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Every once in a while, you hear about a restaurant that is banning food photography due to diners going to extremes to get that perfect shot. I’ve heard tale of people setting up lights, standing on chairs and photographing the dishes of complete strangers as they attempt to eat them without asking permission. We take pictures of food in restaurants all the time, both with “real” cameras and our iPhones, and have never had a bad reaction from the staff. Since it’s such a common practice (who hasn’t Instagrammed at least one great dish on occasion?), they’re always understanding and – most likely do it themselves when they’re out to eat. We never see people going to extremes, either, and even in high end restaurants anyone taking photos does so with discretion, but after hearing horror stories, it seemed like a good time to put together a few tips on how to take photos of your dishes in a restaurant.
DON’T make a scene. You shouldn’t need to get up out of your seat.
DON’T use a distracting alternate light source. Use natural lighting or ambient lighting whenever possible.
DON’T be tempted to use props beyond, say, styling your coffee cup in the background. We know it’s not a real photo shoot.
DO use a filter (i.e. Instagram) if the lighting is terrible. Then you can just call it “moody.”
DO buy a better low light camera if you find you’re always trying to take pictures in very poor light.
If all else fails and you can’t get a decent shot, make another reservation and come back during they daytime when you will have ample lighting! A crappy picture will still give you something to remember the meal by. The exception to these loose rules is if you’re having a big group or special event and want the waiter to take your photo – in which case you should definitely get together, get the best lighting possible and go for broke.
We took the above shot in Mainline, a gastropub in Fort Collions, in a dark corner where anyone who noticed what we were doing probably just thought we had a few too many drinks. The photos below were taken with the best low-light camera we had available at the time (an iPhone) with no additional light or reflectors. The paper bag was full of hot, homemade donut fritters that would have been just as delicious in any lighting conditions.