Restaurants used to be able to get away with a few random photos of the most popular dishes sprinkled inside the menu, but that isn’t the case anymore. Food photos are used for menus, social media posts, marketing materials, online ordering systems, and so much more. Why? Because no matter how good your copywriter is, a picture will always be more compelling.
I don’t need to remind you that carryout and delivery are going to remain an important part of your business for a while. Your restaurant’s online ordering experience, whether through your own website or a third-party app, needs to mimic your in-store experience as closely as possible. (On a side note here, if your online menu doesn’t have descriptions for every menu item — WHY NOT?!)
The only thing less appealing than not really being sure what you’re ordering is looking at a low-quality, dimly lit, unedited picture of a dish that sounded delicious until you saw it. Online ordering sales increase by 6.5% when items for sale have photographs. Further, conversion rates (the percentage of people who open the online ordering platform and then actually place an order) increase by 25%!
So, yeah, pictures are kind of important. Good pictures, even more so.
You can totally hire someone to take top-notch photos for you. But you don’t necessarily need to. You just need to follow some basic guidelines. Most of us have smartphones in our pockets that take amazing photos, so let’s put them to good use!
This is step #1. Good lighting sets the stage for a good photo.
Just like a preference for swimming au naturel, taking photographs of food in natural light is preferred to artificial light sources. Set up a table near your windows, and shoot at a time of day when the light is bright, but not shining directly in. You can also diffuse the light with a light curtain.
Direct sunlight will “blow out” the light colors in your photo. I.e. If your food is on a white plate, the plate will appear blindingly white, almost like it’s glowing, and distort the image.
You know that photo your “best friend” took of you, standing in the sun, and the photograph only displays half your face, because your nose shadowed out that cute dimple under your left cheekbone? I know I have one of those. Don’t do to your dishes what my friend did to my cute dimple. I looked terrible and so will your soup.
A tip to remove shadows is to have multiple angles of light. Place your table near two windows, or use a light board. If you’re forced to use artificial lighting, keep those tones warm and soft to keep the colors of your food shining bright, but don’t let the image get too yellow or it will look dirty.
Keep it boring. Neutrals are good. Don’t let your background distract from the dish you’re featuring. Need some ideas? White tablecloth, black chalkboard, a wood table or cutting board, tiling, carpet or rugs, baking sheets, parchment paper, etc.
We initially warm up to food based on sight alone (this is why pictures are so enticing), and the last time I checked, Smell-o-vision still wasn’t an internet thing. Focus on bringing out the colors in your food, and work the contrast of that color with your background to enable the dish to stand out, not blend in.
When taking photos of strangers, you put the camera high and make sure you get their feet in the photo, right? Right. Food is pretty similar – shoot from above. It doesn’t have to be 90-degrees straight-on, play around with the angles between 60 – 85 degrees to find the sweet spot that brings out the shapes of the food, dish, utensils, and any other foreground items.
There are exceptions to this. Bread, sandwiches, and cake slices are great items to shoot from a lower side angle – making them seem larger than life and emphasizing the layers and textures.
Photographing coffee? Get a book in that photo. Are you an organic restaurant? Drop a postcard for your farm in there. You know why people are coming into your business and ordering specific dishes. Cater to those interests and show your customer what they will feel when they bite into your amazing quiche.
Here’s another one – my wife has always wanted to be a hand model. I know, I’ve never known anyone to desire that either, but it’s a thing. Did you know that hands and arms inside food photography can be a great way to give the viewer a better understanding of the size of your dish? In addition, we’re more compelled by images with people in them because it helps us envision ourselves partaking in that activity, even if it’s just a part of that person.
You’re familiar with the Golden Ratio, right? Our eyes are naturally drawn to symmetrical objects. The same rule applies here. Your dish needs to be visually appealing both in the quality of the food and the way it’s plated. Just like flowers, a unique arrangement is key.
Finally, make sure you clean up or wipe any imperfections from the plate before photographing it, otherwise, it’ll be like that one time I forgot to shave one swatch of my face.
Filters afford easy color enhancement and simple editing to really make the colors and textures in your photos come to life. If you’re on the Apple Bandwagon, try VSCO, or on Android try Fotor.
Want to take it a step further? Download the free version of Adobe Lightroom and take a course or webinar to learn how to tweak the individual characteristics of your photos so that you get exactly what you want. Sarah Crawford offers a great Restaurant Foodtography School through her Foodtography courses, but she also offers free webinars where you can learn quite a bit about editing in Lightroom in just an hour.
This might sound overwhelming at first, but once you get going you’ll figure out a formula that works best for your circumstances. Then you just have to set it up, point, and shoot. Trust us, a little effort now will go a long way down the road.
Not sure how to get started? Schedule time with us this week. We’re happy to help you figure out what you need to take the best darn food photos ever.
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