We’ve all been there. Sitting at a dark corner table in a fantastic restaurant, wished we had more light, so we didn’t have to use that awful built-in flash. Maybe the food is one of the best we’ve eaten and one thing that would have made it even better would be beautiful photos to post to our website, Facebook page or blog.
When I got home the results were less than spectacular. Usually, flash creates a hot spot on anything that bounces off the table. Includes, stemware, cutlery and glasses. The high ISO grain used is also a very distracting factor in low-light restaurant photography. There are some easy solutions for this.
How to get great photos in any restaurant:
1. Scattered sunlight –
The quickest and easiest way to get great photos is to shoot with the available indirect sunlight. This could be choosing a table outside, under an umbrella, where the sun’s rays will be spread by the umbrella. This method is by far the best for getting great photos.
2. Get a table by the window –
If there is no table outside, or it is too cold, raining, etc. there is another way. One trick is to ask the reservation desk if you can have a table by the window when you book. If they say no, ask when the next available seat is when the window is available. Don’t be shy about pushing it and insisting. They are there to serve you.
3. Use a quick lens –
Outdoor tables and windows work during the day, but what about dinner at night, when the sun is setting and there’s nothing but light available in the restaurant? This is where it gets complicated. For those with point-and-shoot cameras, you don’t have much choice. To achieve truly brilliant results indoors, using low light, you need to have a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera, which has the ability to swap lenses.
That is, a lens that does not have only one fixed lens. My favorite beginner camera is the Nikon D40. But Canon, Nikon, etc. newer one will work. I don’t use Nikon anymore, but I’ve found that you can get really good deals on the D40 on eBay, or Amazon. Lenses really matter. You want a fast lens.
That is, a lens that allows the entry of a lot of light. Those with large apertures, (the amount of light entering reflects the size of the aperture) f1.8, or f2.8 let in a lot of light and are called large aperture, or fast lenses. Even though they are few in number. Anything smaller (f4.0 and up) and you’ll run into problems. Unless you have IS (image stabilization) on your lens.
4. Use image previews –
I’ve found that having an image preview on my camera works well for Food Photography in Restaurants. It is built into almost all point-and-shot cameras, but is still very limited to DSLRs. The reason why I find this so helpful is that I don’t have to lift the camera up to my face to shoot.
This can be very distracting when taking photos in fancy restaurants in particular. With image preview, you see the LCD screen on the back of the camera and focus your photo without having to carry the camera over your food.
5. Shoot at table level, not eye level –
When photographing food, you want to always try to shoot at a 10-40 degree angle from the table. This means don’t take photos of food at eye level. We humans always look at our food at eye level and it is more interesting when we see it at the level of the actual food. About 10 degrees on a plate is perfect.
6. Take a closer look –
I see too many food bloggers shooting with a wide-angle lens and as a result the photos are unattractive. There’s too much going on in the foreground and background, when really, all we want to see is the food. So, unless you want to highlight some specific area of the table, or the restaurant, move closer.
7. Don’t use your built-in flash –
The built-in flash tends to flatten the image and make it dull. Try to use one of the methods above first and if all else fails, reverse the flash, but only in an emergency.
And lastly, don’t underestimate your photo editing software. Even flat and bland images can be saved using the curve function.
Today you can find high quality used equipment at a lower price. Get a good DSLR and a 50mm f1.8 lens and your restaurant and food photography will really start to shine.