Please welcome today Brian Samuels, the talented author and photographer behind the blog A Thought for Food who is sharing his best tips and advice on shooting in a restaurant and capturing beautiful images even in challenging circumstances. You can also see more of Brian’s wonderful restaurant photography every week in his Silent Sundays series.
Taking photographs at a restaurant can be a challenge. It’s crowded, it’s dark, and sometimes it’s hard to get things to stay in one place for more than a couple of seconds (I can’t begin to tell you how many times servers have come in and blocked my shots. But they’re just doing their job).
Here are some rules that I follow when I take pictures at a restaurant:
1. Lighting –
I don’t use a flash at restaurants unless I’m taking the photos professionally (getting paid to take them) and even then I really don’t like using it. This means that the dining area has to be very well lit. I usually try to take pictures during lunch hours or earlier in the evening (in the summer, you’ll get more daylight to work with). Restaurants tend to be less crowded during these times and patrons are typically not going out for romantic meals, so they won’t care if you whip out your camera and start taking shots.
When I’m at a restaurant, the first thing I do is scope out tables that are next to windows, which will give me the best light. Don’t be afraid to request a table if it looks available.
I tend not to ask for permission before taking photos of food. It’s my food and I’m paying for it and I really don’t feel like I’m burdening anyone. However, a lot of restaurant photography involves getting shots of servers or cooks, and, in these instances, you’ll want to ask them for permission (or, if the manager is around, it’s best to ask him/her).
As for getting pictures of other patrons, well, that’s a bit tricky. Your goal is to get shots that are natural and if you draw attention to the fact that you’re taking a photo of them, they may react awkwardly. Try to be discreet when taking pictures of customers. Be quick in getting your shot and definitely don’t use a flash. I’ve never had anyone get angry with me taking a picture of them, but I’m sure it will happen at some point. All you can do is apologize and tell them that you’re a food blogger/photographer and you’re doing a piece on the restaurant. Most people will understand and some of them may even ask you more about your website.
Even more important than the food is getting detail shots of the space. Your goal is to make people want to eat there and that means giving them a complete portrait of the restaurant. Be sure to get shots of signs, business cards, or any other branding around the room. There may also be interesting light fixtures or artwork hanging on the wall. Give the whole restaurant a thorough look.
On a recent shoot at Area Four in Cambridge, MA, a restaurant that features wood-oven pizzas on their menu, I came across this stack of logs that had their name stamped into it:
Food is beautiful all perfectly plated, but the shots that will get people excited are ones that evoke action. If you go to a restaurant with a group of people, have them get involved. After you have your photos of the dish in it’s completed form, have them cut into that juicy steak and pretend to feed it to you. Or have them make some over-the-top expressions as they sink their teeth into a burger. They’ll love it and you’ll get some fun shots.
This was from a shoot at Pain D’Avignon in Hyannis, MA, of an egg on top of greens. The dish was beautiful on it’s own, but see how effective the second shot is?
(Equipment: Canon 7D, 24-70mm f2.8 lens/50mm f1.8 lens)
Brian Samuels is a Boston-based event and food photographer and writer. He is the creator of the food blog A Thought for Food, a collection of recipes and personal anecdotes pertaining to cooking. His work has been featured in Saveur, Improper Bostonian, Edible Boston, and TheKitchn. Follow Brian on Twitter at @myfoodthoughts or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to read the full Summer Food Photography Series: