If you work in foodservice and food photography is not yet on your menu, it’s time to give your business a modern-day makeover. We are all familiar with the proliferation of images inundating the Internet, appearing particularly on sites such as Pinterest and Instagram. For some, this uploading past-time is merely a lark and a way to share good times and socialize online. However, for businesses such as restaurants, catering services, bars, bakeries, and other eateries, knowing how to take the perfect picture and when to post images of their most popular offerings has become almost as important as the taste of the food itself.
A Foodservice Game Changer
The facts are in: Restaurant photography is now a hot-ticket item in the foodservice industry. Whether you use your own smartphone camera to capture the essence of your chef’s newest pièce de résistance or hire a professional to do the job, this is one area of marketing you don’t want to miss.
In the not-so-long-ago past, the ability to showcase the best of your ‘biz to millions of consumers worldwide by the mere click of an electronic device did not even exist. And while current food photography mania is a relative newcomer on the map, it has turned what used to be a photography niche into a social media magnet. As a result, to be remiss in utilizing this tool today could make the difference between your restaurant thriving versus falling beneath the consumers’ radar. So let’s find out more about this foodservice game changer and what you need to do to capitalize on the opportunities.
Showcasing the Best of Your ‘Biz with Food Photography
Research reveals that millennials – the largest eating-out demographic – spend countless hours merely scrolling through online food pictures, while about 66% of all diners want to visit establishments that are showcased in their friends’ Instagram photos or video posts.
With the goal of appealing to consumers’ palates and emotions by making them want to taste what they see, the good news is that you don’t have to be a professional to post images online. There are plenty of photo-editing software packages available (check out Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom), offering both free and paid solutions. However, to remain competitive in what has become an almost guaranteed cash cow (offering a huge return on investment and a significant boost in brand recognition), it pays to be informed. So let’s begin our food photo education with a glossary to learn about terms such as plating, presentation, and more.
Food Photography Glossary
The well-known adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and the familiar saying, “We eat with our eyes” have been given new life and new meaning with the advent of social media, digital photo technology, and a consumer market hungrily scanning the Internet for digital menus and the opportunity to order food and beverages from the comfort of their PC, laptop, or mobile device.
If you have wisely decided to invest in food photography, some important terms to become familiar with include:
- Plating: How food is aesthetically arranged, as well as the actual plates or background surfaces used. For example, do you want your food centered or placed in a creatively haphazard fashion? Which plates bring out the best in your dish’s visual appeal? Is there another background which aligns better with the food’s essence, i.e. a picnic table for a more rustic feel or a wooden cutting board for a more homey effect? Consider also the use of nature as a food or beverage backdrop, i.e. flowers, leaves, acorns, pinecones, interesting pebbles, and more.
- Lighting: The use of natural or artificial light is used to bring out a food or drink’s best side, i.e. to emphasize the textures or color balance of a particular dish. Another alternative is using a special lightbox – a portable photo studio with walled sides made of white fabric. The walls act as improvised reflectors and provide a controlled environment with evenly-distributed light. Keep in mind that you can be as creative as your inner photographer wants to be! You can ‘go big’ and showcase an events’ entire menu (appetizer, soup, salad, main dish, side dishes, dessert), post pics of your most popular cakes, cocktails, or featured items-of-the-day, or ‘go small’ and make just as large an impact with a photo of a single succulent piece of fruit, a perfectly sliced piece of fresh bread, a cup of your best java, or a taste-bud-tingling image of your newest food-and-drink concoction.
- Color: Colors play an important role in food photography, evoking interest, appeal, emotions, and hopefully your customers’ appetites. Go green to give an organic, natural feel; red, orange, and yellow to evoke warmth; and minimize the use of harsher purples and blues. You can also use props to frame your foods or use a mix of colors and textures which complement the image or play off each other in unusual patterns. Some examples for prop backgrounds include cookware, pieces of fabric, candelabras, milk or egg cartons, bottles of wine, champagne glasses – the options are endless!
- Depth of Field/Selective Focus: Depth of field refers to the distance between objects in a frame, while selective focus zooms in on the parts pf the foods you want to highlight most. Practice by playing around with both these features, mixing and matching close-ups with less focused backdrops and vice versa. Investing in a macro lens will allow you greater control in adjusting the depth of field (i.e. enabling you to make an item pop forward).
- Editing: Food photography editing encompasses a wide array of finishing touches and touch-ups such as image sharpening, fixing the white balance, adjusting brightness and contrast, adjusting color saturation, and more.
Tip: Food Photography A Common Error to Avoid
And here is a professional tip for you: Avoid the common mistake of shooting downward from a front-facing angle. While viewers will see directly what it is in front of the camera, this familiar angle will not generate interest or excitement online. Instead, consider novel ways and different angles that will capture the eye and present your goods in an out-of-the-box manner. For example, use a side shot to take a picture of a half-eaten vs. a whole sandwich or an overhead shot to capture the intricacies of an assorted cheese plate.
Have Fun with It
Remember that you are using food photography and social media to generate a buzz for your biz. Your food will speak for itself, but don’t hesitate to add some humor into the mix by also posting some ‘insider shots’ of your eatery. Customers may enjoy seeing a staff photo, a picture of your messy kitchen, some menu bloopers, or progressive shots of a recipe-in-the-making.
Learn From the Pros
You can learn a lot about being a food photographer by studying those who walked before you. According to Hein van Tonder, the blogger-turned food photographer who experienced a rapid rise into food industry fame, the goal of a good food stylist is to create an image that makes viewers’ stomach rumble, their mouth water, and their palate crave eating what they are seeing.
Best known for giving dishes an authentic look and his use of dark-and-moody versus bright-and-light tones, you can check out van Tonder’s work and use of color, texture, shape, line, pattern, and form in his contributions to Food and Home Magazine, Taste Magazine, Cuisine et Vin de France, Sunday Times Food Weekly, and others. These are also excellent resources for stirring your own creative juices and generating novel photography ideas.
Cooking and Photography: A Match Made in Culinary Heaven
So there you have it! Few art forms go hand-in-hand like cooking and photography, so don your apron, grab your camera, and start experimenting and snapping away. You can never take too many pictures, so throw caution to the wind until you find the perfect picture to share with the world. It should showcase the best of what your menu has to offer, let consumers know they are in for a treat, and steal the online spotlight as well.