From national magazines to local papers, media outlets of all sizes like to cover restaurants. If you are a photographer who shoots editorial assignments, there is a good chance that you have been assigned to cover a dish at a restaurant. Over the last couple of years, I have photographed hundreds of dishes at restaurants ranging from white table cloth fine dining establishments to hole in the wall hidden treasures. Here are some tips that might help you with shooting a dish for an editorial client.
Above are a wide range of shots taken on a few of the many editorial restaurant assignments that I have been on. If you have never shot in a restaurant before, here is the process of how I go about setting up a restaurant shoot.
Have a conversation with your Art Director/Photo Editor before shooting
This may sound like an obvious thing to do, but there are things that you can learn from a 5 minute phone call that can get lost when only communicating through email. Here are a few questions that I always ask when talking with a AD/PE.
- Are there any layout restrictions for the image?
- Is placement of copy (writing) a factor?
- Will this be considered for a cover and what is the additional compensation for a cover shot?
- What dish or dishes do they want photographed? If the dish isn't on the menu anymore is there a viable substitute?
- Are interior restaurant shots and shots of the chef needed?
- Has the restaurant been notified of the story?
- Are you, the photographer, in charge of setting up the shoot or is the art director? If you are setting up the shoot keep in mind that many dinner only restaurants are closed on Mondays. If the restaurant serves lunch and dinner, I have found it best to shoot in between the services. For a restaurant that only serves dinner, try shooting before dinner service. It is best to talk directly with the chef and find out what time works best with the chef and confirm what dishes will be shot. If you are expected to have an interior image of the restaurant, you may have to come back when it is full or wait for the restaurant to fill up after you shoot the food.
Make sure there is a contract in place for the assignment. This should cover what the assignment covers, when files are due and how they should be delivered, what expenses are covered and by whom, what the payment is and what are the terms of payment. The client may provide one or you may have to send them one.
Research The Location Before The Shoot
Talking with the AD/PE ahead of time will ensure that you know exactly what you need to capture at the shoot. Researching the restaurant ahead of the shoot will ensure that you will be equipped to capture those necessary shots. Take a few minutes to research the restaurant online. Here is what to look for.
- Take a look at the interior. Are there windows that will provide for natural light? Or will you have to rely on creating your own artificial lighting environment? I always bring an artificial solution with me, but if there is outdoor or nice window light available, I like to use that option.
- Find out where the restaurant is. This may seem obvious, but showing up late to the shoot because you got lost, or couldn't find parking downtown is not a great way to start a shoot.
At The Shoot
On the day of the shoot, you should know where and what you are shooting. Upon arriving at the restaurant, ask the hostess for the chef, manager, or whoever is your contact. In meeting with them be sure to go over these things.
- Find out where you can shoot. You may have your eye on a specific table, but for some reason, it may not be available. It is better to check than have to move your lighting set-up mid shoot.
- Talk with the chef to find out how the food will be plated, and if there are any artistic plating concerns that you may have.
- Give the chef a time window of how long it will take you to get set up. Find out how long it will take to prep the dishes, and if shooting multiple dishes, decide on an order in which they will be photographed. If you are shooting multiple plates and they all arrive at the same time, the food will start to look flat by the time you get through. Ask if the plates can be staggered so that your attention can be on one plate at a time and capture the food while it is still warm.
- Don't be afraid to ask for a beverage to put in the background. Sometimes, the dish needs a beer or glass of wine to add to the atmosphere. If you ask, generally the restaurant will not have a problem with this.
- When you are done, be sure to get the chef or owner's business card. Send them a follow-up thank you email or card. Editorial assignments can be a great introduction to future commercial work shooting a restaurant's new menu.
I hope these tips are helpful for you when you take on a restaurant assignment. For tips on how to light your food in restaurants, check out this article on An Introduction to Restaurant Photography, and Issues 1-8 of photographing FOOD.