Food bloggers are now everywhere. It is very seldom you can eat out, go into a delicatessen, food shop or market anywhere in the world, without someone, in some corner, pulling out a camera to start taking photographs of the food, the ingredients, the decor, even the staff. But surely there should be some guidelines for doing this, so as to not offend staff or other diners? As a food blogger, how can you ensure you get as many of the very best shots you want, at the angle you want them, whilst at the same time not making a nuisance of yourself?
Brian Samuels is a successful American food photographer and blogger from Boston. He is the author of the beautiful food blog, A Thought for Food (www.athoughtforfood.net), whose evocative photographs are shot with his trusted Canon Rebel Xti and 50 mm 1.8 f lens. He told The Foodie Bugle how he goes about his work when shooting in a public space.
My rules for food bloggers’ photography by Brian Samuels
The decision not to write restaurant reviews on my blog, A Thought For Food, came very quickly in the writing process. I wanted to stay away from the politics that comes with creating such pieces and I did not want to take away from my love for cooking. What I did not expect was that I would find another way to express my love for dining out through photography.
Taking photographs at a restaurant can be tricky. It’s crowded, it’s dark, and sometimes it’s hard to get things to stay in one place for more than a couple of seconds. I cannot begin to tell you how many times serving waiters have come in and blocked my shots. But they’re just doing their job, which is to serve food, so you need to be patient.
I very rarely bring my camera to more formal restaurants, mainly because I want to focus on the experience of eating the food, not taking pictures. But when I do bring my camera with me, I survey my surroundings and make sure it seems like the sort of environment where taking a few pictures would not be frowned upon. I never use a flash, which can be obtrusive, and so this means that I either have to have a very well lit room or I have to go at lunchtime. Going out earlier in the day has a lot of bonuses besides the wonderful light. The restaurant tends to be less crowded and people are not going out for romantic meals, so they will not care if you whip out your camera and start taking shots of the food.
The other rule I have is that if you are going out with a group of people, understand that it may be annoying to them that you want to take pictures of every dish at the table before they can take a bite. Here is my suggestion: get them involved. Have them cut into that juicy steak and sink their teeth into it theatrically. If they are encouraged to participate, they will enjoy the event much more and you’ll get some fun shots too. It doesn’t all have to be serious.
When you go out with the specific intention of photographing food, always aim to get as wide a range of coverage as possible. Of course the food is the focus, but make sure you get some wider shots of the rest of the restaurant or cafe. If you enjoyed eating there, you want to make people want to eat there too, and that means giving them the complete portrait of the restaurant, its setting, atmosphere and customers. Always look out for something that has a sign, like the front door or a window and take a good look at any interesting light fixtures and artwork that may be hanging on the wall. No one will mind if you do this discreetly.
When I’m taking pictures in a public space, such as a food shop or market, my goal is to capture the space itself. That means getting shots of the people and their interactions with the environment around them. Of course, I don’t want to hinder someone’s shopping experience, so I try to be as quick and unobtrusive as possible. Sometimes I’ll move off to the side and get the shot from a quiet angle where it will not impose on the people there.
One picture I always try to get when I am eating out is of the menu, so that when I develop the photos I know exactly what dishes I photographed. If I visit an elegant restaurant and we do a tasting, I will always ask for a print out of the menu.
The majority of the places where I have taken pictures appreciate what I’m doing and have learned not to be intimidated by a small Digital SLR camera. Some ask if I’m a food critic, and I just explain that I’m a photographer and that I don’t write reviews, but that I enjoy featuring different restaurants and shops on my blog. Feelings about photo-taking in restaurants have definitely changed over the years. I know that a few restaurants frown upon it, but many more are accepting as long as you are considerate and mindful of the customers around you.
I keep my camera in a black case, which is usually placed under my chair. When I’m taking pictures, I move fairly quickly and precisely, removing the lens, turning it on, and snapping some quick shots. If I’m taking a picture of the food, I want to make sure I get the best shot possible, so I cannot be too fast or the photo will not be as successful.
Of course, if you are just going out to eat, the most valuable suggestion I can give to you is to just enjoy your meal. Photographs look wonderful on a good blog, or hung up on the wall, but they are not replacements for happy memories.