As you know, I’m a self-proclaimed foodie - it’s right there in my bio on the left! I just love food - everything from home-cooked meals to greasy finger-licking street food and fancy, multiple course restaurant dinners.
And of course, I want to share my favorite experiences with you guys - and for that, I need (want!) to take beautiful, drool-worthy pictures! Lt me start by saying that I have zero actual education in photography - I am entirely self-taught - I’m pretty much like any other damn blogger who buys a DSLR and thinks they’re a photographer now. But I’ve learned a trick or two about taking photos at restaurants, and I’ve collected them for you. You’ll notice that most of this post isn’t about technicalities, but about etiquette (so important!) and composition. I’ll leave the technical stuff to the experts. If you’re interested, check out the posts below:
- Beginners guide to food photography - SeriousEats
- How to take food photography at restaurants - PictureCorrect
- How to take food photos at night - The Minimalist Baker
- Artificial lighting tips for food photography - Pinch of Yum
I guess the most important thing to keep in mind is:
Do not to let your taking pictures take away from your experience of the food, drinks, and atmosphere.
Unless you’re getting paid to review a restaurant, you will have spent money on what you’re about to consume, so make sure your focus is on enjoying your meal, not taking photos!
I have some basic rules around restaurant picture-taking that can be subsumed under the headline “etiquette”:
- When you make your reservation or upon arriving at the restaurant, ask to be seated in a corner or otherwise a little out of the most crowded area (preferably by a window, for the light). If you’re sitting in the middle of a crowded restaurant, chances are you’re going to disturb other guests or the staff.
- If you are flexible, maybe try out a restaurant for lunch rather than dinner, as chances are there will be much better (day)light conditions.
- Ask the staff if it’s okay to take a couple of pictures. It’s the polite thing to do. And if they say no, pack away your camera and enjoy your meal. If it’s crucial for you to take pictures, make sure you ask when making the reservation.
- Ask your company if they are okay with you taking a couple of snaps. My boyfriend by now knows not to dig in as soon as his plate touches the table, but especially if you’re with a larger group, just make sure that people don’t mind.
- Don’t take more than 1 or 2 minutes photographing each dish. Take 3, 4 snaps and then put down your camera. Don’t use a lot of time styling or arranging. Chances are your food is already beautifully plated, so nothing for you to do there. Don’t let your food get cold, and don’t hold your company back from digging in for too long.
- Don’t disturb other guests. That means, for example, not using flash and not getting up and walking around to get the best angle for your shot. I’ve heard stories about people standing on chairs or moving furniture to get the perfect shot. Don’t be that person! Just try to be as unobtrusive as you possibly can.
The composition of your pictures is of course something that’s very much up to personal taste and preference. But you should at least make sure there are no half-empty, lipstick-stained glasses, dirty napkins, or half-eaten pieces of bread in the picture. I usually find direct frontal shots of the entire plate the most telling, but also like to include a wine glass or other parts of a meal in the background every now and then, especially when there’s a wine pairing to the menu, like I did here at Vildt & Vin.
Usually, I’m not a fan of direct overhead shots - generally I like to put the camera at the level of the table and plate. Close-ups with a part of the plate “cut off” can also look really good sometimes, like for these amazing crispy chicken wings at Alabama Social.
Including hands in the picture can do wonders to make it a bit more lively and down to Earth. I often do this when photographing street food, for example, and the burgers at Tommi’s were perfect to eat by hand!
Another cool thing to try, if and where appropriate, are “action shots”. Again, make sure you’re not disrupting the staff or your fellow diners when doing it (photo from my visit to Perch’s Tea Room).
Generally, I always try to convey the general atmosphere and setting of the restaurant through the composition of the pictures, to give my readers an idea of what it is like.
I take the largest part of my food snaps with my iPhone, at least when it’s just for Instagram. When I think a restaurant is worth a longer review on the blog, I bring my DSLR (I have a Nikon D3200). For food photography, I use a 35mm prime lens, which I think is great for taking food photographs, as it adds a lovely “bokeh” effect and also lets in a lot of light - great for often dimly-lit restaurants. “Bokeh” is basically a shallow depth of field, in which the object in focus is very sharp and the background and surroundings are blurred out - great to make beautiful dish really stand out.
I’m by no means a photography expert, but even I know that in order to take a good picture, lighting is key. And that’s often hard to come by in a restaurant, because of course, the aim is to create a cozy atmosphere, not optimal photography conditions. Again, never, ever, under no circumstances, use flash! It will not only draw attention and disturb fellow guests, it will also make your photos look flat and the food unappealing.
Another trick you can try is using a white menu card or a white napkin as a reflector (positioned outside of the shot) to reflect light to darker areas of your plate, i.e. the side turned away from the light source. If lighting is really terrible, a last resort is to use your smartphone’s flashlight as an additional light source, which can sometimes work out alright. Note that the light is quite harsh, though, and the outcome might only be slightly better than actually using your camera’s flash. I’ve managed to make it work with some dishes, but the picture below is a good example of how it can result in a harsh, white light and strong shadows. If you’re using it, try to hold it directly above your plate to avoid casting shadows.
And then, of course, there’s always editing! I edit all of my pictures - most commonly, that includes rotating, adjusting brightness and temperature (as a lot of artificial lights have an orange color), brightening darker areas, and sometimes adding a little contrast to boost colors even more. Again, not an expert here, but I’m usually quite happy with how my pictures turn out.
So there you have it - I guess the most important part for me is etiquette. In my experience, restaurants are very accommodating and will not object to taking photos. Make sure you don’t disturb anyone! Planning is key to ensure both that you are welcome to take pictures, and to make sure you get the best possible conditions.
How about you - do you photograph your food or are you strictly against that habit? And do you have any tips to share? Let me know in the comments below!