Food & Light: Restaurant Photography Tips

As food bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, and even as non-bloggers, when we go out to a restaurant, being able to take nice, or at least decent pictures, is a priority for most.

We all want to capture the perfect meal we ate, and likely post it on our blogs if we’re bloggers.

Or simply have photos that we can go back and look at and remember what the atmosphere, vibe, and mood was at that event, and photos help us do this.

Photography, as a way to remember the special times that were enjoyed with friends and family when out at a restaurant, is pivotal for many of us.

iPhone photography from this post

But restaurant photography can be tricky.

Here are some of my notes from Day 2 at Food & Light

Restaurant Photography Notes from Diane Cu:

Shooting in Restaurants

Choose your seating based on light

Photography doesn’t have to be perfect; isn’t about the “perfect” plate of food.  The people and their stories are just as important.

People can be scared of the camera so respect people’s wishes and don’t flash your camera

Be deliberate; look, watch, talk with people, find their story, build rapport with your subject before you take the camera out and start taking pictures.

Make a connection with your subject

Don’t be afraid to give direction, i.e. I missed that pour shot, could you do it again.  Or, I really liked when you set the plate of food down with both your hands on it, can you do that again.

Continuing the momentum and passion:

Be excited

Surround yourself with people who share your passion

Take a minimum of 5 photos per day (with iPhone is ok)

Make the time to photograph every single day (helps you manage your photos and timelines out your images and helps with social media)

Find others to help keep you motivated

Don’t make excuses

Take on personal photography projects; invest in a project that is meaningful and will likely be long-term (following a person around and able to look back at the pictures you took within that project 3 years ago)

Photograph challenges.  That will help you grow.

Go in and get the shot.  Go in with plan A, B, and C in order to get the shot.  No regrets.  Balance this with respecting the person.  Think of different options and ways to get the shot if you’re working with people.

Lenses that Diane likes:

85 mm f/1.4 for portraits (hard lens to shoot with but it’s a great fixed lens)

24-70 mm zoom for food, or 50 mm fixed, or 100 macro (depends on situation whether shoot restaurants/action shots, or plates of food/static, depends on your needs)

If you missed my other posts with Photography Tips & Notes, please see:


It was also fun to hear what helps give you Some Calm in my last post.  We all need downtime, time to recenter, recharge,refresh, and just calm ourselves.

I enjoyed hearing what you do to find that sense of calm in your life.  Photography and taking pictures is immensely calming for me.


1. When you go out to a restaurant, have you ever taken pictures of your food?  What kind of camera do you bring?  Do you take lots of pictures or just a couple?

Do you do it on the sneaky? Do you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or don’t care what anyone thinks and you take as many as you want?

I used to be scared of it, embarrassed by it, thought people would yell at me, think I was weird, tell me to put my camera away, but realized it’s a no-big-deal thing.  People do all kinds of weird things, in life and in restaurants.  If the “weirdest” thing I do is take a couple pictures of my meal, then I can put away my Freak Flag.

That said, I don’t bring my huge camera most times.  I use my iPhone camera, with varying results. 

I also am not totally “immune” to what others think so I try to be quick, discreet, and not obsess over the shot.  Not to mention, I am out to enjoy the company and food of others; not take photos of my food solely to generate blog content and show everyone across the world what I ate for dinner when I was out with my friends and family.  No thanks.

2. What do you think of people taking pictures in restaurants?  

A. Who cares and doesn’t bother you at all.  Snap away!

B. A few is fine but don’t go overboard.

C. Or, annoying and you wish they wouldn’t.  I know some fine dining restaurants (and even some not-so-fine-dining restaurants that ban photography)

I am A. or B., depending on the situation.  Really, I personally don’t care and lean toward A., but I know that some people would find it very disturbing to have a photography session going on while they’re eating.  Some people just do not like cameras, at all.  And it would bother them a great deal.

3. Any tips you have to get great shots in restaurants?

Given the usual dark lighting, the sneaky shots we’re trying to quickly get it, and the fact that using a flash in a restaurant is like talking during the movies: you just don’t do it, it can be really hard to get acceptable restaurant images.  To the point that I often wonder why bother trying? 

If the images are going to be grainy, blurry, dark, and an ill-composed or poorly styled shot anyway, why take it?  And why post it to your blog? <–I see some pictures that are so dark and blurry it’s not even discernible what the person ate.  At that point, I say just keep the camera in your purse and don’t waste time uploading files to your blog that are so hard to make out, but that’s just me.  To each her own, of course!  My photos are far from perfect and beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to each blogger her own.   Her blog, her rules.

As I said in this post, it was more important for me to focus on the people, the fun, the events, the conversation than it was to “get the perfect shot” which is why I left my big DSLR at home and took whatever quick iPhone pictures I could when I met up with lots of bloggers.

If you are going to break our your camera in a restaurant:

Pay attention to your lighting/seating like Diane mentioned

Use any ambient lighting that you can, i.e. candles or light bounces like a shiny spoon bouncing light back onto the plate

And edit the photos in iPhoto or Lightroom or another (free) editing program to brighten/sharpen them

Have a great weekend and can’t wait to hear your thoughts on restaurant photography!

31 comments on “Food & Light: Restaurant Photography Tips”

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