Food Photography: Restaurant Shoots

Becoming more and more interested in the world of food photography has introduced me to doing restaurant shoots. So far I have done two, and I have to say, the first time I felt absolutely professional as a photographer was when I did this second restaurant shoot in Tucson. Not that the shoot went perfectly (it really didn’t for many reasons) but it left me feeling like I was a professional and that I might be able to survive in the real world of photography.

Reasons it didn’t go so well: I didn’t realize that I had received an email from the restaurant owner rescheduling the shoot until I got there (always check your email before going out on location, things tend to change). The timing of the shoot was later in the day and I found myself losing light fast (usually I would opt for morning shoots, but sometimes you have to work with the client’s schedule). The audio recorder wouldn’t work for the interview (not a common problem for most photographers, but in this case I needed an interview and of course technology isn’t always reliable.)


Reasons the shoot went well: The staff at the restaurant I was shooting for was amazing and very understanding. Not only did they let me shoot at the original time and provide me with 3 dishes and a beverage to shoot (above and beyond, folks!) but they made sure I was comfortable too, really helping to lessen my stress level. The restaurant owner was very understanding too, and was super supportive, knowing I was a student and not very experienced in these types of shoots. The dishes were amazing! They were colorful, beautiful and unique, everything a food photographer could hope for.

I’m very glad that everything worked out in the end, and it was fun to use some special equipment to do the shoot, but I would definitely check this shoot off as a learning experience over anything else. I’m proud of myself for handling things so well, taking the curve balls as they came and coming out with some great pictures (all hence why I felt professional even though things didn’t go 100%).


Some basic tips I would give to any food photographers staring out are:

  • Don’t count on the restaurant having all the supplies you need. If you think you’re going to need props, utensils, placemats, etc, just take them. I did and left them in the car, so as not to seem overbearing in the shoot, and didn’t end up needing them, but I would have been glad to have any of it had the need arose. I would add that you want to make sure you have any photo equipment you might need. Reflectors, flashes, extra lenses, should all be ready to use and in your vehicle just in case.
  • Don’t be afraid to touch the food. I usually use a fork or some other type of utensil if I need to move parts of the food around, but if you need to get your fingers messy to get the food looking right for the shot, go for it. You don’t want to have to rely on PhotoShop later to fix the food.
  • If you are using natural lighting (I highly recommend natural!) make sure sunlight is diffused. This shoot took place on the patio of the restaurant, which is always my first choice if such an area is available. I mentioned before that it took place later in the day, so I was lucky to have some nice shade to work in. But if I had been faced with direct sunlight I would have used some sort of diffuser to avoid harsh lighting.
  • Realize that food is time-sensitive. In this shoot, I was working with some veggies and fruit, as well as lettuce in several of the dishes. Over time, all of this type of food will start to wilt. The avocados were especially time sensitive since it was a bit warm out. I ended up shopping out some of the brown spots that started to appear, but overall I knew I needed to shoot these dishes quickly to avoid capturing any discoloring or wilting.

The Food Photography Struggle

This past semester, I decided to take a food photography class for fun (it wasn’t required for my major). I ended up in a love/hate relationship with this class, while I found myself to be decent at food photography and I liked it enough, it really changed my outlook on the food industry in a… not so positive way.

I mentioned in my first post that food photography has changed the way I look at food advertisements, menus, anything that has a picture of food for consumer purposes has become tainted to me. I can’t pick up a package of food with a picture on it without judging the image. Reading menus isn’t simple anymore when my eyes are drawn to the images deciding whether or not I think they’re decent (though I don’t pretend to be an absolute expert on the subject.)


Salad from Tourist Home restaurant in Flagstaff, AZ. Liz Marko Photography

You start to look at things like, is the lighting good? Is the image too busy? Can I see flaws in the food? How did the photographer set up the shot? How well was the food styled? Being a photographer, in general this side-effect isn’t just noticeable with food, I find myself critiquing pictures on Christmas cards, magazines, advertisements in the mall… but I think it’s been more noticeable with food because food photography can be so picky.

After going through the class, I’ve found myself wondering if I’d like to do more food photography along with the product photography I’ve been finding myself enjoying more lately. Food photography is something that is widespread, you can use it for a lot of different purposes. Books, blogs, magazines, restaurants, the list goes on for places that need photos of food.


Chocolate Milk Splash. Liz Marko Photography 

Though I would love to start my own food blog, I sadly do not know near enough about food itself to do that… I just know how to make it look pretty. Perhaps somewhere in my job search I’ll manage to find somewhere looking for a food photographer. I think if I ever did food photography in a professional setting, the one thing I would really want to make sure I have is a food stylist. Food isn’t the easiest product to manipulate, it doesn’t always do what you want it too. While I have had no problem steaming veggies to make the color pop or getting messy for those splash pictures, sometimes it would be nice to have someone come in to give the food a makeover in advanced.