Restaurant Food Photography – Going On Location
I shoot a ton of restaurant food photography, the majority from my strip district photo studio, but I do photography on location quite often. When I do go on location, it is usually for restaurants where I need to incorporate the restaurant’s environment into the photos. The atmosphere of the restaurant is often time almost as important as the food. Another reason to shoot on location is to make it easier for the chef. The food is already there and doesn’t need to be transported to my studio. It’s the same with the props and other restaurant-related props. like dishes, flatware, and other items like salt shakers and such. I have tons of prop choices at my studio, but some restaurants insist on using their props. While I do understand that thought, I usually use another gauge for making those types of decisions. I like to think of it as the “complaining client” metric. If you short the quantity of food served, people will complain. If you change the dishes that the food is served on, you’ll never hear about it. But that’s probably another blog post subject…
What restaurants are looking for in food photography
The difference between advertising and menu photography? – To be honest, there isn’t much of a difference between advertising food photography and photography for menus. Not that it’s relevant to this post, but there is a difference between “editorial food photography” and Menue food photography.
When you’re shooting food for a magazine. If you’re shooting for a magazine, your priority is to make pretty pictures that will help sell the magazine, and your secondary purpose is to make the food look good. It’s just the opposite for menu photography. Your main goal is to make the food look so mouth-watering, that the viewer wants to order that food item. That’s what I’m really good at! I light the food so that it looks like it’s actually sitting in front of you. The key is to light the food to make it as three-dimensional as possible. It’s all about the lighting…
Photographing food on location
What equipment to take along -My photo studio is 50′ x 50′ and it’s full of props, surfaces, and camera equipment, pretty much everything I’ll ever need for a restaurant food photography shoot. When I take my show on the road, of course, I need to take only what’s needed. I do have a truck, but it only holds so much.
What all do I take along on a restaurant food photography location shoot? – If I’m going on location, I’m usually depending on the restaurant to supply a table to shoot on, dishes to plate the food, flatware, and misc. props to add accents to the background of the photos. I bring my camera and lighting equipment, along with a little food styling kit. The food styling kit is very simple, but it’s usually enough to make the food look really good.
What other studio items to take along– If needed, I can bring along a few wooden surfaces to use as backgrounds, but I need to know beforehand because they do take up a lot of room in my truck.
The importance of a scouting trip – One thing that can make or break a restaurant food photography trip is the use of a scouting trip. I need to see the restaurant environment for a couple of reasons.
First, I need to see if there is enough room in which to work. Food photography takes more room than most people think. There’s the camera, tripod, and all the lights. A six-foot square area ain’t gonna cut it…
Secondly, sometimes it’s a good idea to include elements of the restaurant in the food photos. In the chicken wing picture above, you see a grey corrugated background above the chicken. That’s the vertical surface below the bar. I thought it looked pretty cool and would be recognizable as part of the restaurant.
The compromise between quality and quantity in restaurant food photography – I can definitely take killer food photos on location. That’s a fact, but there are times when I discover I’d like to use something that is back at my studio. It might be a specialty light, prop, surface, or just something that I need only on occasion. The simple truth is that I just can’t take my entire studio on location with me. It just can’t be done. And if that does happen, maybe the photo will only be a 9 instead of a 10.
Another thing about restaurant food photography is that the restaurant is usually looking to get done as many food photos as possible in a given day and they’re willing to give up a little quality in the process. That’s where being a professional food photographer really matters. I know how to shoot quickly without sacrificing too much quality. I’ve developed a “beginning” lighting setup that works for most foods, not all foods, but most. I still pride myself on making all my food photos look amazing, and to do that, they usually take different types of lighting. My beginning lighting works for most things, increasing both the number of photos we can produce and the quality too.
Restaurant budgets for food photography
Restaurant chains vs single restaurants – When a single restaurant approaches me to do their food photography, I know up front that there is a possibility of sticker shock”. But, if the cost of the photography can be amortized over multiple restaurants, then the food photography budget may be a little looser. There’s nothing to be done about this unless I really love the restaurant’s food, then maybe I can offer a little trade, but that’s something that doesn’t happen often.
Food photography without an assistant – If I’m in the studio shooting food, 90% of the time, the budget allows for a photo assistant. Having an assistant makes things move along more efficiently than working without one. They help move lights, communicate with the stylist in the kitchen, and even go out to pick up the client and crew’s lunch. In my estimation, having an assistant can add 15-25% efficiency to the day, allowing us to get a lot more shots done. When shooting on location, the budgets are usually too tight for me to bring along a photo assistant, and somehow we do just fine…
Food photography without a stylist – I’d say that on most location restaurant shoots, we end up depending on the restaurant’s chef, instead of working with a food stylist. This does two things that help the shoot. While a food stylist will definitely increase the quality of the food photos being taken, they will also drastically slow down the shoot. With a food stylist, a dozen shots are considered to be a lot of photos, while when working without a stylist, we can usually double the number of photos taken in a day. The second downside to working with a food stylist is the price. Adding a food stylist to the team can oftentimes break the bank. Quality food stylists don’t come cheap.
Conclusion – Wearing a lot of photographic hats and making it work – If the restaurant’s food photography budget doesn’t allow for a photo assistant or a food stylist, then someone needs to pick up the slack and do the things that they would have been doing. Most of the time, I end up being the stylist. The chef will plate the food to the best of their ability and then I’ll make the final tweaks. I’m not saying that I’m as good as a food stylist, it’s just that I’m all there is at that point. I’ve seen many of the stylist’s techniques and know a few of the tricks. If all we need to do is compose a few fries and moisten up the food a little, I’m usually all that’s needed.
Do you need food photography for your restaurant? If so, I’d be glad to talk with you about your project. You’ll find that I’m competitively priced, flexible, and easy to work with. Please give me a call at 412-418-2838 or drop me an email to discuss your needs. If you’d like to see my “Food Photography only” website, then please follow the link. I’m looking forward to meeting you!!