• Owen Johnson

On Food Photography for Restaurants - Cont.

An update on some tactics and practices I have used for shooting food recently.

As my production company has been continuing working with a local food delivery company, we have been going to several shoots at restaurants around Fort Collins. This most recent production took place at Butters, on W. Elisabeth street. I took my own advice from the previous restaurant shoot article I wrote a few weeks back, and within a couple of hours at Butters, Ben and I had produced some of the best food pictures we had ever taken. I'll outline some things here that I felt went right and some that I felt didn't go as well.

Two eggs over a breakfast salad sorta thing. It was good! I Got to eat some.

The Lighting

Last time I talked about how I wished I'd had a second light available to me so that I could soften a lot of the shadows in the images. At the time I hadn't done any food photos and didn't think too hard about the lights, opting to try and make the camera and post processing do the heavy lifting. While I did manage to make the shadows lighter in those photos, they were still there, and the shapes didn't appear as organic or appetizing as they could have. This time, however, not only did I have a second light, both lights were larger LED panels, and we also had a bouncer.

By pointing the two panels at the food from slightly above, and the bouncer on the opposite side of the food, nearly all aspects of the food were brightly lit, without completely destroying our sense of depth and texture. The lighting was much more even, and much more enjoyable to work with.


An omelet, hash brown, Texas toast, and extra garnishing. Super nice to take photos of, Ben took this one home.

The Colors

Last time, I remarked on my tendency to lean towards warmer light and colors, thinking it would invoke the warmth of the food. I was wrong, realizing that using warm light caused things like plates and white food paper to appear almost unclean, unappetizing, and washed out in browns and reds.

With that in mind, this time our light setup was as white as possible. Our LED panels had no filters over them, and the bouncer was angled with the white side reflecting even more white light onto the food. This worked wonders! The plates looked clean and soft, and the white light allowed the warmth and colors of the food to really take center stage. Additionally, the brown/red wood pattern on the table only added value to the photos, posing as a non-invasive, warm, contrasty background.



The Depth of Field

Previously I also mentioned that I was frustrated at the very shallow depth of field when taking macro images of the food. With that in mind, I closed down the aperture, moved the bouncers and lights in closer, zoomed in very closely, and snapped a couple of much more valuable macro-style images of this luxurious French toast below. I really like this image because even though we are very close to the food, enough of it is in focus that it allows for some context. We can clearly see it is French toast, or at least a form of bready dessert with sauce and fruit and whipped cream. Additionally, since we can see grapes and strawberries, we have some sense of scale, and can tell just how girthy and thick this toast was.

Oh man this French toast was THICK and luxurious. I ate it when I got home.

A Few Challenges

A good amount of this food featured aesthetics that were quick to expire. Sauces soaked in, eggs broke, whipped cream melted, etc. Thankfully the kitchen staff were checking in frequently, which allowed us to let them know when we were wrapping up with a dish, so they could have the next one out almost the moment we were finished. That said, some of our photos (like the one above) feature some melted whipped cream or the like.

Another thing we struggled with was specifically a menu item named The Hangover, which was essentially a breakfast burger. Since a single fried egg was placed atop the rest of the ingredients (prior to the top bun), and made for a visually uninteresting photo. It was hard to capture all of the wonderful ingredients underneath the egg, and the sides weren't exciting to look at either.

We took a few photos and in the end decided to just place the top bun on the burger and get a little video of the egg yolk dripping out of the sandwich for a gif (client wanted gifs). This turned out okay. Not much to do about it but next time we could ask the staff what is in the food items and try to mitigate another scenario like this before the food is made.

Additionally, Ben suggested we try to use the burger to highlight the logo of the restaurant which was on a bench behind the food, so we changed angles and took that photo as well. It turned out very well, even though the qualities of food itself weren't the main focus and rather shared the spotlight with the brand.


The Hangover Burger. Quite a specimen. Despite our challenge with it I like the way this photo turned out.

Overall

This shoot was incredibly successful. Ben and I were able to tag team different angles and holding/moving lights or the bouncer, positioning items on the plates, trying new concepts, and learning new tactics. The staff were incredibly helpful and in good spirits which made working there really enjoyable. I have more shoots like this in the future and am really looking forward to it. Check out the collection of photos below.



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