Yes, social media pictures are great. But nothing quite compares to a professional shot.

If photography is the art of making a second last forever then why not make it part of an amazing culinary experience? And what if that was all it took for a diner to stop and actually walk through the door of your establishment? It can happen. Professional food and beverage photography has the power to motivate diners to try your concept for the first time and return, again and again. When your images recreate the rich flavor of a dish, and are done well with dedication and heart, nothing can be more motivating. There are two types of food photographs necessary, with each requiring different approaches:

Product photographs are of plated entrees, appetizers, side dishes, desserts, specialty cocktails, and other menu items. Customer photos on social media are great for showing their excitement. But in order to highlight rich flavors, unique aromas, and freshness of ingredients, you need to harness the skill of professionals perfected over time. For example, determining brightness and color levels to showcase the freshness and textures of the ingredients will stand out. For highlighting flavors, it is necessary to exaggerate texture of sauces, and especially elements such as smoke, water droplets on a glass, etc. In short, professional food photos will tell the story of “the food” itself versus social media, where customer photos share anticipation.

Experience photographs include menu items. However, it is more important to highlight what is happening around the dish. Food and beverages are accompanied by people enjoying themselves with crisp visuals of restaurant backgrounds. These photos should effectively capture the “experience” of how customers are interacting with their orders and enjoying the restaurant atmosphere. These types of photographs can be simpler, but we should not fall into the trap of taking pictures of smiling people and simply leave it at that. With a single image, we must tell a story, and we must be careful about every element that makes up the image. Leaving experience photos up to social media posts alone is a mistake as well, because professional photographers will understand the importance of capturing every tiny detail that will translate to others about the rich and happy experience they too can have.

Below are five dos and don’ts to consider for restaurant food and experience photos:

Do photograph freshly made food, always. Schedule your photographer on a day you can work with chef to prepare the selected menu items. Entrées, appetizers, even desserts will always come through the lens as more delicious when they are the most delicious and that is when they are made to order. Pictures should always be taken immediately after the food is prepared. 

Don’t crowd the table. Food photos should set a stage for your food so don’t get distracted with extras like napkin rings, vases, butter plates, empty wine glasses. If your everything-on-it burger stacked high with hand-cut fries is the story you want to tell—then do away with distractions. Only include the minimum amount necessary to complete the scene to create an appetizing image.

Do decide on the “star” of the photo. Before taking the photograph, identify what you want to highlight or show off about the dish and focus on that point. If it’s the spicy sauce, refreshing ice cream, stickiness of the ribs or tenderness of the meat decide before the shutters start to click. Remember, every photo is supposed to tell a story and that can only be done when you take photos that properly feature your stars.

Don’t ignore the background. When taking an experience photograph with happy customers, be very careful about what is in the background of the image. While much can be done with photos, some images create awkwardness if they are cropped too much, like removing an open window, an uncleared table, doors to the restrooms, a waiter picking up something from the floor, etc.

Do be the judge. If you aren’t passionate about the photograph, no one else will be passionate about it either. Do not take a photograph of something that you have an off feeling about. And, certainly, don’t agree to include it in your final selection if you’re not thrilled. If you are happy with the result after you’ve taken the picture, then it is more likely that others will like it as well.

Thank you, smile, and bon appétit.

Expert Takes, Feature