Food Photography for Restaurants

If you run a restaurant, food truck or catering company, at some point, you will need to get some professional food photography taken for your website, marketing or social media. While a lot of people take pictures of their food everyday, a professional food photographer does more than taking a snapshot.

Why hiring a professional food photographer

Besides the general photography training required to become a professional photographer, there is a lot of extra training that goes into food photography. Because most of it is shot with natural light, photographers need to learn how to make better use of the available light and how to use reflectors and light modifiers to create highlights and shadows. Even if most of them are passionate cooks, they need to learn how to plate and style for food photography: what looks delicious to the naked eye, does not necessarily translate well in a photograph. 

How to choose your food photographer

Your best best is to ask another local restaurant for a recommendation: if they had a good experience and great images, they will be happy to direct you to a food photographer they have worked with. If this is not an option, you can easily find some local food photographers on websites like Smartshoot or Thumbtack. Create a free account and post a request detailing your project and budget. You will then receive quotes from local photographers. Before you make a decision, there are a few things you can look at to help you choose the right food photographer. First, have a look at their portfolio or website: it should be modern looking (a website that looks like it was built in the 90’s is not a good sign of a photographer that stays on top of trends) and the photography style should match the vision you have for your restaurant. You will also notice that some photographers will offer any sort of commercial photography, from headshots to food photography. Choose a photographer that focuses in 2 or 3 areas that he does very well, rather than a photographer that does a little bit of everything. Finally, take the time to exchange emails or meet with him to get familiar with his process: how long will the shoot last, how many images will you get, what is the turnaround time, can you review and choose the images from a larger number of pictures, how will he deliver the final images, etc.

How to prepare for the shoot day

Before the shoot, make sure you let your chef know on what day the photographer will be coming, and discuss with him what dishes he should prepare. Choose dishes that are popular or a signature dish of your establishment. Make sure you pick dishes that look good. Once you have a first draft of the list, send it to your photographer: he will be able to give you feedback and comments and will help you finalize a shot list.

On the day of the shoot

If you are able to have the photographer come during closing hours, this is your best option. Photographers come with a lot of expensive equipment and may be disruptive to your customers. If you cannot, don’t worry, most food photographers are used to coming during service and will do their best to be as discreet as possible. Make sure to reserve a table for him by a large window or any natural light source. If you don’t have access to a lot of natural light, make sure to let the photographer know beforehand so he can bring some studio lighting. Expect the photographer to move some tables around, and possibly to kick off his shoes and climb on chairs to get an overhead shot or two.

Make sure to have the chef make one dish at a time, so that they look fresh when the photographer shoots them. Have your chef use smaller plates if possible, it makes the food looks more plentiful. Also make sure the chef doesn’t use a lot of sauce or dressing but provides some extra sauce on the side for the photographer to add when necessary. The photographer may also ask for some fresh cut veggies and fruits to add to some dishes: adding fresh uncooked ingredients helps make the food look fresh and more appetizing.

The most important thing is to communicate with your photographer before and during the shoot. Make sure to ask any question you may have: you and your staff need to be well informed so that you are comfortable having the photographer coming t o your establishment. Don’t hesitate to share anecdotes about the staff, the clients, or the food. Ultimately, the photographer is not only there to take pictures of the food, but to capture the mood and personality of your restaurant.