Tag Archives: Restaurant photographer

Bread bakery shows off its artisan loaves

Wildflour Bakery and Cafe in Agoura Hills, CA, asked me to shoot their entire catalog of beautiful artisan rolls and breads. The owners have a lot of pride in their work and I feel very honored to have captured it as their photographer. I styled and photographed the breads on location at their bakery. Wildflour supplies high-quality breads, rolls, sandwich loaves, breakfast pastries, Challah, and French bread baguettes to Trader Joe’s, Four Seasons Hotel, along with their own Wildflour Bakery Cafe, and many restaurants in Los Angeles.

The owner wanted his breads and rolls to show the unique artisan style and high quality. We chose a white look so that the products would really stand out and have a cohesive look for the website and print catalog.

Here are a few highlights.

Rolls in baskets:

Sandwich rolls:


Artisan loaves:


Window Poster Success

Posters photographed and designed by Expression Food

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!


College Pizza Restaurant

Photos shot with iPhone #nofilter

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!

Tips for Successful and Gorgeous Restaurant Food Photos and Photography

Download: Photo Shot List Organizer (excel spreadsheet).

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

  1. How you make it (knives, spices, raw ingredients)
  2. How you serve it (chafing dishes, glasses, plates, utensils)
  3. 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)



Snapshot: In House Marketing

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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.



Shooting Restaurant Menus

A tour of expressionfood.com includes my creative Still Life portfolio along with the shots of over 150 restaurants here in California in the SF bay area and in LA. I have styled all of the shots using the ingredients, vessels, and tools of each restaurant so it is truly an expression of their work. Many of the chefs have collaborated on the shoots. My biggest payment is to see their smile when they look at the back of my camera.

Restaurants have to market themselves so many ways now in our digital era. Some of the best tactics include getting on delivery app platforms, using TVs in the restaurant to create a branded, custom marketing channel with menu items and services, social media, videos, direct mail, Google CPC, blogging, website menus, and emailing. There has never been a more important time for restaurants to show their best work in professional photos and I am so happy to be of service.

Here is one shoot that was done in 1.5 hours! This was made possible by styling one scene and by the whole staff of the restaurant being so prepared.

The background board was designed by me. I used burned wood from a hike in Big Basin to digitally paint a black, burned wood background. It really sets off the beautiful colors of the Indian food. I have a whole series of background boards that I have designed for restaurants. This is a new restaurant called Konaseema Kitchen that is opening in Fremont.


WON! Top 100 American Photographic Artists for SF and LA!

I am so honored to make it into the top 100 for the American Photographic Artist’s San Francisco AND Los Angeles contests.

These two pieces were picked for the top 100 prints for the San Francisco Top 100 “Something Personal” exhibit and competition. The first is a flamingo that was shot in the SF zoo on a rainy day and the second was an “allium mosaic” that was shot in my studio for my graduation thesis exhibit for UC Berkeley Extension for my Visual Art Certificate. I used the beautiful onions and garlic from local Santa Rosa farmers in their market.


And my “Two Trees that See” was chosen for the top 100 prints for the APA Los Angeles. I shot this photo while visiting Colorado in the winter and liked the way I felt while walking through the aspen trees.

It is a great honor to be included in the print exhibit for both chapters of APA!

5 Things I Learned From My Post-Baccalaureate Visual Art Certificate Program

I just graduated from the Post Baccalaureate Visual Art Certificate Program at UC Berkeley Extension (UCBX). It has been a 1.5 year fabulous journey. This program is taught at their San Francisco Campus, near the Embarcadero BART station.

I decided I wanted a formal academic program to learn more about photography and art and to develop a portfolio. The program at UCBX provided all of that and a whole lot more. It exceeded my expectations!!! I loved my professors and classmates. And the work that I did surprised me!

The UCBX Visual Art Certificate program is robust and rigorous. It requires 13 classes and a final exam, including: 3 portfolio development classes, 2 art history classes, 2 mentorships, a final portfolio review to 3 faculty members, plus 6 elective art classes for a total of 13 classes and 25 college credit hours. The program is so good that my classmates and I are all taking more classes than required because we like them so much.

If I typed the lessons I learned they would probably take up hundreds of pages as is evidenced by the books and notebooks that are spilling out of my shelves. But I have five of the best lessons that I am sharing here. This post is in response to a lot of my photographer friends and family, who want to know what I learned as well as what is a Visual Art Certificate? What did you do there?

1) What is fine art? Fine art is about the why or the artists narrative as much as it is the aesthetic. It is so hard to grasp this concept until you have seen hundreds of examples, which we did in the comprehensive art history classes, the shows we curated, class lectures, our own artist statements, and on countless trips to local San Francisco galleries and museums. An artist’s personal view of the world and narrative, plus the innovation of his or her work, along with the aesthetic, is the key to being successful as a fine artist.

The Andersons, in their collection objectives for their abstract expressionism exhibit at Stanford, had the best criteria for innovative art. They asked, “have we seen this before and could we have thought of it?” If both answers are no, the art is very innovative and great!

Good examples of memorable artist narratives, combined with a strong aesthetic, include Jackson Pollock’s belief that he didn’t paint nature because he was the force of nature, throwing the paint onto the canvas; or that Walker Evans saw the vernacular as the subject and method of his Great Depression era portraits which are very profound today; or Dinh Q Le weaves long strips of photographs to make woven photographs that beautifully express his Vietnamese culture and history; and Cai Guo Qiang makes beautiful daytime fireworks exhibits to reflect on nuclear explosions and violence and to find peace in his art.

2) What makes a good photograph? The answer was discovered in an elective art philosophy class where I read four books to write a fifteen page paper comparing Walter Benjamin to Roland Barthes, two highly educated scholars who wrote about photography as it was unfolding in the Modern Art era. A great photo is always a moment in time, beautifully framed. But I learned that a photograph captures the aura and lives of the people in it. It is seen three ways: from the subject, the photographer, and the viewer. And it can capture a shock known as punctum versus being studium (Barthes, Camera Lucida). By understanding the difference between photography and painting, I understood what a photo does capture that a painting cannot. It is about the details of the people, recording history, and telling a story. And its significance on viewers, who view it as a truth, can be leveraged to take photos that create fantasies, alluded ideas, or altered truths. And, as my favorite photography instructor showed me with her critiques of my work, the best photography is of course about light and color but it is very much about an attention to every detail so you don’t capture details you don’t want to see! She was showing me the wrinkles in a fabric that I overlooked. I learned to see my work more critically.

This same fine art photography professor also gave us extraordinary lectures about the history of fine art photography and the artists who have paved the way with their innovative work. You can see a lot of it at Pier 24 in San Francisco. I highly recommend seeing that exhibit, along with the galleries at 49 Geary Street, and Minnesota Street Project. SFMoma has ongoing exhibitions as well as a permanent photography collection, too.

3) What is composition? Well, it’s certainly not just the rule of thirds!! I never really thought much about that rule once enrolled, to be honest.

As my favorite art professor said, composition is simply a balance of positive and negative space! It is about making both balanced and great, actually.

But you also need a variety of values with an effective use of them throughout the picture plane. And you need to use harmonious colors. I bought and read all of the theory books on color written by Albers, Itten, and Van Gogh. We studied color in figurative works, such as Matisse with his fauvism, and with abstract painters, such as Rothko, with his beautiful layers of color.

And for good composition you must have interesting arrangements of items. Crop something tight or give it ample space; make it big, make it square, make it long or tall or short. Rauschenberg is known for his amazing compositions. We took two fieldtrips to see his extensive collection of series.

It is so much fun to be with painters! My classmates, who were mostly painters, said, “make your photos look like paintings.” And they gave me ideas, “we think you should shoot like the Dutch artists.” It took me a year to learn to shoot good still life images. I did manage to compile a huge timeline of the history of still life paintings and photos and was especially fond of the modern ones by David LaChapelle. I am still learning and working on them.

My interest in LaChapelle’s work propelled me to meet him at the Taschen store in LA where he was signing 2 new books.

4) Have no fear! If you work hard enough you can do it! There were many times I had a freakout and was afraid of failure. Like in an advanced drawing class where we had to sketch a live nude model in ten-minute poses for three hours. Keep it loose! Or sketch seal bones in charcoal grounds by erasing the charcoal, or to make ink wash drawings, or use graphite to draw complicated still life scenes by adding hatched shadows. My drawing professor had an amazing group of lessons that allowed us to steadily build our skills and produce work that consistently made each student proud. She actually let me take her advanced class without the basic one so I could have a drawing class. I am so glad I did!

Just keep at it! Start at one corner and keep recording until you finish! And never stop practicing drawing. One graphic designer said you will never be a graphic artist if you can’t draw. I think that advice applies to all artists because drawing forces you to see details and to really compose well. Drawing taught me to make thumbnails of graphic art projects, photos, and paintings.

Here are the highlights of my drawing class. The first ones shown here are the ink wash drawings we did for our finals. I used some of my images from local farms and reproduced them in ink and gouache on Aquabord, making them a combination of fine detail and abstraction.

Graphite drawings balanced positive and negative space and they taught us about using values as part of the composition:

One lady on BART thought I was a forensic artist because she saw me sketching skeletons as part of my homework!

Here is the still life project which scared me to death and taught me I could draw, all at the same time:

And on the nudes, my teacher said, oh that does look like her!


Here are the beautiful seal bones which we rendered in charcoal by using a charcoal base and then removing color. And then adding dark shading and light highlights. I actually loved this lesson very much!


I also took an abstract painting class and learned color, line, form, values, composition, and most importantly that I can paint! I discovered that I love to paint and am very good with color!!

The funny thing is that I thought the abstract class would be a lecture until we were handed a materials list and I panicked!!! I would have to paint with students who had been painters for a long time!

But I watched a ton of painting videos (CreativeLive), researched my projects, enlisted the help of the Dick Blick staff for buying paints and then proceeded to paint a lot! I don’t have an easel at home so I used my stove! Early on I switched to gouache paint because I love the color and how it is chalky when it dries. One of the first gouache paintings I did got into a juried show and became the show’s poster and postcard.

Another project in the abstract class involved deconstruction. I used apple shapes and colors and reproduced them in gouache. I love these and want to paint more. They are already exhibiting in a juried show!

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Swirls preset

Here is one more in acrylic:

5) Always research more! This lesson is from the girl who sat next to me in Photoshop and also from all the Millenials in my graphic design classes. I was able to add classes from their Graphic Design Certificate Program.

Watch a lot of YouTube videos and do something totally amazing that you love! Come in with something better than you were assigned.

In the Adobe Photoshop class on our first composite assignment, my friend came in with a mermaid riding a goldfish wearing Oculus glasses in a beautiful underwater city with glitter trails and a magenta sunset all composited beautifully whereas I tried to put a YSL dress on the Statue of Liberty, as we were assigned! We did get a Photoshop liquid tool lesson, though, to make my statue skinnier! My second attempt was much better.

In my Adobe Illustrator class I combined “do extra and draw well” for a project – this ad took almost 40 hours and is a realistic ad for a product drawn completely in Illustrator:

I also got certified for Capture One software and I learned really good hard and soft studio lighting outside of the UCBX program. I simply loved to learn!

Our Modern Art History class certainly included a lot of research about the history of the artists. I always looked forward to the lectures and loved how the entire class was engaged in critical thinking and discussion. I have a running notebook of the shows that I have seen at SFMOMA and the galleries in SF, especially the Minnesota Street Project.

I would highly recommend this program to any artist who wants to learn what fine art really is and how they fit into this amazing world. By developing your own vision and building a cohesive portfolio with a narrative you will take 1000 steps up with your work. You will do this through repetition, exploration, and the constructive feedback of your professors and peers. I feel very honored to have worked with all of the professors and my classmates for every class.

And I am now applying for a MFA.

The final series and portfolio is here. 

Here are some of my works of art in juried exhibits and a solo show plus I made the top 100 with 2 of my photos for the American Photographic Artists Something Personal Gallery Exhibition and Holiday Gallery, a huge honor. The peach photo has sold.