Posters photographed and designed by Expression Food
Customer iPhone photo
Grill Spot Restaurant in San Francisco decided to show off their fine Japanese style tapas menu items in their window. I shot their menu along with a hero shot of the customer’s favorite dishes. The goal for the poster was to show off their fine menu and grab hungry patrons walking along the busy city street.
We decided to make the 48”x36” poster double sided. The food hero shot faces out to the street with the byline, “A wonderful selection of meats, sauces, and Japanese tapas created for your eating pleasure!” This shows off the wonderful variety of grilled items, tapas, and ramen that is offered on the menu.
The back side to the poster is a photo that I took of their beautiful fireplace that dances and warms the atmosphere of the dining room. It adds ambience and branding to the dining room.
The result? The kitchen has more orders for the dishes on the poster!
Sammy G’s Pizza should be a textbook example of a restaurant that does so many things right! Their first big success is correct and successful concept for location. They are near SJSU in San Jose and have a total fun menu and appeal for college students. The big outdoor patio is a fun gathering place! But they don’t stop there!
They let the patrons make their own pizzas, which results in much social media success and exposure with the conconctions! https://www.instagram.com/sammygspizza
The titles and varieties of the pizzas are second to none! Mother Cluckers is a BBQ chicken pizza while Bahn Mi Love features Vietnamese ingredients. Farmers Market pizza with fresh veggies was my favorite!
And there is a breakfast section with eggs on pizzas called Wakey Bakey to capture the same customers for another meal period!
Plus they have invented totchos, which are potato tot nachos. And their buffalo wings have crispy carrots in the little fryer basket that serves them. This is so simple but a very great presentation!
They also have daily specials that rotate through their menu and are posted up front. An LED panel shows photos throughout the business hours.
Their pizza box that is used for all to go and delivery app orders has their branding and URL.
Bravo! No wonder they are busy with a great Yelp score!
Everyone wants to know, why can’t I use my iPhone for my food shots? Why do you need an expensive big camera or a food photographer?
You can use your iPhone of course. And it is a good way to go if you do not have the budget for a big camera or the time to learn how to use it or the money to hire a professional food photographer right now.
The biggest differences between the two cameras, DSLR and iPhone, involve the options at your fingertips for off camera light, lenses, and large raw files.
Off-camera light in the form of a flash or strobe with a light modifier to soften the light can be controlled to provide a beautiful raking light across the food, which gives it a dramatic look and bright accurate colors. This gives the finished photo depth and an aesthetic quality that captures and holds the eye. The flash and strobe are the same “kelvin color” as natural light so they render food colors in a very appetizing and natural manner. No green eggs and ham here!
The iphone has an on-camera flash which is very harsh on food or just about any subject that is too close to it. Even if you are using natural light or ambient light you will want to add filler light for more depth or a more cinematic look. There are companies working on an off-camera flash for an iphone now so you can search for one.
The lenses on a DSLR camera are very versatile and come in a variety of sizes and styles. The prime lenses, which I use, provide a lot of details which are important for food plus you can use a variety of apertures for selective focus. You can have just the foreground in focus or you can have it all in focus.
Plus a DSLR camera can be set to record a “raw file” which allows you to more effectively edit the final photo by removing shadows, adding highlights and increasing certain colors. The iphone will record a raw file if you use a third party app to do it. But the DSLR produces a much higher resolution file that is very large and 50 meg so this is an excellent choice if you are printing.
Here is one experiment taken during a shoot:
iPhone 10 with ambient light, light editing for exposure and cropping:
Nikon DSLR full sensor with 50mm lens and off camera flash with diffuser, light editing for exposure and cropping:
Of course you can shoot in natural light with your iPhone for good results. Here are five easy steps for the do-it-yourselfers who need to use an iPhone right now:
Make sure everything is clean and remove clutter from the background. All good shots start with great styling to complement the subject, your food. Use complementary colors like red and green wherever possible.
Place your food in a window in natural light and shoot at various angles. It is better to have filtered light versus direct sun. A smart phone photo will always look better when you have good light.
Focus on the food itself (press the screen so the subject is in focus). Make sure you are at a distance where the food is in focus. Closer is better but you do not want to be too close. If you opt to have the food fill about half of the image that is a great start.
Edit the image in your iphone to crop and adjust the exposure as needed.
Avoid using the flash wherever possible unless you are outdoors and a little farther away.
Expression Food is proud to expand services to include graphic design and printing specifically for restaurants and food companies.
Our customers want to convert their photos that we have taken for them into wall decals, posters, window graphics, photo slideshows for LED flat panel monitors, menu boards, floor decals, banners, and much more. So we expanded our services to make their life easier! They can rest assured that they are getting a great design, affordable printing, and a high quality printed product very fast.
We can design all of your in-house marketing and display items and have them delivered right to your door. All you have to do is choose and approve the designs we email to you. And you are done! We do all of the work and your printed items arrive on your doorstep very fast.
We have vetted several designers and U.S. printing facilities that print all of these materials at wholesale prices and deliver 100% quality every time on time. It takes years to find these vendors and to develop working relationships with them along with an understanding of how to design materials for fantastic printed results! And we have done that successfully for years in the education market. Let us do this work for you!
If you need:
decals that stick to walls, windows, or floors to attract foot traffic and upsell options
a standing banner that announces your new establishment or happy hour
posters about your menu or services
web posters and banners to make you look great
stickers for giveaways
table tents about menu specials
table top signs that show great menu items
We have you covered! Read more and see pricing here:
“There were several converging factors that brought me to this amazing path as a food photographer. ”
When I went to school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, to become a chef, I took a part time job assisting the CIA’s food photographer. The projects for cookbooks, posters, marketing materials, and stock photography were all endless and amazing. My first lesson about a camera was on a medium format Hasselblad. I worked long and hard to style shots and marveled at the beautiful light from the strobes. After I graduated, I became a pastry chef with Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, and I kept photographing for myself to build a professional portfolio.
I got a promotion to one of the best Hyatt Resorts as an executive pastry chef at the age of 29. I created and styled many desserts for upscale clients, fundraisers, magazines, and books. And DuPont hired me to do a big series on desserts made with tofu that appeared gourmet and delicious. I retired from Hyatt at the age of 34 and founded Food and Health Communications where I created and photographed many editorial projects and art posters, all of which are still successfully sold online.
I chose an academic route to further my formal education with art, graphic design, and photography at UC Berkeley Extension, where I completed their Visual Art Certificate program. My favorite professor summed it up best, “you are very good at arranging and shooting food!” My graduating thesis and portfolio was about farmer’s markets and the beauty of locally grown, seasonal foods. I learned the theory of color, values, composition, and cohesion for visual art and photography. I also learned how to retouch photos from an ad agency retoucher who was helping one of our instructors with our class. It was a fabulous journey!
I accepted an offer to be a contract food photographer for Kodak, which means shooting hundreds of restaurants in the Bay Area for their clients. I was instantly in foodie heaven with all of the various ethnic dishes and local foods that I get to shoot. Plus I enjoy telling so many “visual” stories.
But the one moment that sold me on this path, and made me fall in love with my work, happened on an early morning job where I was photographing a Mexican restaurant’s menu for a delivery app. The chef worked very hard and put a lot of pride in his work. He was straining to put out ten different dishes made from scratch for my shot, on top of getting ready for his day. He said, “this is a lot of work!”
I admired his dishes because they have the aura of a chef’s hand and spirit with hand-chopped vegetables, herbs, and swirls of a simple sauce.
I styled his food using his favorite ingredients. And when I showed him the photos in the back of my camera, his face lit up like a kid’s at Christmas and he said, “muchos gracias!!” (por nada!) So I was hooked because I felt that I made a difference in his life and business.
I do contract work for the delivery apps in this area and I often get a lot of questions about how to prepare for one of these shoots. I also see ways for restaurants to represent themselves in a better way so I wrote this post to help everyone.
Go into the shoot with the proper attitude. You have an excellent opportunity to market yourself and differentiate yourself from your competition. This process is not simply meant to waste food or to cost you money. You can give the extra food to your staff, a favorite customer, or save it for yourself for later. Delivery apps are now 10% of restaurant sales and they are growing. I liken them to “amazon for restaurants.” If you do a good job with your food and photos you will gain an edge and rank up higher in the apps and gain more sales and more new customers.
If you are mad about giving up a percentage of your money to the apps, rethink your menu strategy. Put on some creative combo menu choices that appeal to the demographic of people in your area with up-to-date pricing so you earn the money back, cover your costs, and make more profit. Remember that the delivery app market is a whole new sales channel and you did not have to do any marketing to bring in these sales. When you think about how hard you have to work to market to bring in customers the delivery apps are a great idea. Combo meals always make more money and they are easier for a customer using an app because they can order a good deal with everything they want for one click and do not have to scroll around while the kids are screaming for their food. Use the app one day to see how it works. Make it easier for your customers to want to find you and spend more money!
Do not use customer food during the photo shoot. It makes a very poor experience for the waiter, the customer, and the photographer plus the photos are never the best. Customers do not want to watch someone hover over their food with a camera, the photographer feels irritated and rushed, the food does not look its best, the waiter or waitress is stressed, and you might even get a bad Yelp score. I had a table threaten to walk out and they sent all the food back to the kitchen and left bad reviews on Yelp while the waitress cried.
Take the time to prepare a few good dishes in advance. The maximum number is ten but you can make three to five good ones. The best restaurants have 10 items ready when I walk in the door. I had one restaurant prepare 16 dishes and let me pick the best ones. The outcome was amazing and since I was so proud of their effort I gave them free photos of the extra items. Their food was beautiful and their restaurant was busy. No wonder! Food can sit for a lot longer than you think and still look great in the shoot. Trying to make items “fresh” while the photographer waits, the customers order, the staff interrupts, the phone rings, someone calls in sick, and the delivery truck comes is not the best strategy unless you can assemble your items quickly.
Prepare your most popular items that make the most money and look the best. People always ask me what to prepare. And my answer is to look at your most popular items and think about your profit. Think about what people in your area are searching for and include those items. Look on the app at your most popular item list. Think about the money. It does not make sense to put up a $2 glass of tea or $3 basket of naan when you can feature a great item that will make you a lot of money over time like your best chicken entree!
Be organized and know what you are going to shoot and how you are going to plate it. It is not an all day shoot where you can shoot the same thing over and over to see what you like best or change your mind and take all these items away and add more. The photographer has an art directive from the delivery app company and can style your shot quickly using the right ratio for the app. The photographer also has a limited amount of time and gets paid for up to 10 items, so everyone has to work efficiently.
Make sure you are presenting the food that is on your delivery app menu and give the same title of the dish to the photographer. This ensures that all of your photos will be posted quickly. Otherwise the editors may cause a huge delay or discard your photos. One restaurant worked hard to do 10 dishes but only one photo was posted. The reason? The delivery menu was in Vietnamese but they gave an English list to the photographer. Make a list and be accurate and this won’t happen to you.
Offer a few props like sauces, fresh herbs, nice china, folded napkins, rocks, flowers, baskets, or whatever you have that makes you “you”. This will show that you are a distinguished and professional establishment that puts your best foot forward for your customer. Always use plates and not fast food containers.
If you can’t be there, your employees will do a fine job! They are the ones who prepare the food every day and they can give the dishes to the photographer who is trained to photograph food in a very pleasing manner. It is better to shoot than not to shoot. Today and right now is always the best time! Tomorrow can be even worse. And speaking of time try to pick the time before or after lunch or right before dinner. Do not pick a time that is in the middle of the rush. Be a little flexible because the photographer has to fight traffic, find parking, and put things in the order of the map. I often call my restaurants and ask for a little change in time so I can limit driving and spend it in the restaurant working with them. I truly love to work with the restaurant staffs to help them shoot their very best work!
The goal of every one of our photo sessions is to make every detail so perfect that you do not need to retouch. There is nothing like outputting the perfect shot with little effort. It is easier for us, cheaper for the client, and the image makes us all so happy when it pops!
The motto is always the same, “do not PLAN to PhotoShop.” It takes more time to photoshop a splatter of gravy off of a plate than it does to change or wipe the plate.
The aspects of every photo shoot that can be controlled are composition, light, style, and neatness. Neatness can never be over-stated. We keep cloths for little spills and encourage and use gloves to avoid fingerprints on glass surfaces. Any surface that is shiny has to have extra care. And black plates also have to have extra care because while they are beautiful they often show every scratch and spill.
But sometimes there are things out of everyone’s control that are not perfect. Like an exit sign over a beautiful table or a big metal oven bar that doesn’t look right next to a golden roasted chicken in a rotisserie oven shot. Some windows cannot be cleaned on site because no one can reach them and they did not think to call the cleaner. And metal always looks old unless it is brand new. Glass gets extra reflection marks because we cannot use polarization film on every light source. Takeout bags or containers sometimes have tiny dents or wrinkles and they need a little smoothing. The chicken was roasted perfectly but one of the drumsticks is missing a patch of skin. You filled all 15 of the beer glasses to show off your new IPA beer bar and the colors are gorgeous in the frosted glasses but just one of the glasses has a fingerprint near the bottom and no one saw it. Such is the life of working on location in a live restaurant! We have fixed all of these easily! We have you covered.
It is good to know that our retouching skills for food are stellar so when they are needed in situations like these so you will have your very best shot!
Here are some examples of our retouching skills as before and after:
After shooting over 200 restaurants in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, I have a few tips to share to help restaurants have great success with their photographs.
Develop a list of shots that you need. Menu updates are always the most popular request. But catering promotions, social media updates, websites, and wall decor are all a close second and intertwined with menus. Use our handy photograph organizer: Photo Shot List Organizer (excel spreadsheet). We can share it in Google Drive or Dropbox so that multiple team members can collaborate together. I have found that this exercise helps the shoot day go very fast and smooth and it increases both the number of shots and the quality of the shots.
List your images by priority starting with the most important and ending with the least important. That way you will get the most important ones done first. I find that a restaurant has a limit to the time it can spend because it has to serve its customers! And it is okay to spread the shoot over multiple days to accommodate business hours. By making a list you might decide to do food one day and drinks another day.
Organize by “setup.” It wastes time to switch from drink to entree to dessert to drink to entree to dessert. It is always better to start with one type of menu item and then proceed to the next. Part of the key to success to stay on budget is to shoot one scene with many items and then go to the next scene. For example we would shoot all of the plated entrees and then go to beverages because the setup changes for each. If you have the space in your facility we can create 2-3 scenes and go between them if necessary. So we can shoot drinks while the kitchen is preparing the entrees. Keep clicking is my motto!
Make sure you have a few clean props ready or indicate the props needed on the shot list. Most restaurants have many great props and they just need to clean them and put them together before the shoot. I own quite a few props and can bring them but I feel that YOUR props are what make your restaurant and photos special. The round table top in this photo came from the restaurant’s foyer while the food ingredients came from its kitchen. I supplied the black cutting board.
Easy low-cost props include: your condiments and sauces, rollups of silverware in cloth napkins, stacks of dishes, take-out bags and boxes, checkered parchment paper, silverware, cutting boards, napkins (if cloth), spices, herbs, fresh produce, glasses, olive oil, vinegar, and wine. When using your dishes, sauces, spices, napkins, and cutlery, the photo becomes YOUR brand. You do not have to go to a great expense to buy a lot of props you won’t use. This ramen house excelled with interesting spices, a kitchen knife and great ingredients.
We can supply our custom painted backdrops. You can decide if you like a light white look, a dark dramatic look, or a neutral look with lots of color. I have a whole gallery of hand-painted and created backdrops that give you a cohesive look that will set your food apart. We can choose them for you at your shoot because I always have them with me.
A quiet location near the kitchen is best for the shoot. I have designed the lighting equipment to give you the most dramatic and beautiful light for food. And of course we can work with the existing and beautiful natural light in your facility.
There are several ways to prop a shot and while they are a great start they do not have to be a hard and fast rule.
Styling can focus on one of three purposes:
How you make it (knives, spices, raw ingredients)
How you serve it (chafing dishes, glasses, plates, utensils)
How you eat it (sauces, condiments, napkins, plates, utensils).
You can mix all of these of course. My two standard rules and questions are where is the red and where is the green? Because when you mix those two colors you can never go wrong. Usually these items are quickly found when I take a tour of the dining room and the kitchen.
In this shot I fell in love with all of the serving utensils and plates right away.
This salad could be eaten at a desk and the focus is on the dish.
This dish comes with an array of salads.
Whereas in this shot the story was all about how the food was made with the beautiful raw ingredients.
And in this shot the story was about the spices.
Sometimes a little process like carving and juice can be included:
Since you are making everything right in your kitchen you have a lot of possibilities for mouth-watering shots of your cooking process.
And fast food can even look good when you complement the lines of the boxes with lines in the styling and show how it is served. Red and green makes all of the difference!
One of my specialties is developing YOUR story. My first client asked me, “how would you style my crepes?” And I gave him a great studio test shot. But then we quickly realized, while the studio shot was amazing, it did not have his touch. And so we came up with a shot that was all about him and highlighted his shot. I soon realized that was the key to success and I have not stopped on the approach to shoot on location for a restaurant.
Here is a shot in progress – from styling to shooting multiple angles to the final output.
(behind the scenes photos courtesy of my LA friend, Dianne Waldman and her iPhone)
After dozens of great shoots this month from LA and San Francisco, I wanted to highlight a new trend I see in restaurant marketing. It is quite simple. Market more to the customers you already have. It is hard to get new customers because you have to come up with creative advertising and spend money on direct mail and online digital ads. So it makes sense to treat your customers really well and to offer them more services and upsells. I see my client restaurants accomplishing this many ways and wanted to share the trends.
Capture people walking by your location with great food photo decals on the windows and doors. It is silly cheap ($100 or less for most sizes) to print a window or wall decal and they are removable so you can change them out. Take a look at your windows, walls, and doors. Are there old decorations? A lot of dead space? It is time to take a look at your space as a customer! Need decals? Contact us to handle the photography and printing!
Make sure your menu board photos are cohesive and looking really good with a wow factor. I worked with one restaurant over several months to capture photos of all of their menu category items. The chef and I worked to create some of my most amazing photos with action shots of him pouring coffee, building sandwiches, and plating desserts (see the beverage and dessert sections of my portfolio). The result is that all of the photos now show his most recent creations and they look like they go together. Since he is in a downtown space he is putting the photos on his windows and doors to entice customers to walk into his restaurant. Once inside, they can see beautiful menu boards and a branded wall. He has also created a retail center for gifts and to highlight his catering services. I was impressed because he was willing to say that all of the old decorations he once valued were not adding money to his bottom line! That is a pragmatic epiphany!
Consider a unique selling point sign and branding awareness on the inside of your restaurant. One of the restaurants that is using the food photos on the walls came up with a fun sign to state that they are about food, beverages, and friends and it adds a nice atmosphere and touch to create a memorable experience. It made so much sense for him to take down all of the dusty and busy art on the walls and to use them for branding! I created the sign for him.
Show your customers your food while they are in your restaurant. I see restaurants doing this doing this with photo slide shows on TV screens and photos on the walls. I just flew to LA to shoot for a restaurant that is going to completely redo their walls with the photos of their menu items as the art. This restaurant worked very hard to have the most amazing colorful food and we created a cohesive show of all of their most popular items.
Market your catering services to your customers. Restaurants are presenting brochures to the people coming into the restaurant with fun party packages like a party in a bag and they are adding photo on their websites and social media channels to show that they cater. The most successful restaurants have great catering programs. People want to know that you have a package that they can order.
Use and optimize menus on meal delivery apps. I hear every chef, restaurant manager, or owner say that they are increasing their takeout and online app business like crazy but they all complain about the commissions.
I know that the restaurant owners and mangers are super busy but the temptation to just upload your existing menu seems questionable if your prices won’t cover this added expense. Customers want to order a great meal fast so it would make sense to have combo items that boost your ticket average to improve the bottom line. Use the online delivery platforms to create and test a meal combo or family meal that is easy to order and brings in a top check average. Most restaurants say that the online app orders select many options so it is clear that people want to order more!
Sometimes I see menu prices that are painfully low even though the restaurants are in affluent neighborhoods and very busy. When is the last time you did some market research to see what your competitors are charging? Can you experiment with a price increase on some items?
It is so intriguing to see how the meal delivery ordering app systems are rapidly changing the restaurant industry. I liken it to Amazon and retail shopping.
I see restaurants that just put their whole menu on an online ordering system without any thought to what people want as take out or trying to sell good packages. Restaurants have to give a hefty commission to these services. But they do get ancillary sales and new customers with no money out of pocket being spent and it helps them scale their business without having to buy more retail space. You should download the apps to your smart phone and take a look at your competition along with your own presence so you can fine tune what you offer.