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”

  1. I love this post Averie! I really like that instead of just technical/lighting tips, you give tips on attitude as well. What I’ve found is that you can get away with so much if you have a big smile on your face and are kind to everyone and just, as you say, share your excitement with those around you.

    That being said, I DO get a bit embarassed taking photos in restaurants. I’m on vacation in London right now, eating at the most amazing restaurants, but half the time I’m so excited I FORGET to take pictures! And when I do, I get some very odd looks! I wish I could have a press badge that says FOOD BLOGGER so people would understand when I’m taking 15 different photos of my french fries! :-)

    I love watching you come into your own as a photographer, Averie. You are an amazing woman!

  2. Like the previous poster, I do sometimes get a bit sheepish when taking pics in a restaurant, but I’ve learned to tune it out in a way – while still remaining respectful. You can usually tell from the vibe of the restaurant if you’re stepping over the line.

  3. another set of VERY HELPFUL tips, averie.
    i have not taken many restaurant food photos. usually i snap people, instead (more my thing!). i don’t mind if people take photos if it’s a once n done type thing. lotsa flashing, rearranging, loud talking would bug me. if you’re the one taking photos, i think having the right attitude helps: if you’re acting all embarrassed and sheepish, you’ll draw more attention to the situation than if you act confident, snap your photos and get on with your social outing.
    what struck me in your post: how much photography is like running or yoga. for example, your two tips: “Take a minimum of 5 photos per day (with iPhone is ok)” and “Make the time to photograph every single day.” -> daily work is needed for improvement in any of our pursuits! (ok, don’t RUN every day, but to be a better runner you need to be consistent!).
    make sure you get in that relaxation time this weekend!!

  4. Awesome tips– Thank you for sharing!
    Now I’m going to being telling my servers everywhere to re-place my plate on the table so I can get a better shot ;) haha

  5. Absolutely love your tips and your generous nature to share them with us

  6. oh great tips! i usually get stuck with bad lighting and am still getting used to whipping out my camera at places. But you make it sound so fun and easy. Love that about you!

  7. If I’m actually sitting down and eating in a restaurant, more likely than not, I’m with someone I would rather catch up with and enjoy the company than take pictures of the food! Maybe if I was on some extravagant vacation/in another country I’d be more intrigued – but otherwise, the camera stays at home when I’m eating out ;) That said…I don’t care what other people do. Take all the pictures you want! (or don’t.)

    Love the 5-photo a day challenge, too. Just getting out there and shooting is the most important part!

  8. I love these tips! Lighting can be so difficult in restaurants, but it’s true that finding the right seat is key. I have taken pictures in restaurants a few times, and I don’t really care what people would think about it. I only take a couple, and I think that’s important to respect everyone else in the restaurant. As long as someone isn’t going overboard, I’m totally good with it.

  9. It doesn’t bother me at all when people take photos of their food at restaurants. I feel like it happens more often than not nowadays. I don’t really ever bring my camera out with me when I go to dinner so I rarely ever take photos. But if its something special or something I want to remember so I can remake it at home I’ll just whip out my iphone (no flash though) :)

  10. Fun photos! I am OK with restaurant shots but never really feel the need to take out the big guns unless it is an event meant for that. Great photog tips too!

  11. Depending on the restaurant, I’m either A or B. I usually take only one shot of each dish (with my iPhone, if I remember to!) and a few of the people I’m with and hope for the best. Sometimes the results are great and other times they’re not, but it’s more about enjoying the present experience than having great pictures for me. :)

  12. I try to be really quick at a restaurant and I just use my phone. I try to remember to turn off the volume on my phone first! Because the “click” noise of the phone camera is super loud! In the beginning, I would take pictures of the food my friends/family were eating too. But I found that to be an imposition on them, so now I only photograph what I’m eating at the restaurant. It’s MY choice to take pictures and risk my food getting cold. But I would hate if that happened to my loved ones because of my obsession. :)

  13. I agree with you with people taking restaurant pictures. I think you should go for what you want! But going overboard makes people uncomfortable.

  14. I don’t feel awkward at all for some reason. I guess because anyone I dine with knows how much I like to take pictures of anything and everything, so it doesn’t phase them much, and I don’t particularly care what a random waitress or other diner thinks. Last night I was waitressing and a girl took a picture of her meal right when I put it down, I wanted to ask her if she was a blogger but I chickened out!

  15. Thank you for all of the tips on shooting in a restaurant. My problem is usually the lighting – to much yellow. I try and shoot quickly so as not to disturb or bring attention. I use my 50mm and it does a great job when there is little light. The only problem with the 50mm is that I usually can’t get in as close as I’d like. That’s why I’m saving my pennies for the 100mm macro. :)

  16. Very nice post! I don’t really mind people taking pictures in restaurants, but I do know that some restaurants (and other businesses) do not want people taking any pictures at all because they may be copied, or whatever.
    Tips for photography in dark restaurants: The place can’t be completely dark, right? Even if you could not get, like, a window table, if there are candles, mood lighting, etc., you could try moving those closer to the subject. Not only will they provide light, they will provide cool light effects!
    If you’re not afraid about looking like you are too obsessed and have too much equipment, you could always try reflecting light with a compact mirror.

  17. Thanks again for the photography notes! I almost never use my flash. If I crank up the ISO, I can usually get some good photos (and I promise, I always just mean “good” to me, but actually good). I can’t stand blur, but I’m totally ok with noise in my photos, if it means getting a memory onto my camera without fussing over it during a great meal or a great conversation. :-)

    I’m still pretty awkward about food photography in front of other people. Two close friends, a group that includes a fellow blogger, and my parents, I’m fine with. Everyone else, and I’m sort of snapping photos of people, and discreetly grabbing whatever shots I can of the food. Hahaha.

  18. I honestly feel like a total creeper sometimes with my camera! I was at a great Thai restaurant last night and the tofu came out so fluffy and perfect…I think i took 50 pictures of it and then looked up to see people looking at me like I had lost it!

    I got an awesome shot though :)


  19. Great photos and so true on taking pictures, I prefer them as travel souvieniers and may need to upgrade the drive space on my new computer soon at this rate! :-) Gorgeous shots in this post, the water bottle reminds me of Cafe Gratitude. Great tips and info in this post, thanks!

    1. Sure! :-) iPhone, point-and-shoot, and my DSLR. I try not to take too many when eating out because it can be rude, maybe 2 or 3 of each shot.
    2. I don’t mind unless they’re taking tons of pics using a bright flash annoying other diners.
    3. Avoid using a flash as much as possible by bringing in natural lighting. If there’s a candle on the table, use it.

  20. I have taken pictures of my food at restaurants twice before. I almost always go out to eat during lunchtime so it’s always bright and sunny, so I’ve never had to worry about lighting or flashes. And no one seemed to mind.

    I have totally seen blog pictures of restaurant food that made me wonder why they even posted them, let alone took them. Sometimes it’s better to just enjoy the experience when you can tell that the pictures won’t turn out well.

  21. I was wondering how your oak barrel kombucha is doing? I have heard that the oak barrel requires a lot of maintenance and cleaning. Have you noticed that? Overall, now that you have had it for close to a year, are you happy with it?

  22. Even before I was a blogger I took pictures of my food!! Usually on my phone for social media upload purposes. I’ve still yet to break out the DSLR at a restaurant, but I’m getting more comfortable and the bf is pretty encouraging (Before we go somewhere: “Have your camera??”). Especially now I definitely don’t care if people take pictures at a restaurant. I haven’t encountered a full on photo session though, depending on the situation I could see how that could be annoying.

  23. I’m totally loving these photography posts. They really are inspiring me to invest in a descent camera.
    I always feel like if I’m in a fancy restaurant, that it wouldn’t be appropriate to take pics of the food/surroundings but then afterwards I always regret not having the gorgeous food & ambiance captured with a camera.

  24. wow! i LOVE that photo of the water bottle. the water inside looks wayyy cool!!

  25. I used to feel so weird taking pictures of food in restaurants. I was embarrassed and tried to be sneaky while doing it. Now, I don’t care at all!!! I take a bunch of photos, and have even done it in front of the waitress, manager etc..

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