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We are visual creatures. This is why it’s said that when you eat a meal you eat it first with your eyes. Professional chefs spend a lot of time mastering the art of plating food for this very reason, making it look irritatingly easy to create plates that tantalise and beguile each of our senses.

For this reason food photography, if done well and harnessed properly, will entice new customers, excite regulars, and ultimately increase your bottom line. In this article we outline how you can up your food photography game to increase both footfall and online orders.

Should you use a professional food photographer?

Hiring a professional photographer is the easiest way. They’ll apply years of experience and hard-earned skills to create delectable food photos. 

On top of this, for most restaurant owners finding the time to set aside for a food photo shoot is an unlikely scenario at best. Hiring a professional may cost more, but you’ll get good results and you can avoid the time-consuming learning curve.

Here are a few of the key benefits that come with hiring a professional food photographer:

  • Photography is an art. Food photography is no different. A professional photographer will be able to create an array of images that will highlight your chef’s brilliance and make potential customers salivate.
  • Minimum effort required for maximum input. Maximise profits, and minimise time spent creating gorgeous images.
  • Shutter speed, ISO settings, depth, lighting. Unless you’re already experienced using the camera finding the ideal settings can be a hellish nightmare.
  • Relative low cost. You will only need to do the shoot once and you won’t have to splash out on expensive equipment.
advanced food photography

It’s not all super sauce though. A few cons of using a professional photographer include:

  • Time constraints. Good photographers are busy. You might need to wait a while for them to be available. On top of this, editing times can vary widely depending on the photographer.
  • New menu items. What happens if you update your menu? Do you need to wait until you can organise a photoshoot with a professional photographer?
  • Social Media Imagery. This again comes down to convenience. Having an active social media presence is a must for a modern restaurant. And to get the best results from social media you need a constant stream of new images to accompany your promotions and other marketing ideas.

How to take great food photography

Doing your own photography, or at least knowing the basics will give you more flexibility and allow you adapt to trends and take control of your online presence. If you do decide to dip your toes into the pool of food photography knowing how to take a good photo is essential.

1. It starts with good looking food

Start with the freshest ingredients and when arranging the plates consider symmetry and ornamentations. Perfectionism here makes a real difference.

For example, when food stylists have to take a picture of a burger, they spend a long time searching through dozens or even hundreds of buns, looking for perfect one with just the right sprinkling of sesame seeds and that tantalising golden colour.

So, for instance if you’re trying to take a picture of your delicious mezze salad search for vividly coloured fruits and vegetables.

colourful food photography

2. Get the lighting right

Lighting can be the difference between a breath-taking photo and a poor one.

  • Don’t use a flash. Using a camera flash will wash out the colours in the image and destroy the attractive shadows that come with more natural lighting.
  • Use natural lighting. Set up outside or near a window and allow the natural light to do the hard work for your set. You can use reflectors to manipulate the lighting if needed.
  • Side lighting will help you work with dynamic shadows. Shadows can be your friend. They will highlight important features and add depth to an image. Try shooting from various angles to get the best result.
perfect lighting dumplings

3. Use a neutral background

Allow the colour from your dishes to pop by using a neutral background. A busy or colourful background may distract from the food.

As a rule of thumb, dark backgrounds are a great match for dark foods, whereas light backgrounds best emphasise light-coloured foods. Wooden backgrounds (like tables or chopping boards) work great with any type of food.

4. Use props

Props can give a sense of setting and help create a visually attractive image that demands attention. However, a word of warning, don’t overpopulate your image with props or use random items. Doing this may distract from the main image.

A few prop ideas include:

  • Newspapers;
  • Wooden chopping board;
  • Chalkboard;
  • Burlap sack;
  • Tiles;
  • Cutlery;
  • A baking tray;
  • Tea towels and tablecloths with different patterns (floral, geometric, etc.);
  • Fresh ingredients from the dish. 
cheese board with props

5. Wear a white t-shirt

This one is a bit left-field but essentially, a white t-shirt acts as a reflector redirecting the natural light of the environment back at the food giving it a soft lift.

6. Use a tripod

A tripod does two things. First, it stabilises the image reducing camera shake and helping you get clearer more defined images. Secondly, it allows you to create your scene better. Knowing exactly how the frame is shot means you can try a few image arrangement variations with the camera remaining in exactly the same spot.

7. Edit your images

When it comes to editing we suggest using Adobe Lightroom. This costs around $15 a month but is absolutely worth it if you’re interested in taking your photography to the next level. It also comes with mobile apps allowing you to edit and post straight from your phone.

Tips for editing photography include:

  • Editing the white balance,
  • Increase saturation,
  • Increase exposure,
  • Sharpen images,
  • Increase contrast for a more dramatic look.

One thing to remember is don’t overdo it. If you can tell that an image has been heavily edited then it’s overdone. The effects should be subtle, almost unnoticable, aiming to bring out key colours.

edited food photography

Final words

If out of sight means out of mind then getting pictures of your food, and your restaurant in front of people means placing yourself at the forefront of people’s minds.

In an age of social media and of instant gratification, where almost any piece of information can be found if you know how to look, food photography is a powerful tool which, when restaurants leverage correctly, inevitably drives more footfall through their doors and increases the number and average value of online orders. 

Getting even more creative can help you stand out. However, utilising the simple tricks listed above and harnessing their power through your social channels can have a huge impact and transport a restaurant from an unknown hole in the wall, to a go-to destination.