First Restaurant Photo Shoot: Food Photographers Diary #3

Food Photographers Diary

This is third post in the food photographer’s diary series. In the first post, Evi shared her story on how she got started in food photography. In the second post, she shared portfolio review event that she attended.

In this post, Evi talks about her first restaurant food photo shoot.

If you would like to write for learn food photography, visit guest post page to learn more.

First Restaurant Photo Shoot

Unfortunately, the food stylist I was hoping to work with this week had to postpone our shoot for a few days…I know, what a bummer!

Instead I wanted to share with you my first restaurant shoot. Harlem Bespoke a local blog that I had approached a few months back asked me if I would like to cover Harlem Restaurant & Retail Month…OF COURSE! I said!

Lido Restaurant and Bar


First one up was Lido, an Italian Restaurant and Bar. I knew the layout of the place and set up my camera and reflector on a corner table right next to the windows. Lido’s staff was getting ready for the evening: planning, folding napkins, changing menus and polishing the silverware while I was photographing.

Lido Restaurant and Bar, getting ready for dinner


Here is the surface and tableware I worked with:

The executive chef prepared two dishes and a desert to be photographed. Their very friendly staff helped me get set up and after a bunch of crappy shots and some lens switching I found nice angles and photographed away. It took me 10-20 shots to warm up.

First plate: Dungeness Crab Cake, Coriander Dressing, Orzo, Celery, Orange.


Second round: Tuna Crudo, Seaweed, Citrus, Spicy Cucumber

These distance shots were done with a 50mm 1.4 and the close ups with a 100mm 2.8. The photos are straight from the camera. Diffused and direct sun light came through the windows on the right and I was holding a silver reflector on the left. There are still a few things I need to tweak in post production, such as white balance and moiré patterns on the cucumber.

The desert (Panna Cotta) was served in cute glasses on a green plate. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about it melting or falling apart, it was stable and waited for me.

And a few of the ambiance shots:

I tried to remember what Scott Suchman had said about shooting in a restaurant in his interview. He mentioned that the hard but fun part is to work with what the restaurants provide. For example: the plates they used had a high rim, which limited the angles I could shoot from and I did not think to ask them to show me a plate beforehand. That will be on my list for the next restaurant. Next time I will have some tweezers and a brush in my camera bag, just in case the plates need a little help. Looking at the photos I also want to pay more attention to the drinks. A chilled glass of white wine might have been nice to have as a prop….(and as a drink too!)

Let me know what you think of the images and if you have some tips for my next restaurant shoots.

So long,

PS: So next week, I will report from the shoot with a stylist!


How Did Your First Restaurant Photo Shoot Go?

Have you done a photography shoot for a restaurant? Share your experience with us. How did you find your first photography assignment? Tell us more. If you haven’t yet started, are you interested in learning more on how to approach a restaurant? Give us some feedback in the comments below.

Diary photo by gato-gato-gato

  • Gorgeous light! The photos are beautiful. 🙂

    • I totally agree Nicole. What a wonderful light in “Tuna Crudo, Seaweed, Citrus, Spicy Cucumber” photo and also the panna cotta.

  • Very nice pictures – you did a good job there! But I have some constructive critique for you. The picture I liked the least, is the distant shot of the panna cotta – the angle for me is sort of in between. I try and avoid shooting at that angle. I would have tried shooting this directly form the side, glasses like those are so pretty from the side. I am also thinking that the two tuna pictures are to alike, both shot straight on, maybe the close up should have been more from the side, so you really see whats in the dish.

    But this is just my thoughts – all being said its a really good feature! Keep it up 🙂

  • Wow, well done, Evi. A great first restaurant shoot. It looks like you had some great light to work with which is half the battle. I love all your close-up shots. I would also have preferred to see one of the tuna shots at a different angle and I think the crab cake is maybe just a little overwhelmed by the set-up (big bottle etc.) in the first shot. That’s just getting picky though – all in all it’s a lovely shoot.

  • Evi

    Yeah, I really wish I had had a wine glass in the back instead of the bottle. I will go through my files from that shot again because I think I have a few more variations that would be nice to share.

    Thanks for your feedback. It’s good to have a bunch of eyes looking!

  • I’m such a sucker for the closeup shots! What a nice place to shoot in, with great lighting. Nice work.

  • Lee Lainez

    Beautiful photos!

  • Evi,
    Here is your stylist…what do you need me for? These are beautiful. See you Tuesday!!!!

  • Hi Evi, Nice work. I really like your ambiance shots of the restaurant, nice angles and perspectives, especially the one where the guy is sitting at the bar and your level with it. The critiques I have are also with the bottle, if it was cropped off the page it would have worked better, i find it slightly distracting. The other critique is with the landscape photos (pannacotta), I find with food photography, portrait also works best – does anyone else feel that way? I’m not sure why, is it because you don’t get the same depth of field? But apart from those small things, I think you should be really pleased with your first restaurant pics.

    • Evi

      Hi Ingrid, thanks for your feedback. I also prefer vertical shots of food, they work much better. My client requested some horizontals as they work better for their blog…that’s why.

      Looking at the photos a few days after, I would have loved to have a few more people dining in the shot…blurry or in the background. Most of the time the restaurants want to schedule the photo shoot between lunch and dinner rush so the seats end up being empty, which I think is less attractive. Hopefully next time I can get them to schedule me a bit closer to the action, or we get some of the staff to sit in.

  • You did a great job, these photos would certainly make me want to eat in that particular restaurant. I would agree with you regarding a change of beverage in the shots – not that the bottle of water was in any way detrimental to the shot.

  • Thank you Evi for sharing such precious first hand experience. I love your photos!! I also live in NYC and am gonna be a food photographer assistant. I would like to meet you if you need some little help or are willing to take someone into the professional industry. Thank you!


  • Cheryl

    I love the lighting. My favorites are the close up shots. The tuna crudo plate looked interesting and I would have liked to see the dish turned a little to the side, not so straight on. I don’t know if the plate would have allowed that view. As far as vertical or horizontal shots, I was once told to shoot vertical because that is how we view photos in a magazine. Another wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

  • Laurence Perfecto

    Hi Evi!

    I just wanted to know why you decided to shoot with undiffused natural light?

    • Evi

      I am in love with natural light, it makes everything glow and delicious. I did use diffused light, just a streak of direct light in the back of the plate to add a little extra to the background. To me natural light is the best light for food photography.

  • You lit these shots very nicely. In the long shot of the crab cake, the silverware is not placed in a position where a diner would expect to find it if he sat in that chair. I like the closeups.

    • Evi

      Sharp eye! I really wanted the chair and window in the back, but the “upside down” silverware looked wrong, so I turned it around and it seemed better. But you are right, the content of the photo needs to make sense.

  • This is such an exciting series and thank you Evi for sharing your journey with us! Can you share with us what happened after the restaurant shoot? I am especially curious about how you managed the sale of the photos? Did you use a licensing agreement?

    • Evi

      Hi Anne,
      this is part of my marketing campaign so the pricing and licensing works out a little differently. I photographed these for a local blog. They receive 4 images (indoor/outdoor/2plates) and our agreement lets them post the images on the blog with a link to my website. About a week after the blog post I bring a CD with the images to the restaurants and encourage them to use them however they like (with a link to my website or image credit if printed). So far the restaurants really liked what I have done. They posted them on their website, facebook, twitter, let their PR folks know about me, one will be in a magazine and they all wanted more…at that point I use my regular pricing structure: base rate (cost of doing business) x licensing fee x days of shooting. I do give discounts for larger/multi-day jobs and I sometimes do barters for service/products I like.

      Hope that helps.

      • Hi again Evi,

        Thank you for the information! I never thought to gift photos to restaurants as a way to market my work! This and dropping off portfolio pieces at restaurants are strategies I’d like to try. I hope you don’t mind.


        • AtlantaTerry

          Be careful!

          You don’t want potential clients to think you work for free.

          Terry Thomas…
          the photographer
          Atlanta, Georgia USA
          Skype: AtlantaTerry

  • Evi

    Go ahead!… and let us know how it went! Another thing to try is to connect to Restaurant/Food Associations or your local Chamber of Commerce and offer their members a discount. You could compose a little email that they send to all their members 😉

    A friend of mine just offered a great 6 job discount series to returning clients:

    2nd job- 10% discount
    3rd job- 20% discount
    4th job- 30% discount
    5th job- 40% discount
    6th job- 50% discount

    This might be a little extreme…but discounts, especially with a time limit work really well….hurry!

    • AtlantaTerry

      50% discount???

      I think that is a HUGE MISTAKE!

      I believe it sends several bad messages about pricing. The main thing being, one’s work has little value.

      Folks, we are not Keebler elves in a tree cranking out thousands of the same cookies every day (economy of scale). In food photography, there is no economy of scale because every image has to be individually created.

      Terry Thomas…
      the photographer
      Atlanta, Georgia USA
      Skype: AtlantaTerry

  • I love the lighting that you did with the crab cakes. Thank you for posting! 🙂

  • ron

    ONE picture I would put on a clients website. The rest are overblown, not enough pizzazz, or simply not enticing.

    The crabcake doesn’t look edible. The two bottles picture has too much out of focus to make the picture palatable.

    The tuna macro would have been better if we could see the food at an angle, instead of head on and one small spot of the entire food area.

    The table top looks like particle board from wal mart furniture. No art on the walls? You aren’t paying for the atmosphere, but from the quality of what the food looks like, you aren’t paying for the food either.

    My best pictures are on my clients websites. Try this one…

    The lamb picture ROCKS, people!

    Please try again.


    • blake

      Having had a look at your site ron I have to say if these are your best shot I wouldnt be so critical if i were you. Constructive critiques are helpful and intelligent, your post is rubbish man. Lose the ego, you dont have the skill to support it.

      • Blake, Thank you for your comment. I find Ron’s comment to be constructive. Let’s keep the discussion positive and without any personal attacks.

  • Ron

    I explained what I didn’t like about each picture. OBVIOUSLY, you only want YES MEN to leave replies. Let’s see if these comments, with an additional perspective, are better.

    The lighting was great…sadly, I can see the food too well.
    The walls were a beautiful plain brick red…just like at my barber shop.
    Delicious looking crabcake…but I wouldn’t eat it because it doesn’t look cooked in the middle and I don’t want to get sick.
    Excellent picture of a bottle with crabcake…too bad the table setting is all wrong and the plated food looks bland.
    Love the outside restaurant picture…why can only a passing plane see the name LIDO on the top of the awning, and the name so far to the right on the short front awning area that it renders it almost useless?

    Just because you want people to think what you put on your website is perfect, thereby making everyone who leaves a comment feeling inferior, doesn’t mean I have to buy into your game plan.

    I critiqued the pictures to give my perspective, and if you notice, I didn’t say the photographer sucked. The restaurant does, and that SHOULD concern them, but what do restaurateur’s know since most have bigger ego’s than square footage? The photographer doesn’t decide to have boring walls, boring furniture, boring environment, or boring food. You can only do so much, which is what the title of this photo shoot should have been!

    You attacked me with the ego comment. Everyone who reads what you wrote will see that, but you don’t because you are the one with the ego.

    His pictures are excellent if the buyer loved them. My pictures are excellent because my buyer loves them. The rest is BS, so stop believing your own press.

    No need to thank me for providing MY COMMENT, which is what this section is called.

    Thank you,

    • Ron, Just noticed your and blake’s comment. Just a note. WordPress does capture IP Addresses of every comment that is submitted.

      Let’s keep the “conspiracy theories” at bay and no one here is trying demean anyone.

      Again as I said, you are welcome to share your constructive feedback openly whether you agree with the author/editor or not. As long as it is constructive, you are more than welcome.

  • Ron

    I would think that any comments that weren’t gentlemanly would be deleted. Pretty simple. To bring in the IP police for a photography website is over the edge.

    If I would have wanted to attack Blake, I would have asked to see his photography. I do not regret giving him the opportunity to see my photography.

    People in awe love to leave comments. People who have a dissenting opinion don’t want to take the time, statistically speaking. In other words, I took the time to offer constructive criticism.

    You are welcome. (waves to the cheering crowd)

    I also stand by my comment that this is a nice site. To kick it up a notch, at the end of each article ask people what they did or did not like about the photography. This site is, afterall, about learning. Hey look, learn is the first word in the domain, title, and meta tag title name.

    Make me think about what you did, why you did it, and the other parameters with the environment that restricted, or heightened, your photographic options. There could be a section on this website with the aforementioned questions that are required to be completed before submitting pictures. You can never hear enough about what the photographer had to deal with, how he dealt with said problems, and whether or not he was successful with his responses. Give me real life situations and actions. Failures would be great so I know what to do when my photo shoot is headed in the same direction!

    Great ideas. I win. 😉

    Thank you,
    ps…can you imagine what I will find once I really start looking into this site more? I could cause the site owner to start drinking (more). lol

    • Yes Ron! You win 😉 I am happy if that makes you happy. 🙂

  • Evgenia

    hi! perfect work! may be my question is not seemly, but: how much does your first work cost?

    • Evi

      Hi, it all depends on the job and how you are planning to use the images. My minimum is $500. If you are trying to find your own pricing their are some great websites that can help, just google “photo quote” hope that helps.

  • Stephanie S

    I love your photos and am trying to get to the place where I can be hired by a restaurant to take photos.
    Congrats on your first job..Im finding it hard to find my way between coming up with pricing and/or contracts…not to mention adding variety to my portfolio

    Thanks for your inspiration!

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  • AtlantaTerry


    You mentioned you might like a glass of wine to drink. Bad idea. If you are shooting a job and they know you consumed alcohol while doing it they could refuse to pay you saying they didn’t like the work product because you were drunk. Never, ever, never consume any alcohol while on a job. Wait until you get home.

    Terry Thomas…
    the photographer
    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    Skype: AtlantaTerry