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.)

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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%).

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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.
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I’m a Nikon.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the perks that I enjoy at my job is that I get to try out a large amount of photography gear for free. Our Communications school has been blessed with a good-sized equipment room, where students can check out gear including cameras, lenses, lighting, audio, and accessories. It’s a fantastic resource for the students to have and it definitely benefits the quality of our programs.

I have definitely used my privilege to work with all of this equipment to my benefit, trying out different types of lenses to better know which ones I might want to buy later on, using the expensive lighting gear to capture great images for various genres, and even using equipment I might never use again just to get the experience. The one downside I have encountered in this opportunity is that while I use a Nikon camera and I love it, the school gets great deals from Canon, and therefore an overwhelming majority of the cameras and lenses available to us are Canon.

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My camera (Nikon D200) and a Canon 5DIII from work.

Many photographers are all too familiar with the Nikon vs Canon debate. It has been going on for years and years, people going back and forth with why each brand is superior and why the other brand falls short. Each brand continues to produce “new and improved” versions of their bodies hoping to become the best choice for all photographers.

The brands even have an impact on our identities as photographers. When two photographers meet the question ultimately comes up “Nikon or Canon?” At work we have photographers on both sides, and we tend to refer to each other as “She’s a Nikon” or “He’s a Canon”.

One difference I’ve noticed between the two groups of photographers, however, is that only one group tends to have a problem with using the other brand (that I’ve encountered personally, this may not be true everywhere.) Since our school uses mostly Canon gear, sometimes Nikon users need to use Canon cameras and lenses in order to try new types of gear. But I’ve never really heard the Nikons complaining about this. They might wish out loud that we had more Nikon gear to try, but as far as using Canon gear, they’re ok with that situation. The switch from Nikon to Canon isn’t a big deal, most photographers learn all of the settings quickly.

Ask the Canons about their experience trying Nikon gear, and it’s a different story.┬áMost Canon photographers I know say they can’t use Nikon cameras, they’re just “too complicated.” It’s interesting how that works out.

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For me, I don’t mind using different types of cameras from time to time. As long as they work well and produce great images, I’m a happy photographer. I’m going to take advantage of any gear available to me right now, and besides, it’s fun to experiment.

Photographers, which brand is your preference?

Becoming a Real Photographer

I’m a photographer, that is not a secret to anyone. I have social media accounts for my photography business, I post pictures I have taken, I often talk about ideas I have for photography projects, I work at an equipment checkout facility where I deal with photography equipment almost every day, I go to school and take photography classes… my life is full of photography in all of its various aspects.

Well, sort of.

It’s funny to think, that if someone were to spend a full week with me, go to school and work with me, take part in my social events, see me while I’m at home, follow me wherever I go, and know nothing about me… they might not consider me to be a real photographer. They’d see me studying photography, working with the equipment at my job, sure. But actually taking pictures? It might happen the last day of the week for a project that’s coming due.

It’s a terrible thing to admit.

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I promise, I do actually take pictures!

My problem is, I’m a timid photographer. It’s not that I don’t like taking pictures, or that I’m lazy about it, or I have no time, etc. But I’m nowhere near being considered a paparazzi. I tend to avoid taking my camera anywhere because I’m afraid it will freak people out. If I do take my camera to events I try to blend in and stay hidden instead of coming right out and letting people know I’m taking pictures. I try to stay out of the way and out of sight, which is hard to do when you’re trying to get a specific angle or lighting.

I’ve been at plenty of events or even just out and about on the town where I see photographers casually taking pictures of anything and everything. They usually don’t try to hide, they don’t seem to be worried about what people think about them taking pictures… and they get their shots, specific angle or lighting and all.

One of my goals as a photographer is to become more active in photography. Even if I’m not taking pictures at events, I want to take my camera out more, become the person who “looks” like a photographer. Perhaps I’ll gain more business that way, I’ll definitely build a better portfolio. When I went to New York, I let myself become a tourist, taking pictures of everything I could, and I think maybe I should consider that to be a normal characteristic of mine.

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Some of the wonderful equipment I get to work with.

I think it’s my last step into belonging into the “world” of photography. When I first started in the photo program at my school, it was hard for me to feel like I truly belonged in the world of photography. I just wasn’t at the same level as so many of the students around me, but I learned. I definitely think that changing my “photographer personality” is the last thing I need to do to feel truly a part of it all.

Not that the learning will ever stop, of course.

Photographers, what’s some advice you would give someone diving into the world as a photographer? How do you keep your camera out and your images flowing?

Liz is a Ravenclaw

I want to be one of those people who can record everything everywhere I go so I can make those inspirational youtube videos that make my life look awesome. Perhaps a blog is a good enough excuse not to seem creepy when I’m recording my friends eating cereal when we’re casually hanging out.

I spend a lot of time day dreaming up ways I wish my life could be. Reading a lot as a kid did that to me. It’s so easy to get lost in the world of a book and just forget about what’s actually happening around you, avoiding responsibility, pain, fear, and whatever else the world may be made of at any given time. But I think lately I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to be a bit more present in the world I live in, and maybe even do some things to make it better.

This year, I think my ultimate goal is to do the work to become the person that I think I should be. I have a lot of expectations for myself, and I think I get so wrapped up in imagining what I could do and who I could be that I’m exhausted by the time I actually try to initiate anything. My ability to sleep in and eat junk food are really my most significant weaknesses.

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Things about me: I’m a Photography student at NAU in Flagstaff, AZ. It took me much longer than the usual person to decide what I wanted to go to school for, and there are still days that I wonder if I made the right decision. Photography is cool as a major, I definitely feel as if we all get more general life lessons than other majors offer. But it also ruins your ability to look at images normally on a day to day basis (perhaps that’s a topic for a later date…)

I’m a huge geek. I don’t like to go out and party to celebrate the end of the week or get crazy for the next big event. Chances are, if I’ve had a rough week, I’m somewhere in Skyrim battling dragons, or in Middle Earth hanging with Merry and Pippin. I read, play video games, watch movie marathons, all usually in my pajamas, no matter what time of day it is.

I’m a Christian, and that part of me is becoming more and more important in my life. I think if I can prove to the world that Christians aren’t about hate and judgement as much as the media makes us out to be, and that we’re really all about love and acceptance instead, I’ll feel as if I’ve accomplished enough in my life.

 

Anne reminds me that I’m better than I think I am. I think every person needs a friend who goes through life in a completely different way and sees the world from perspectives you wish you could have. That’s Anne for me. What’s amazing is that though we were in band together in high school and we thought each other were cool… it wasn’t until after high school that we became closer. I won’t try to understand the science behind that, or explain how we can live in separate states with minimal contact for years and still pick up like nothing changed whenever we want… It’s just pretty fantastic that we can do that, and that’s all there is to it.

 

I’ve tried keeping blogs in the past, but never really had a good reason to keep them going. I can already tell this year is going to be a weird one and I think that’s a good enough reason to record my crazy wonderful life.