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)