How often have you looked at your website or one of your social media pages and thought, “I wish I had better photos. My food/dining room/restaurant is better than that.” We know it is. Despite its widespread popularity, photography as a skill takes practice and focus to master. That said, we’re here to make your job easier with a few tips on composition and framing that can help move you from amateur toward auteur in a matter of moments.
Mix it up.
What we see almost exclusively from restaurant photography is one of two things: an empty dining room or a finished plate of food. While that dining room shot might highlight your interior design, it doesn’t really convey the experience of spending a meal with you; it could easily be sending the wrong message about the popularity of your establishment.
If at all possible, take a long shot of your full dining room on one of your busiest nights, but try not to get discernible faces of patrons in the shot. Chasing down photo releases from customers enjoying a meal is disruptive at best, futile at worst.
If you’d like to shake up the types of images you present to the public, consider taking some shots of your chef at work in the kitchen, preparing the food your customers rave about in their reviews.
Close-up photographs of a searing steak in the pan, or an egg being cracked into a bowl of baking ingredients is not just another attractive way to present your food, it reinforces the authenticity of your brand. But be wary! Your kitchen and everything else in the shot must be impeccably clean. And for safety’s sake, take photographs only with your chef’s awareness and cooperation.
Take that first bite.
This is a simple tip to make your dishes seem even more enticing to the viewer: ditch the static shot and put in some action. A lifted fork with twirled pasta. A knife slicing into your steak to show that perfect, pink, medium rare center. Your world famous tiered cake with a single slice missing to show off those layers of mousse and strawberries.
Shots that show your food either just about to be or in the very early stages of being enjoyed add an extra element of storytelling to the stillness of an untouched plate. Your viewer will feel like they are already enjoying the meal! What you want to avoid at all costs, however, is showing food ever going into anyone’s mouth. That’s the moment when fantasy meets “I didn’t need to see that.”
Garnish your plate.
The devil is in the details. A lot of food doesn’t photograph well, unfortunately, and may need a little help to spur its visual interest. A plate of hummus could look like a blob of tan mess, but garnished with a few sprigs of fresh parsley, mint, or cilantro and dropped with a few small pieces of bright red pepper? You have an entirely different palette to play with.
Herbs, edible flowers, toasted bread, or even a little salad can add visual interest, color, and interesting textures to contrast with your focal point. Don’t overdo it, of course. The goal isn’t to hide your food, but to accentuate it.
Find the right angle.
It should come as no surprise that the most common angle we see for food photography is somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees to the plate. In other words, the angle most people see their plate in front of them when seated at a table. That makes a lot of sense, but there’s no reason why you can’t shake things up a little with your angles.
Try taking a photo at table level. Try one from directly above (being careful, of course, not to block the light and cast a shadow onto the plate). Try one from super close-up. The world (and maybe the content of your image) is your oyster! And how delectable do oysters look close-up? Yum.
The key many photographers (and artists of all shapes and sizes) will tell you is that the strongest composition involves diagonal lines. A slight tilt or angle on your main object can help the viewer’s eye move across the photo and make your image feel dynamic and interesting — all with a simple turn of the plate.
Keep it fresh and clean.
Every food photographer knows a few tricks here and there to make their subjects look as appetizing as possible. Most people have heard about cereal commercials shot with Elmer’s glue substituting for milk, but there’s no reason to go that extreme – some simpler tips on keeping your food looking fresh and clean will do the trick.
A little spritz of water from a fine mist spray bottle can liven up fresh fruit and vegetables. A brush of oil across the surface of a steak or chicken breast can keep it looking moist instead of dried out. Be sure to photograph salad green immediately once the scene is set, since greens will wilt or collapse the longer they sit out.
More than anything else, just be sure everything is neatly and cleanly presented for the camera without the distraction of drips, drop, splatters, or (heaven forbid) a spare hair. Your brand is not a dirty plate.
These photographs are your opportunity to reach potentially thousands of new customers, reaching not just to their brains, but their stomachs as well. You want your photographs to make the viewer hungry. Make them need to come into your establishment and try that dish for themselves. This is your chance to make a great first impression – don’t miss out!
For five more tips on how to shoot food photography that will get your restaurant noticed, read on: