Let’s face it when photographing in the world of Architecture & Design photography, there are often other components that we are requested to capture by the client. A staged portrait of the client, lifestyle images, or food and drink photography for the hotel or restaurant. With the right skills, you could be providing a “Full-Service” experience for your client. After photographing food and drink for most of my career, I thought I would share some experiences and how they may impact some of your assignments.
Here’s How Food & Beverage Photography helps shape the Hospitality Industry.
So Why Offer This Service in the First Place?
If you want to get into photographing hotels and restaurants, developing some food and drink photography skills can help you stand out in the industry.
Put yourself in the client’s shoes and ask, “Should I hire 3 photographers or 1 who can capture the location, experience, and amenities?” I am sure it seems logical to go with option B unless money is not an issue. But, money is a huge focus for most hospitality businesses, especially since the pandemic. Working with one photographer is cost-effective on administrative time and less of a hassle to orchestrate. However, from my perspective, a well-rounded photographer who can photograph people, places, and things is a great fit for a hospitality production. If this is your area of interest, I would recommend building on those 3 areas for your portfolio.
What Makes Food Photography Unique in Comparison to Photographing Structures?
The primary issue… GRAVITY. With structures, you can work as slowly as you want and your subject won’t change other than lighting and weather. But, with food, time is of the essence. Your food starts to wilt, melt, and fall apart the longer you take (unless you are using food styling hacks to extend your shoot time, of course!). You can’t always make fake ice cream for your shots so, practice, and planning will be a critical part of capturing mouthwatering images for your client.
You’ll also want to learn about the dishes you are going to shoot in advance. Use the empty plate or glass as a placeholder in your shot while you refine your styling and lighting before the hero comes into place. Additionally, I like to use a roll of gaff tape on your plate as a placeholder for the food to see what shadows it casts. Your goal is to get the shot as close to perfection as possible before the food comes on set. That way, when the food arrives, you only have minor tweaks so you can maintain the freshest-looking meal.
Props, Props, and Props
You need to design an atmosphere that creates an emotion to evoke the appetite and give them a taste of what the experience will be like. Props are your best friend for building the environment of dining together. They are also used to build a frame and guide the viewer’s eye to the hero of the shot. Thankfully, the restaurant will have everything you need in the way of props. You want to use what is available to you while not straying too far from what a customer would experience during their stay.
There are occasions when you might bring more of a studio set up with some of your own props and surfaces. This is something you want to evaluate during your pre-production calls with your client and creative team. Do your best and assess the details prior to showing up on the day of the shoot.
Pro Tip: Ask the restaurant owner to bring you through their dining experience from start to finish. This allows you to fully grasp the entire process which will help you gain further knowledge about prop and styling ideas.
Styling Is Everything
I would argue that the stylists do most of the work when it comes to creating beautiful images in food and drink. Most of the styling work will be done for you by the chef, bartender, or food stylist if you have the luxury of working with one. But, working with a chef or bartender you may need to guide them on how to improve the styling based on the perspective you plan to capture. They aren’t always familiar with how their work will translate in front of a camera.
For example, let’s say you plan to shoot a dish at a 90° degree angle, you’ll need to communicate this in advance of shooting. Food is traditionally plated from the perspective of the person eating which is essentially a bird’s eye view. So their typical plating arrangement won’t always work without being tweaked. They can place the plate on a stock pot on the counter to get the plate at eye level. Then they can elevate their usual arrangement for the view of your camera with comfort.
Plan your shots, and communicate with your team, so when it comes time to take the shot you should be 98% of the way there. This is when tethering to a computer will be valuable to help the chef or stylist see what you see. Everyone can focus on their tasks to improve the shot quickly.
Working With Models
Marketing for hospitality is not just about tasty treats. You are trying to sell the experience which includes sharing a meal with your partner and/or family/friends. This is when the food and drink become the supporting cast. You’ll want to showcase the people living in the moment utilizing the components of the restaurant as a way to tell your story. These shots will have more engagement as it incorporates something we all can relate to… people! You can also just use the hands of your models while they interact with the food and drinks. Use your imagination to tell the story.
Logistically, working with models can be a varying experience. Depending on the budget, you might have the luxury of casting through an agency. In other cases, you are left up to using inexperienced people provided by the restaurant. Regardless, this takes time planning and more attention to detail.
To start, I love to play around and let the models have a good time while I capture more candid images. When I find the right moments, I will focus on getting the shot perfect by staging the actions and making sure the food and drink are on point. The wider shots allow for a bit more forgiveness in the food styling but, all components should shine bright.
The world of hospitality is chaotic and unpredictable. Shit happens and sometimes you are left to do the styling on your own. You’ll be in situations where you have to think quickly on your feet! I’ve photographed at restaurants before where the chef was in a mood and didn’t like that they had extra responsibilities of doing a photoshoot that day. Whatever the case may be, the client is expecting you to still deliver and you best come prepared to do so.
Take time to immerse yourself in the world of food and drink. Research a lot and dissect a ton of images to get inspiration on plating, prop arrangement, and composition. Experiment with shooting food at home so you aren’t learning with a paying client. There are a lot of variables that can only be understood by playing. To take this research one step further, try out my “Visual Tearsheet Process”. Regardless, have a little fun, isn’t that why we got into this industry in the first place?
Learn the Tricks of the Trade
Every food shoot I have ever been a part of has had new challenges to overcome. For example, a “cheese pull” is not as simple as pulling apart 2 slices of pizza… There are techniques you can use to properly achieve this. Thankfully, there is one food stylist who has spent nearly 2 decades figuring everything out. Learning the tricks and finding the best way to make food look good in photos and hold up on set.
I’d like to introduce Suzy Eaton who is a food stylist out of Sault Lake City, Utah. She has designed a 10-module video course so you can learn the best and most useful food styling skills to help you stand out from your competitor. The techniques you will learn in her course have been used for national commercials, top restaurants, TV shows, and the packaging you see every day while shopping. She also regularly shares behind-the-scenes content on her Instagram giving you a deeper look into the life of a food stylist.
The most exciting part of all of this is she has been kind enough to offer a $100-off for anyone looking to elevate their skills and attract higher-paying clients. Thanks, Suzy!
Check out her course “Mastering the Art of Styling – All About Food” and use the code “FRIENDS” at the checkout to save!
Finally, enjoy developing your skills, and have fun!
Food and drink photography is one genre I have thoroughly enjoyed shooting over the years but, it comes with many challenges and unpredictable moments. I wish you all the best in developing your skills in the tasty world of food & drink photography!
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and I would love to hear more about your experiences photographing food and drink in the comments below 🙂