This is part 2 in my three part series on restaurant food photography. In part 1 I covered etiquette when photographing in restaurants. In part 3 I’ll cover tips and tricks to make the most of conditions you can’t control. But, today, we’re going to look at dining with friends and family.
I don’t eat out anywhere near as much as people seem to think – budgetary reasons and I just like cooking at home. When I do go out it’s usually with friends and in all honesty, I’d really rather be in the moment with them and enjoy their company than take photos.
Sean takes me on a lot of his reviewing adventures so I get spoiled in that regard, but I usually just act as his second set of hands, rearranging plates and cutlery for him and letting him have the good seat with the best light.
And waiting till he’s done photographing my food before I get to eat…
And there it is… how do you take photos when you’re out with family and friends and not annoy the pants off everyone?
We’ve all experienced the rolling eyes, the “would you hurry up! I’m hungry!!” look, or just the flat out stares of annoyance and people telling you to put your damn camera away. So what to do?
Dine with Like-Minded Companions
This is the simplest solution. Go out to eat with people who also like to photograph their food. Then everyone is happy to pass plates around, wait a few minutes till everyone gets their shot and then dive in.
This works well for me and Food Husband – even though I don’t always want to take my camera, I get that when I go out with him, there’s going to be photos taken and I’m cool with it. And he knows that. So it’s all good. Often, I do pull out my smartphone and snap a pic for instagram and on the odd occasion, they pop up on the blog as well.
But let’s face it, we don’t eat out with food bloggers all the time and not everyone digs the camera on the table all night so…
Gauge Your Companions’ Moods
If you have an ounce of self-awareness, you should be able to tell what the mood of your dining partners is. If they’re annoyed, back off. It’s not worth a fight for a photo of a bowl of risotto.
If I’m working and I’ve been asked to shoot a menu or review a VanEats package but I get to bring a guest, I’ll often take a friend. But I’m very clear ahead of time that this is a working gig, I’m going to be photographing the food and they’re going to have to be patient. They get it and everything’s ok and they usually get a really good meal out of it.
But when I’m just out with friends, the camera often doesn’t make an appearance.
TIP: However, if you must take a photo, be quick and be unobtrusive:
- don’t make people wait to eat – they’re probably hungry
- don’t spend all day fiddling with your focus and lighting
- if you really must rearrange plates and food, do it with your order – not your friends’. Let them eat.
- use a smaller point & shoot or smartphone if the setting will let you get away with it (ie. if there’s lots of light)
- shut off your flash
Here’s the funny thing though. There’ve been many times where I’ve gone out to eat with friends and not produced my camera. And they actually stop before they dig in and say “aren’t you going to take a photo?” When I shake my head or scrunch up my face and say “not today”, the overwhelming response is “but you should! Get your camera out! We’ll wait.” Even if I protest, they’ll push and be all “Melissa, get the camera out… come ON!”
It almost becomes a form of peer pressure – DO IT MELISSA!! And so I invariably do!
TIP: Sometimes just knowing that I’m not always gonna pull out the big gun is enough for my friends to feel like the dinner is about them and not the photos.
TIP: take photos while waiting for your food. The photo of the teapot above was taken while we waited for our main dish and the people I was with kind of got into it and actually helped me compose the photo.
Change Your Approach – Make the Meal the Story
Often when we go out to eat we focus on photographing the plate in front of us. We want that idyllic shot of food perfection.
But what we tend to forget is that a huge piece of the food puzzle is the social act of breaking bread together. A meal is as much about the people we share it with as it is about the food.
When you go out to eat why not focus on the meal as opposed to the dishes.
TIP: Tell the story of the meal with your camera. And this is where it’s ok to relay on your smartphone. Smartphones are great for snapping moments without all the fuss of a DSLR. The photo quality isn’t there in low lighting but sometimes when you’re just trying to catch that moment in time, that’s ok.
The nice part of using this approach is, people can dive into their food right away and often they’re too busy eating or talking to notice what you’re doing and you can get some great candid photos and convey the spirit of the meal to your readers. Even when you’re reviewing a restaurant for your blog, don’t neglect these kinds of photos – they add interest to your post. Gorgeous food is mouthwatering eye candy – but people photos add some character to your posts and also show off the character and ambiance of the restaurant.
TIP: Some ideas to consider:
- show people’s hands as they eat and talk,
- photograph your party pondering the menu
- get a shot of the group toasting with the first round of drinks
- order a pitcher of beer? photograph somebody pouring it, or pouring tea in a sushi restaurant
- show the table and all the food in various stages in the meal
- if your seating arrangement allows for it, snap a photo of the kitchen or the kitchen staff (sometimes, it’s best to ask to do this – gauge the tone of the restaurant first and if in doubt, ask)
- don’t forget the decor
Pick Your Battles
Sometimes, you just need to know when to put your camera away or leave it at home.
TIP: Some examples of when to put the camera down:
- date night with your partner – unless you’re both food photography geeks, it’s really not that romantic. Give your partner the gift of your undivided attention. After all, that’s kind of the purpose of date night!
- a meal that’s about somebody else – your bff’s birthday, mother’s day brunch, your sister’s graduation. Sure you might want to take photos to preserve the event for posterity but the food is not the focus and you holding up everyone isn’t either. Make the photos about the people there instead!
- friends who really don’t like waiting to be allowed to eat, or who are starving or don’t want to play pass the plates. You don’t need to photograph every. single. meal. You can put your camera aside once in a while when you eat with them.
And you know what? It’s ok to put your camera aside. There are times where it’s more important to be in the moment than capturing the moment. You might just have a fantastic time! At any rate, I promise you the world won’t end!
If you missed it, you can catch up with part 1: restaurant photography etiquette.