How to take pictures of food inside restaurants…
Last Friday I celebrated Crepe Suzette Day at the Crepe Cellar. Instead of shooting in my apartment, I took my photography on location…..
Shooting inside a restaurant is something that I have become pretty comfortable with. In 2010, I blogged about over 100 different restaurants all over the country. Each place had a different menu and different troubles when it comes to taking beautiful pictures of what I was eating.
When I am shooting for a client or an editorial assignment, I have a lot more leeway when it comes to moving tables around, bringing I tripods and other equipment, but for a lot of restaurants that I shot in last year, I was a regular paying customer. This meant no tripod or heavy gear. I always asked permission from the server or manager, and told them what I was doing before I started, I tried to go at off times when they weren’t busy and was always respectful of my surroundings. While every restaurant’s interior is different, I developed a process that I use for all of them.
Here are my secrets of how I shoot in restaurants….
It begins with assessing the lighting conditions.Lets look at last week’s trip to the Crepe Cellar.
Luckily, the Crepe Cellar had great lighting inside! This is about the best situation you could ask for when it comes to shooting your food inside a restaurant. Notice how the right booths are well lit by the window and you can see the light fall off as you move closer to the left wall. You want to sit where the light is.
This booth and its large window are exactly what I look for when selecting my table to shoot at. The window light has a nice quality to it and has direction. Depending on which side of the booth you sit on, it will either be from the right or the left in your images.
Now that we have found the light, lets talk about additional tools. These three items NEVER leave my camera bag. They are my light modifying tools I bring to every restaurant I dine in when traveling. The reflector and the diffuser I talked about a lot while tailgating. The foam board I have not yet shown you.
I wish I could tell you that this was more impressive than two pieces of white foam board duct taped together, but that is all it is. This small reflector will stand up on its own and provides just the right amount of fill light! It has been my dinner date in 25 states and photographed hundreds of meals with me. If you don’t have one already, I highly suggest you make one. Cut out two identical size pieces of foam board and tape them together on one side with duct tape. Leave enough space between the foam board so they can fold together. That’s all there is to it! So here is the travel foam board reflector in action.
Here is the crepe with no fill. Watch the right side of the ice cream. as the fill is added…
Look how the contrast in the ice cream has been eliminated! Here is another example.
It is completely a personal preference to how much or little shadow contrast you want, the travel foam board reflector gives you that option (if you have no idea what I mean by shadow contrast read this)
Now that you know how to fill in your shadows, there is a color temperature problem that needs to be addressed. Always remember this, restaurants are lit for people and not for photographing. A lot of times there will be tungsten light that shines from above onto your food. This causes a color balance issue when using daylight coming from the window. Here is an example.
See how the tungsten light above the table leaves an oranges/magenta cast on the food? Compare this to the same dish with the light turned off.
Notice the difference between the two bowls? I was at the Crepe Cellar at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. With it being between lunch and dinner time, fortunately for me there were no other diners in there. I asked the waiter if he didn’t mind turning the over head lamps off while I was shooting. He was kind enough to do so, but what do you do if you can’t turn the tungsten light off or there are multiple lights? I use my travel diffuser. With the diffuser being light, it diffuses the over head light and shifts the temperature closer to daylight. Here is the shooting process using all of the techniques I have explained so far.
Here is the dish just next to the window. Notice the shadow contrast and slight color shift from the light above. Lets add some fill.
Notice the reduced contrast (personal preference to how much contrast you want) Now to fix the overhead light.
Now with the diffuser blocking the light, the color shift is balanced out. I rested the diffuser face down on top of the reflector. With a little bit of balancing it stayed in one place.
So to recap, when shooting in a restaurant the first thing you want to do is:
1. Find an ideal table with good light preferably by a window.
2. Use a reflector to add as much or as little fill as you like.
3. Use a diffuser to counteract any color temp shifts from above tungsten lights.
These tips will work in a wide variety of restaurants, but there are some restaurants that just won’t work.Some restaurants have no windows or have awful florescent lighting, or are just too dark to shoot in.
So what do you do? I take my food to outdoor seating and shoot there! To do this, I use the techniques I talk about in these posts. Shooting food Outside, Tailgating Case Study, Picnic in a Park Case Study and Food Festivals Case Study
Just remember when sitting outside with food, look for the best light and you may need to use a diffusion disc to make that light.
So here are some of the results when these techniques are put to use.
This is just a small sample of what I ate in restaurants across the country in 2010, but all these pictures were taken using the techniques I just talked about as well as using techiniques from other photography posts.
I hope these techniques help you capture the delicious food pictures of your favorite restaurant meals!