Tastes Like Home
As the end-of-the-year holidays approach, we find ourselves enjoying time in the kitchen with family—kids, grandparents, and other loved ones—working to create memories and camera-ready, mouthwatering delicacies.
We also find ourselves rushing even more to get regular dinners on the table amid the crush of holiday parties, family visits, and school activities. Some days, we’re just grateful there is clean silverware in the drawer and that the microwave works.
Food is about the everyday and the celebratory. Tell us the story of your family food traditions. Think of ingredients as the characters.
We want to invite our Your Shot community (ages 13+) and our My Shot kids audience (ages 18 and under) to participate in a December photo challenge with our food blog, The Plate, that invites us into your perfect—or not-so-perfect—family meal preparations. We want to learn what they mean to you. We’re looking for photos that evoke a sense of place and captions that let us into your world. Meet your editors in the update below.
We’re launching this assignment today November 23 so you can begin visualizing the photos you want to make, however your three submissions will open on December 1. This assignment will close on December 27, 12pm ET.
Thank you for your contributions!
Captions and Happy Holidays!
As our Tastes Like Home assignment moves toward its final week, I have been amazed at the breadth of subjects you have captured. I just have one main piece of advice: don’t forget about the caption!
A caption can help contextualize what is going on in the photo for people other than the photographer. I have a famous line when people get too esoteric with me: Pretend I’m a stranger at a cocktail party. What would you like me to know about you and your work?
For example, I just uploaded a photo of me sprinkling powdered sugar over some German Christmas cookies I baked last weekend. They’re just ordinary-looking cookies, but in my caption, I explain how the kitchen smelled like my grandmother’s and I felt her presence in the scent. (Can you smell it, too?)
Another smell that is unmistakable in my house at this time of year is that of frying oil. That means I’m about to make shredded potato pancakes called latkes for Hanukkah, a holiday celebrating the Jewish Festival of Lights. It’s one of the few times I fry, and it always brings the family into the kitchen for a taste, straight from the pan, burnt fingers be damned. Hanukkah starts on the evening of December 24, and I’m still working on a good shot, so stay tuned.
By the way, for those who joined our live message board chat on Monday, thank you. I hope we were able to answer your many and thoughtful questions. And remember, we’ve opened up the assignment for one more entry. So if you are inspired in these final days to submit a fourth photo, go for it.
I can’t wait to see what you’ll do.
Q+A with the Editors
The discussion board chat has now ended. Thank you all for joining in!
Join National Geographic photographer Becky Hale and The Plate’s April Fulton now as they answer your questions on the assignment’s discussion board. Ask them anything!
At 1:30 p.m., photo editor Hilary Andrews will be live on the Kids Facebook talking about her favorite photos from the accompanying photo challenge Family Table on My Shot.
Be A Kid Again
Hilary Andrews is the My Shot photo editor for the Family Table challenge running in partnership with this assignment. Below she speaks to some of the outstanding submissions to the kids photo challenge and gives some tips that are relevant to all photographers regardless of age.
Hello there! I’m constantly in awe of the level of photography that the kids on My Shot can produce. It’s their playfulness, spontaneity, and disregard of traditional composition rules that I think makes their images so special. Here are a few tips and suggestions as you and your children continue to submit photos, as well as a few images from My Shot that I think worked well.
Don’t get too focused on photographing the food itself; instead, look beyond the plate and experiment. Get creative and incorporate people, props, or action in your shots. Something simple like a hand pouring the batter or holding onto a dish can really bring in that human element to an otherwise lifeless food photo. What is it about having people in the shot that’s so appealing? It’s a good question to think about as you’re shooting for this assignment. Food that’s artfully arranged as a still life is pretty, but when you add a human element—hands, a face, maybe even feet—the whole image takes on a more lively aspect. It also changes the story—it’s no longer just about the food, but what role the food has in that person’s life. It can create a narrative about their culture, heritage, and traditions.
Be imaginative—even whimsical—when arranging the food to be photographed. Move beyond static food photos shot from a seated position or overhead and use your creativity to make a more dynamic shot. Ways to do this might be capturing action shots, or adding a drink or utensils to the shot to create layers in your photo.
If you need a little help, find a singular point of interest. Once you’ve identified that, you can think about how to highlight it (by positioning yourself up high or down low, getting in close or stepping back for a wider angle, using a smaller aperture and selective focus, etc.).
One thing I’ve noticed in the submissions on My Shot is the number of black-and-white photos. Many people wouldn’t immediately think of shooting food in black and white, but when done well it can really show off shape and form. The lack of color can also help simplify a shot.
While we’re on the topic of color, remember that part of the attraction of food is the way it looks, so making sure your images show the true-to-life colors. Before you begin shooting, always take a white balance reading from a gray card if you have one, or set your camera’s white balance to a preset that matches the lighting environment you are shooting in. I know the muted or matte look with smoky blacks is trendy right now, but personally I like seeing colorful sprinkles that pop!
I hope these tips helped spark some inspiration. Now go play with your food, share a recipe with someone you love, and don’t forget your camera. Have fun!
Depth of Feeling
There’s nothing like being in a chef’s home kitchen to get a sense of their true connection with food and family. We spent a few hours this week in the kitchen of PBS’s Pati Jinich—the place where she both cooks for her children and for the rest of the world on her popular TV show, Pati’s Mexican Table.
The warmth and light she brings to her food shone through in how she prepared for our Facebook Live chat, and in the steaming, nurturing bowls of tortilla soup she doled out to our whole crew after the cameras stopped rolling (Find her recipe and more about our day with Pati on The Plate).
Photographs by Becky Hale
But just as there’s room for professional chefs in our assignment, there’s also a spot for anyone willing to capture what “Tastes Like Home” means. The beauty of this challenge is that home food can take on many meanings. It doesn’t even always have to feature food, such as in Erin F.’s black-and-white detail of a hand folding a napkin in preparation for a feast; sometimes, it’s simply setting the stage—or table—for the meal to come. I love the focus on the fingers, and the contrast between the free-spirited, crinkly shirt, the formal floral drapes, and the orderly wicker lines of the chair.
Others don’t even need chairs. Take Keiron Nelson’s shot of a member of an indigenous Brazilian tribe dressed for a Feast for the Dead ceremony and taking a swig right out of a modern cooking pot. I guess he couldn’t wait to get started! What makes Nelson’s shot even better is the caption, which gives us context for understanding why the man is dressed this way and what is likely in the pot (a boiled fruit called pequi, possibly diluted in a manioc broth.)
And then there’s Gloria Salgado Gispert’s shot of two large families gathered around the TV in Australia, performing the Spanish ritual of eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve. You don’t even see grapes, just the cheeks of the eaters in various states of fullness, their eyes bulged out in wonder and amusement. Believe me—it’s very hard to get a good shot of people eating that is not gross, and this one works.
There are so many amazing photos coming in from all over the world for this assignment. As you’re preparing your submission, remember, make it feel real and consider using the caption to help flesh out the story.
Facebook Live: Ask the Editors Your Questions
The Facebook Live has now ended, but you can watch below. Thanks for tuning in!
Join the Tastes Like Home assignment editors for a Facebook Live on the NGM account NOW. PBS host and cookbook author Pati Jinich will be teaching you how to make her delicious tortilla soup alongside The Plate's April Fulton. Stay tuned because National Geographic photographer Becky Hale will give you tips for photographing for the assignment and tell you what she looks for when editing. Ask your questions in the comments on Facebook and listen as the editors give feedback about a selection of submitted photos. Your photo could be chosen!
The Story of Food and Family
The assignment submissions open tomorrow December 1, and I hope you were busy planning and photographing this week and are excited to share your photos. Take your time submitting. This assignment is running longer than usual—until December 27. There will be updates from all of the editors, and photo tips from me that you won’t want to miss.
After becoming a parent, my relationship with food photography took a turn. Shots of my perfect weekend pies were replaced by … well, mostly nothing. I felt like I had no time to cook, barely time to eat, and definitely no time to document any of it. And there’s nothing compelling about photos of plain pasta and chicken nuggets. OK, we ate a lot more than chicken nuggets, but many days it certainly didn’t feel that way.
Mulling over this assignment, I took some time to look through my family photos with an eye out for food, and I realized that something new had emerged from this period in my life. I’d actually never put the camera down, but food photography became kid/chaos/family/cooking/love/messy photography. Is that a thing? What I mean is, some of my favorite photos of my family were images in which food or rituals related to food were at the center of things. Holiday cookies, birthday cakes, the elaborate sorting of Halloween candy, kids covered with pizza flour—all of that became what I wanted to shoot because those were the moments we were really sharing as a family. I gave up on the perfect and started shooting the chaos.
You don’t have to have wild elementary school-age kids to make this assignment work. But I’d like you to think about this: What are your cultural or family rituals where food is at the center? Tell us that story. Maybe those images depict a finished product, but maybe they celebrate process.
This Thanksgiving, I watched my kids help with the smoked turkey and pie-making, holding my breath a little when my daughter attempted to grate the nutmeg and not her fingers. I took time to photograph them and stepped back to see these family traditions in a new way. For me, images of my kids crimping pie dough are more compelling than the beautiful pie after it’s been baked. Think about ingredients and who’s doing the cooking. Where does your family gather, and how do they do it? Where do you cook, where do you eat, and what does all of that tell us about your life?
Introducing Your Editors
Becky Hale is a staff photographer for National Geographic. She considers herself a Swiss Army knife photographer, shooting everything from portraits to artifacts in her studio at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Tastes Like Home really speaks to me as a photographer and as a person. The instinct to document my environment extends to the kitchen table I share with my husband and two small children. I love to photograph the simple beauty of food as well as the things that bring us to the plate: culture, ritual, food, and family.”
"The Tastes Like Home assignment pushes us to get outside of our heads and think about the many meanings behind the food we make, and how we pass it on. Do you add salt at a certain time in the preparation of your beef stew because your mother did? Why did you memorize your grandmother’s oatmeal cookie recipe? When did you stop fighting with your siblings over who gets the last piece of bread? I am excited to see what stories you share."
Pati Jinich is the host of PBS’s Pati’s Mexican Table, author of Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen, resident chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., and blogger at patijinich.com.
“I was born and raised in Mexico City. I originally trained as a political scientist and worked as a policy analyst in Washington, D.C., but homesickness for my country led me to resign and switch gears to food. I am excited to participate in the Tastes Like Home challenge because, to me, few things are as transparent, meaningful, and intimate as sharing family mealtimes. That tends to be when it all comes together, and also when it all unravels. I can’t wait to see your story!”
Hilary Andrews is the Associate Photo Editor for National Geographic Kids and a moderator on My Shot. She is also an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and the women’s hotdog eating champ of Washington DC 2016.
"Everyone knows what home tastes like. But the taste of home is different for everyone. This challenge is about pinpointing what exactly makes your traditional foods taste just the way they are, without allowing the viewer to physically take a bite. The best photos do this through a careful combination of color palette, lighting, and the arrangement of the food and the human subjects. The very best make us homesick -- and hungry."