You’ve been tasked with shooting new images for a restaurant, but there are a lot of spinning plates and moving parts. In this article, I share the necessary steps to prepare and conduct a photo session at a restaurant.
As with all types of photography, communication is key to producing results that the client will be happy with.
When you’re on the phone with the scene operator, here are some key questions to answer so you can plan accordingly:
- How many dishes need to be photographed?
- Will the restaurant serve the food as they please, or do you need to bring a food stylist?
- Do they need interior photos as well as food photos?
- Do they want any pictures of the chefs, bartenders or owners?
- What aesthetic do they want to achieve?
- Do you need to bring props and surfaces? What will you have to use at the restaurant?
- Do they want portrait or landscape images?
- Do they need one photo for each dish, or do they need multiple food portraits and macros?
- What aspect ratio does the image need to be in?
- Should there be room for text in any images?
In short, get as much information as you can from the commissioner and send them a blank shot list form to fill out. My shot list is usually an empty table with headers for:
- Styling Notes
- Decorating and pairing
I’ll fill in the top line as an example for them to follow. While it may seem like a lot of work for the client to do, it’s important that they think through what they need and let you know in advance so that the shoot can go smoothly, chefs know what to do. what to do and on discs etc. they get the pictures they need at the end of the day.
There’s nothing worse than a filled out summary and then a post-event comment like “it’d be great to have a burger as a portrait”. Your footage list is a lifesaver for you to refer back to as proof that XYZ is not required in the worst case scenario.
If the restaurant is local, ask to drop by before the shoot to assess the location and consider the lighting and where you might want to place yourself for the day. If the location isn’t close, check the website to see if they shoot interiors. If not, ask the manager to send you some phone photos and explain that it will inform your lighting method.
Furthermore, check with the location where you can park to see if you need to pull over and unload first and then drive to the parking lot. It’s stressful to be late because no one is telling you where to park and you’re driving in just a few ticks.
Decide on the best place for you to set up. Consult the manager too, especially if the restaurant is open. I like being relatively close to the kitchen, but huddled in a corner so I’m out of sight of most customers.
One thing that can be handy to carry around is an extension cord. I often have to plug in my laptop to tether and power up my lights while I’m at work, and if the outlets are too far away from where you need them, that can be frustrating. .
Some restaurants are beautifully set up to shoot with natural light, and some are not (which is where it comes in handy to do your research ahead of time). For example, if a restaurant has three walls that are all floor-to-ceiling glass, your lighting will be super flat. Remember that you can shoot at the back of the restaurant, out of the customer’s view, where it will be darker. Double check the photo references the restaurant has given you and clarify what kind of lighting they are looking for and pack accordingly.
My typical setup for a portable, lightweight solution is to carry a flash light (and spare batteries) with some sort of pass-through umbrella or umbrella softbox and maybe a return card or two, but this will depend on the synopsis, the restaurant and what you are comfortable with.
Open a good line of communication with your point of contact for the shoot and/or the chefs will assist you to make the day enjoyable and easy. Depending on how many dishes you need to shoot, summarize your contacts for when you want the dishes to arrive, based on how long you anticipate each dish will turn. You don’t want more and more plates arriving at your table that are starting to wilt, melt, or get soggy. If you’re getting that backlog, ask the chefs to pause for 20 minutes. Communication will keep people from getting confused or stressed.
Shooting at a restaurant is fun and a day goes by, but there’s also a lot of moving parts to consider. Our job is to extract as much information as possible from our clients to ensure that we deliver results they will be truly satisfied with, and a lot of that lies in our ability to communicate well. I’d love to know if you have any other tips for shooting at a restaurant to help make the day go smoothly.