Tag Archives: restaurant photography

The “how and why”

“There were several converging factors that brought me to this amazing path as a food photographer. ” Judy Doherty

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 still feel that way on every job.

Retouching Food Photos

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:

Read and see more here.