and the hardworking stall owners. These lights are bright, relatively affordable, and long-lasting enough to get the job done.

They are also a bane to slow-motion footage because these lights typically flicker at 100 to 120Hz. If your device offers high FPS for slow-motion recording (like iPhone's 240FPS),  it'll likely register the light's flicker in your shot. 

To counteract this, lower your frames-per-second (FPS) before you start recording. Sure, your slow-motion clip will have fewer frames, but it minimises the light's flickering in your video.

Need to bring the lens closer? Hold your phone upside down

Photographer: C.R. Tan (Instagram)

Hawker stall: Sri Aachi Aappakadai, #01-219, Tekka Market, Singapore 210665

Sometimes, the table gets in the way, and it can be hard to get closer to the plate when holding the phone upright.

If you have room to adjust above the plate, consider holding the phone upside down to get the cameras into better position. You can always flip it right side up in post-processing. 

This angling tip was inspired by food stylist and photographer C.R. Tan. He also recommends choosing new angles to uncover new perspectives on your favourite dishes.

"There are multiple ways of angling your phone for achieving many interesting perspectives with the food. For example, anticipate the process of each step of food preparation so that you can plan the framing and flow with the hawker's actions when rolling," said C.R. Tan.

Create a comfortable shooting distance using optical zoom for close-ups


Videographer: Veronica Phua (Instagram

Hawker stall: Wang Wang Crispy Curry Puff, #01-126, Old Airport Road Food Centre, Singapore 390051

Perhaps you need a clear shot of food prep, but you're worried it might get in the chef's way of culinary work.

Foodie influencer Veronica Phua recommended using optical zoom to create distance between busy hawkers and herself, while getting the close-up footage she needs (in her case, Apple iPhone's built-in 3x optical zoom). It enabled her to get a clean shot of curry puffs without being in the splash zone over at Old Airport Road Food Centre. 

Optical zoom also doesn't degrade filming or shooting quality like how digital zoom typically does so, since the former relies on built-in zoom lenses to offer unblemished magnification.

"The 3x optical zoom is perfect for those moments when I want to capture people at their most natural because sometimes when I move in close, they tend to feel self-conscious and become stiff and awkward. This feature is also really useful when a situation presents some risks, for example, a hawker frying a dish over a huge fire," said Veronica.

Move your phone to create a dramatic pull or pull


Videographer: Chai Yee Wei (Instagram

Hawker Stall: Jin Jin Hot / Cold Dessert, #01-21, ABC Brickworks Market Food Centre, Singapore 150006

Film director, writer, and producer Chai Yee Wei showcased how it was possible to fill a bowl of Chendol with energy and excitement with the clever use of push-pull techniques. Doing so lets users get dramatic zoom effects without relying on the zoom modes within your smartphone. 

Also, this takes advantage of a phone's portable form factor, since it's likely much harder to pull these shots off with bulky full-frame shooters by hand.

"For a dramatic push in or pull, experiment with different camera angling techniques such as to move directly towards the subject instead of using a camera zoom," said Yee Wei.

Go further, go pro


All the tips shared above are minor changes to make your food photos and videos stand out. But, if you really want to go pro, you can take a leaf or two from David Gelb himself.

Apple Singapore has uploaded the behind-the-scenes footage that showcases how his team maximises the iPhone 13 Pro for his short documentary, Poached. Besides using built-in features of your preferred smartphone to its fullest extent (for example, iPhone 13 Pro's Cinematic Mode), phone users can take advantage of a phone's size to rig and stabilise their stills and shots.

It's also worth trying different types of cameras and rethinking your angles for the same plate of food. For instance, the ultra-wide-angle camera (a common feature on most flagship phones) can be used for more dramatic scene-setting, so it's worth changing up your shooting routine from standard portrait stills. 

ALSO READ: Apple's Shot on iPhone campaign casts a new light on Singapore's infamous chicken rice war

This article was first published in Hardware Zone.

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