In my early days as a photographer, I found great success in photographing restaurants. This was pre-Instagram and social media when many of these places were suddenly becoming aware that having good images online could help their presence. But photographing restaurants isn’t straightforward as you are often dealing with low light as well as people eating and moving around. There are also many different elements to consider when shooting a restaurant. To help you here are some tips on capturing photos of restaurants.
Look around and think
If possible, it’s a good idea to have a look around the venue before having to shoot it. Even if it’s only a few hours before, it’ll give you a chance to have a think about the shoot. If you don’t have the luxury of scouting out the venue beforehand, it’s still worth spending a few minutes looking around and thinking about the shoot before snapping away.
Agree on a shot list
As mentioned there are a whole host of different variables when shooting restaurants. From the type and style of photos to, dishes and the venue itself. So it’s important from the outset to understand the client’s requirements so that they are not disappointed in the results. This is why a shot list is so important for restaurant photography. For example, some of the types of shots that a restaurant might want would be:
- The venue itself (i.e. the restaurant or bar area)
- The staff
- The dishes possible in situ (i.e. being cooked or in a lightbox)
- The atmosphere (people eating, drinking and enjoying themselves)
- The views (for example does the restaurant have an amazing rooftop view of the city?)
- The kitchen including the chefs and food being prepped (also close-ups of ingredients)
- The function rooms
- Close-ups of details such as signage, artwork or even tableware
- Drinks such as wine or cocktails
As you can see the set of shot you can capture can be vast so the only way to be sure that you have captured everything needed is to create your shot list and get the client to agree to it.
There are two options when it comes photographing the venue. This can either be done when the restaurant is empty (i.e. in between services) or during a service. As you might expect the former is somewhat easier as you’ll have free access to the whole restaurant. Even if there is enough light the best way to shoot these shots is with a tripod. This will allow you to have a maximum depth of field without having to worry about your shutter speed.
During service, it might be more difficult as the restaurant may not want a tripod around when they have customers. So you may be forced to shoot handheld which will likely mean raising your ISO. If you are allowed to use a tripod, try to find somewhere out of the way to capture the whole ambience of the place. Don’t get up close to someone whose eating as no one wants their meal spoilt with a camera thrust in their face. If the restaurant requires these types of shots it’s better to arrange this beforehand with possible models or even customers who agree to be photographed. It is also worth advising the restaurant to notify its customers when they arrive that there will be photography done.
Photographing the staff
Sometimes the restaurant may want photos of their staff. These types of shots will actually look great as they add a human element and a uniqueness to the restaurant. Photographing the staff – whether it is the bar staff, waiting staff or chefs will provide its own challenges. If the requirement is for head and shoulder portraits, this is much easier as you can set up an area that is well lit and shoot the portraits of the staff.
Most of the time, I was asked to photograph the staff in situ. In other words, while they are working. Again, there are two options here. You can either take these photos during service which can be a bit more challenging as the staff will be rushing around. Or again you can re-create the scenario in between services. For example, if a chef is preparing a meal in the kitchen, if it is for the benefit of the shoot rather than serving customers, they can hold their pose or even move slightly for better composition and lighting. How you photograph staff will come down to the restaurant and the shots that are needed. But again if you are shooting during the service it is best to stay out of the way.
Photographing the food
You will likely be asked to photograph some dishes in any given restaurant shoot. There are several ways that clients may want these types of shots. These could include standalone shots of the dishes in a lightbox or on a table or background of some sort. Or they may want shots that are captured in the kitchen of the food being prepared. These shots will have different ways that you need to utilise to photograph.
For example, kitchen shots can be taken during service or if the restaurant is happy to cook food especially for the shoot whilst they are being prepared. But standalone shots on backgrounds or in lightboxes will ideally be done when there are no customers in the restaurant. If the venue has an empty function room, this is the best place to take these types of shots and can feasibly be done when the restaurant is open. But keep in mind how busy the kitchen and staff will be.
Standalone shots are best taken with a tripod. Use natural lighting (avoid flashes) with a fairly narrow aperture (f/8 to f/11). Generally, food dishes look best either when the camera is at a 45-degree angle or over-the-top looking down. But this isn’t set in stone and sometimes lower angles or close-ups will also look great.
For kitchen shots, you will usually have to shoot handheld as they tend to be small and busy places. Make sure you have your shutter speed correct and fast enough (which might mean raising your ISO) so that you don’t get blurred photos.
Some restaurants are also blessed with amazing views. It might be a roof-top bar or a beautiful setting next to a lake. It’s important to also allow time to capture these types of shots as well. As always, a tripod is the most surefire way to ensure you capture the best possible photos. However, depending on the time of day you may be able to shoot handheld. Treat these shots in the same way as capturing cityscapes or landscapes. Try to do them at the best time and use grad filters if necessary.
Capture the details
A really great way to add variety to your restaurant shoots is to also look to take some photos of the details. It might be a beautiful artwork or an interesting chair. It could even be a colourful bar or even the signage of the restaurant. These types of shots are important as they can bring out the small details that often people miss. They will also ensure that when their photos are online on their site, it adds much more variety.
Restaurant photography can be very rewarding but also challenging and stressful. Food as a subject isn’t always easy to capture and unless you are willing to use hacks to make dishes last longer, you won’t have long before it starts to lose its photography appeal. Other subjects are also tough to capture. The fast pace, the low light and often limited space all make restaurant photography difficult. Hopefully, the tips above can help you capture better photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.
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