The Dos and Don’ts of Food Photography

We all know that people eat (figuratively) with their eyes, so it should come as no surprise that businesses who have 1-5 reviews and 10 photos on Yelp average 200% more user views than businesses with the same number of reviews and no photos. Having photos puts you one step ahead of the game. The next step? Good photos.

This past week, Yelp hosted an educational event for restaurateurs, Turning Photos Into Revenue, with Pierce Larick of New Revolution Photography, who presented on tips and tricks for taking great pictures and using photos to grow your social presence. Food photography is not as hard as most would imagine. But it’s not as simple as most may think. Here are the dos and don’ts to get you started.

Do invest in equipment.

You don’t have to spend much money but investing in a few key pieces will take your game to the next level. Your phone can still be your go-to but consider purchasing an LED light (lighting is key to good pics!) and a reflector / defuser. Both are relatively low-cost investments, meaning, you can get both for under $500.

Do shoot your subject from three levels.

Shooting from three different levels, known in the photography world as the master shot (level 3), the medium shot (level 2) and the close-up shot (level 1), will give you more options and allow you to tell your restaurant’s story.

food photography
New Revolution Photography

Level 3 – The Master Shot

With this shot you’re going to feature not only the dishes you serve but also your brand and story. Using different lighting, incorporating different elements from your restaurant such as the cutlery and tableware, will give the viewer a unique view into your restaurant and will tell your brand’s story.

Food photography
New Revolution Photography

Level 3 – The Medium Shot

The medium shot photo is closer up, focusing primarily on the food but touches on the branding. For example, the photo above not only captures the food but also includes their unique crystal dish.

Food photography
New Revolution Photography

Similar to the previous example, this photo highlights the milkshake but also includes the paper menus and a bit of the background, painting the picture that this is a more casual restaurant.

Yelp Reservations food photography
New Revolution Photography

Level 1 – The Close-Up Shot

The close-up shot is your money shot, purely selling the food. For these types of photos, you don’t need to go for perfection. The audience expects food photos to be authentic and look real. They want to see imperfections like grease dripping off the burger and cheese melting over. You still want to spend some time staging the food but embrace the imperfections.

Do use natural lighting.

Good lighting is the #1 secret behind good food photography whereas bad lighting immediately screams, “amateur photographer!” Natural lighting is the easiest way to ensure photos come out looking appetizing. You can use the sun light or cafe lighting. Natural light (except in the middle a hot day) is soft light that helps to show the focus of the object. When shooting outdoors, always shoot in a shaded area for even light. Direct sunlight creates a lot of shadows and will add a lot of distracting spottiness to your photos.

If you don’t have access to good, natural lighting in a pinch, this is when the LED light and defuser come in handy. Never light food from front and center and shoot from one foot back and two feet above. If using a reflector, be sure to place the it opposite of the light source.

yelp reservations food photography
New Revolution Photography

Don’t use your camera flash.

Never ever ever use your in-camera flash. It’s tempting but just don’t do it. Flash photos of food create harsh reflections and glare as well as funny-looking fall-off—your food looks like it’s floating in space. Just avoid!

Yelp Reservations food photography

Do shoot from different angles.

Get as much variety as possible by shooting from multiple angles. First, implement the rule of thirds—it’s a simple but useful concept, though we like to think of it as a suggestion more than an actual rule. It works like this: Imagine your frame is divided into a nine-part grid. The rule of thirds says that your main subject—a plate, a slice of cake, an olive—should be placed either along those lines or at their intersections, like so:

yelp reservations food photography
New Revolution Photography

Be aware of what the focus of your dish should be and what’s actually captured in the frame. If you want to highlight bacon, make sure that’s the focus of the photo!

Yelp Reservations food photography
New Revolution Photography

Don’t shoot from the front and middle.

This may seem counterintuitive to novice photographers, after all, you want the dish to be the center of attention. But in photos, this doesn’t work well and the food comes across as unappealing. Same goes with the dreaded camera slant—it’s just plain distracting, not artistic.

Do have fun!

Last but not least, have fun! Spend time with it, take as many pics as you can, and start playing around with them on your social media channels. See what resonates well with your audience and highlight different dishes throughout the week, day and year. It doesn’t have to be difficult and we hope with these simple tips, we’ve made the art of food photography a little easier, and more accessible, to you. And if all else fails? Give New Revolution a call.

For more insider industry insights, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Are you a restaurant interested in putting more #ButtsInSeats? Visit Yelp Reservations or call us at 888-254-5315.