Restaurant Photography Tips for Instagram-Worthy Dishes

According to OpenTable, almost 60% of diners have selected a restaurant because they saw their content on social media. Today, guests taking pictures of their meals and posting them have become the norm. In fact, almost 70% of millennials regularly post pictures of their food. 

While a great marketing tool, this visually driven format has its challenges for restaurants. Yes, we can share our guests’ photos, but how do we take our own Instagram-worthy shots? For those of you who have tried, you know it involves more than getting out your smartphone and taking a quick pic.

The key to great food photography lies in looking at the dishes as you would a painting in which color, light, and composition all play integral roles. Research by Zizzi revealed that 30% of those ages 18-35 avoid restaurants with a poor Instagram presence. By the time they get to your restaurant, they’ve already decided on the dish they’re ordering based on the photos they’ve seen. 

Photographs of your food play a much greater role than producing social media posts. Most potential guests will check out your website, looking for food and a price point that appeals to them. Some find your establishment via Google Maps. 

Knowing how to photograph food to bring its best features out is no longer an option. Let’s explore a restaurant’s menu items as seen through the eyes of a photographer.

Natural Light

In the world of food photography, natural light is your best friend. While artificial light offers greater control and reliability, it can also cause some distortion, especially if you’re not a professional photographer. Natural light reveals the true colors and details of your delectable dishes. Overhead electric lights can cause unwanted shadows and cast an unappetizing orange hue on your beautiful pasta dish. 

The best natural light is indirect sunlight that won’t blow out the colors but reveals your food’s natural beauty instead.

Make Your Food Standout

In the photographer’s world, the background is as important as the main subject. A neutral background can make your food stand out. For this reason, some photographers also recommend a clutter-free background. However, a carefully placed prop can produce intrigue and help convey your brand’s messaging.

Getting the Right Angle

There’s a good reason why photographers take an incredible number of shots to get that one right picture. Different angles, time of day, and positioning can all change the image dramatically.

When photographing food, changing the angle can have a significant impact. There are three main angles to consider: overhead, table height, and somewhere in between, also known as the three-fourths angle. 

Overhead: This is the birds-eye view of your dish. If an inner artiste dwells within, this may be the go-to for many of your dishes. Also known as flatlay, it emphasizes color, textures, and shapes. The food is centerstage with few background props, becoming a two-dimensional image. This angle is ideal for food with lots of texture and different elements.

Angled: This is a favorite among many restauranteurs because it involves seeing the food as the customer sees it. Sitting at their table and looking at their food reveals the three-fourths angle. Position yourself between the overhead and table level and start snapping. You’ll find this angle shows greater depth and is ideal for flatter foods.

Remember, the more photos, the better chance you have of finding the one with the “Wow” factor. Consider going up 30 degrees from the tabletop for that nice thick filet.

Tabletop: Placing your camera on the table or even right below provides a great shot for layered items, such as sandwiches and burgers, letting your potential guests see all the ingredients you manage to incorporate. If your sandwich has lettuce, fresh herbs, and onions, make sure they look extra fresh and crisp, just out of the fields. If your recipe includes a special sauce or condiment, make sure that’s visible, too.

Props and the Color Wheel

Props provide visual interest and tell a story. A glass of red wine next to a dish on a rustic table may suggest a farm-to-table venue. Whatever your concept and style, make sure your props convey your brand.

Their color can also greatly enhance the picture. Going back to Color Theory 101, we learned that colors across from each other on the color wheel complement each other. Take a look at professional images of food, and you’ll notice a common theme, such as blue linen next to a pasta dish.

Are you ready to take Instagram-worthy photos of your food? Your customers, potential guests, and bottom line will appreciate your attention to the details. As Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” 

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