Restaurant photography is usually the starting point for a food photographer's career. If necessary, newspapers and magazines may even hire you as a restaurant critic. However, restaurant photography is not that simple. In fact, it's one of the more difficult types of food shoots because it's not just about the dishes, but typically you'll also be photographing the staff, the guests, the interior, the menu, or even the facade of the restaurant. This means that while you will be doing food photography, you will also need to master portrait and architectural photography. With this in mind, I've put together ten tips for taking photos of restaurants.
Ask for a shot list
When you talk to your customer about photography, please ask for the shoot list, i.e. a list of all the pictures he would like to have with a brief description. From drinks and certain dishes from the menu to the interior, decor elements, kitchen or group pictures of the staff. You need to know exactly what is expected of you in order to be able to estimate how much time the shoot will take. For example, photographing a drink usually takes longer than photographing a dish, because you have to worry about how to deal with reflections on the glasses and this alone is a bit more time-consuming.
If you are asked by a restaurant, it probably does not yet have a very clear idea of what exactly you are booking, i.e. an exact number of pictures, dishes or how many hours the photographer will need. It is therefore important that you ask the client all the key questions in advance in order to be able to give your customers the best possible guidance on the process, costs and possible results. Accepting a job without knowing exactly what is being photographed can, in retrospect, lead to misunderstandings and annoyance, which can be avoided with a brief consultation.
If you do not carry out a clear agreement with the client and inform him about your work defeats, it may happen that you e.g. For example, you either do not receive the corresponding remuneration due to poor communication or you spend more time on the project than originally planned because new requests from the customer may come in between during the shoot. At least find out how much food, drinks and other pictures are needed. In my experience, photographing dishes in a restaurant takes an average of 20 minutes. But sometimes longer.
This depends on the lighting conditions and other factors. So try to create a schedule that is as realistic as possible in accordance with the ideas and needs of the restaurant, and let your customers know in advance what you can realistically offer within a certain time frame and the corresponding price range. You like to be flexible and do something to accommodate your customers, but keep your hourly wages in the back of your mind and also inform the client in advance that spontaneous ideas during the shoot or special requests that were not included in the plan may arise can lead to additional costs.
Check the restaurant before the shoot
Take a look at the restaurant before the shoot and above all observe the lighting conditions in the rooms. In some cases, with enough natural light, you can get good pictures without lighting during the day. In other cases, you need to use artificial light like LEDs or flashes. Most indoor restaurants are quite dark or their lighting can create undesirable color casts in the picture. You also need to figure out the best place to put equipment and your work area. To do this, you need the consent of the manager or owner. If the restaurant is open during filming, you need to be as inconspicuous as possible. So this may mean that you have to limit the amount of equipment you bring with you.
Clarify the conditions for food styling
When negotiating with customers, make sure you are not a food designer. You are not responsible for the final appearance of the dishes in the pictures. It's best to even create a clause in the contract that makes this clear. Food styling is another profession and it requires different skills than photography. It is your responsibility to take in the lights and pictures, and to take the best of the dishes as they are presented to you. Unfortunately, it is so that many customers do not understand the difference or imagine that the food styling is of course included in the food photography. You need to explain to them how the food style part of food photography works. If the chef is good at this, the food may look good enough. However, setting the dining style for the guest is different from setting the dining style for the camera. In high-end restaurants, chefs usually do better. I advise my clients to make sure their chefs are competent for the job. Otherwise, you should hire a food designer.
There are times when customers refuse to hire a food designer. It is all the more important that you explain to the customer how important professional food styling is for the appearance of the dishes in the pictures and how much it ultimately contributes to the quality of the pictures. You are also welcome to present sample images to your client to make the difference easier to understand.
What props should you bring with you?
Carry a stack of papers of various shapes, sizes, and colors. Bring some plates and cutlery if necessary. Sometimes clients want the plates and cutlery to reflect the atmosphere of the restaurant. Many companies even have a clearly defined brand development direction whose look and concept must be recognizable in your images. However, many restaurants have typical and even white plates that are not sufficiently appealing in the pictures. Depending on which clientele the restaurant has, the guests prefer a fancy style.
In order to make your pictures appealing to these guests, you have to bring some mood into your pictures, for example a rustic or dark and moody aesthetic is particularly suitable for the dishes. In this case, you can, for example, fall back on elegant matt ceramic or vintage tableware.
You can also bring a small cutting board, squeeze bowl, or salt and pepper shaker. Add other props that can best portray the atmosphere. You may need to bring your own background as well, as customers often want the footage to have a magazine-like look. The backgrounds are also particularly suitable if the tables in the restaurant create reflections or are too shiny. I also often bring some canvas or vinyl backgrounds with me. They look great, are lightweight, and easy to roll up and carry around.
Should you use a tripod?
Restaurant lighting is a challenge for food photography with natural light. You need to take photos near the window and you definitely need a tripod. This allows you to reduce the shutter speed and take longer exposures. However, using a tripod when shooting in a dining room or kitchen is problematic. The solution is to increase the ISO or use a monopod to take photos. It's not as stable as a tripod, but more stable than a handheld camera.
Take pictures in landscape orientation
Ask your customers in advance what their intended use will be for the images before using them. This determines how the images should be captured. Many restaurants only need the images for their website. For interactive web design, images must be aligned horizontally. In addition, they tend to cut off the top and bottom of the image. If customers want to print certain images in the menu, they may need a vertical format.
Each time the camera is repositioned, the position of the subject must also be changed. So rearrange other elements in the scene. This ensures that the composition matches the orientation of your camera, and does not allow important elements to be cut off when viewed on the web.
Take tethered recordings
If you're not familiar with food or restaurant photography, this is a place to start. Network sharing refers to connecting the camera to a computer or laptop. This allows you to view a larger, more accurate copy of the recording. This is very easy to do in Lightroom. All you need is the right cable to connect the two devices together.
With wired recording, you can see any mistakes you may have made and be able to adjust the composition as you record. The customer can also approve the image there. Showing the customers the pictures on your computer will make you look more professional. And so you can be sure that you are delivering what your customers expect.
Why you should involve the client and chef in the admission process
Your customers should explain to you exactly what style they want. The images from your portfolio that appeal to your customer can very well be a good starting point for this conversation to gain an insight into their ideas. Apps such as Pinterest and Mood Board are also ideal for conveying the client's vision to the photographer. In addition, your contact person must be present at the local restaurant. You set the creative direction and approve the images.
This way you avoid the customer complaining afterwards or saying that they don't like the pictures so much and asks for a new shoot. This is a condition that has been taken into account in my contract. If the person responsible for the assignment does not show up on the day of the shoot as agreed, I pack my things and go home. The customer loses his deposit.
You should also always include the chef in the restaurant's photoshoot. When making an appointment, please mention that you would like to speak to the chef. It is important that you coordinate the timing of the recording with what is going on in the kitchen.
If it takes you 20 minutes to take a photo, there's no feasibility for the chef to bring out a plate every five minutes. After a while, the food no longer looks fresh and appetizing. Let assistants or other restaurant staff act as intermediaries and make sure the food comes out at the right time.
Restaurant photography can be a challenge. But it can also become a valuable part of your work as a food photographer. Learning to work well with different restaurants can help you expand your food photography portfolio quickly. Put these skills into practice.
You have learned the following:
You can eliminate potential problems and misunderstandings on the day of admission by having a clear arrangement with your client and using open communication.
You visit the restaurant in advance and plan a structured sequence of your shoot that best implements the customer's wishes with the characteristics of the restaurant, the food and your equipment, both in terms of time and quality.
In this way you allow yourself a smooth and stress-free operation and you can be sure that your customers will be satisfied.