Photographing The World Food Championships

In early August, I had the opportunity to photograph The World Food Championships held in Indianapolis at Ivy Tech Community College.

If you are not familiar with the World Food Championships, I highly recommend checking it out.  It’s known as “The Ultimate Food Fight” and the whole experience from my perspective was incredible.

Over the years, I have captured many different types of subjects – everything from weddings to heavy machinery- and I can say that this particular event was one of the most challenging and physically demanding jobs I have ever done.  It required me to tap into all the photographic skills that I have accumulated over the years.

On day one of the four day shoot, I needed to capture portraits of the ten chef finalists. I had a strobe set with a grey sweep, but I also wanted to capture a more intimate and warm portrait of each of the chefs. So I I used a LitraPro and a LitraTorch 2.0 for a secondary set. I was shooting wide open with a Canon 85mm f/1.2. I had each of the chefs sit at a table in front of a nice fireplace on the top floor of the Ivy Tech building. I was really happy with how the images came out and they made for a very nice compliment to the more standard sweep photos.

Michael Durr
Michael Durr

On day two, Visit Indy hosted a tour of Indianapolis. I captured images of the chefs at some of the best locations Indy has to offer. We visited St. Elmo’s Steakhouse downtown and sampled some of their classic shrimp cocktail. Many of the chefs had not been to Indianapolis before, so it was fun to witness them experiencing the city. We stopped at King Dough for an outdoor lunch and then ventured to kiss the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was a perfect summer day and I was able to capture many candid moments throughout the tour.

By day three things got crazy. Each of the ten chefs were required to prepare a pork dish. There were five chefs on each side of a long hallway and the “cheferies” staggered their start times by ten minutes. Once things were rolling, I had to capture action shots of the cooking. Then, when the first chef’s time was up, I had to follow their presentation dish into the adjacent ballroom where there was a panel of judges waiting to judge the dish. I captured a few images of the judges and the chef presenting then had to follow the display dish to a back room where I had black sweep set up.

I had a secondary camera I used to capture the hero shot and I used strobes to keep the entire dish in sharp focus. However, I also wanted to capture tighter shots that we are more accustomed to seeing on social media. So I had my Litra lights on the floor and as soon as I snapped a couple hero frames with the strobes I grabbed the Litra lights and did some close ups with the camera I was using to capture all the action. 

Sounds easy enough? Well, I had to do this all within 10 minutes so I could get to the next chef before they completed their challenge and then I had to do the same thing for each of the 10 dishes. It was over an hour of complete mayhem.

Adding to the chaos was a video team covering the event for an episode of The Final Table that aired in early October. I needed to be extra fast so that they had time to shoot video of the dish on another set. When it came down to it, I had less then two minutes to shoot the hero image and the tighter shots of the dish before I had to hustle back to the kitchen. It took all my knowledge of studio lighting, camera settings and athletic ability to capture everything that was required of me during this time.

For dinner on day three, the top five were treated to a special meal prepared by chef Greg Hardesty at Studio C on the north side of Indianapolis. He prepared an incredible duck dish that the chefs then had to recreate for the final day’s cooking challenge.

The final day was more of the same. There were less chefs in the mix but the tensions were even higher than the previous day. After the duck challenge, the chef finalists were narrowed down to three and those final three were tasked with preparing a sugar cream pie. The winner of that challenge would go on to be crowned the 2019 World Food Champion. 

Overall, the experience of shooting these chefs in their element was incredible. Anxiety levels were high because there was a $100,000 on the line for the winner of the competition. It was very much an action sport and I can’t think of any sport where a photographer could literally stand right next to the athlete and capture photos of them during competition. It required a lot of spacial awareness for them and myself. I am hoping a get the opportunity to capture this event again. 

If you are interested in seeing the episode it is linked below. Extra points if you can spot me throughout the program.  

If you have questions on my set up or any comments feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @instadurr.

A Gallery Of More Images


Michael Durr
November 2020
Michael Durr
Indianapolis, IN

After studying broadcast journalism at Illinois State University, I began my career in Central Illinois creating commercials and on-air promotions for local television affiliates. From 2008 to 2012, I worked for The Marketing Store where I created content for clients such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Southern Comfort. From there, I worked for Maddock Douglas, an innovation consulting firm, developing an internal photo/video offering. I left Maddock Douglas to be a creative director at FÁS Chicago, where I worked primarily for Case Construction. In 2017, I relocated to Indianapolis with my wife and two sons and I have started Michael Durr Photo/Video, LLC. Currently, I work in partnership with Kevin Raber and PhotoPXL, creating video content on all things photography. In addition I work on other freelance projects primarily around the midwest. Throughout my career, talented friends and great mentors have surrounded me. I have been fortunate to wake up every day never feeling like I was going to work. The combination of my professional experience, personality and drive to improve has given me a unique perspective from behind the lens. It is a combination of work and life that inspires me.

Article Type: Tutorials, Columns, MISC

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