Being a professional food photographer is not always so glamorous as somebody might think, but it definitely has its advantages; Sydney is unquestionably one of the best food scenes in the world, and the hospitality sector, in the whole of Australia, has lifted its standards by quite a bit in the past decade – there is much more professionality now, than it used to be, at all levels.
Coming from the kitchen myself ( I am actually a qualified chef with 15 years experience at the stove ), I am perfectly comfortable working on location when I get hired to shoot a Restaurant. Typically, a location shoot will include photography for the restaurant menu, for the website and for promotion on the social media.
I photograph dishes from the menu, portraits of the owner and chef, and some interiors as well; every client has different priorities and expectations, and part of my job is to cooperate on the creative side, as well as to inform on what’s required to achieve the desired results.
Ideally I like to work with a food stylist but this is not always possible due to budget restrictions; so this is where my previous experience as a chef comes in really handy: if the circumstances allow it, I can take care of styling the food myself, or at least I can supervise and work closely with the chef, to ensure the food is properly managed and looks its best for the camera.
I am not afraid of saying no however, because there’s nothing worse than making promises one can’t keep; as I said before a BIG part of my job is to advice the client on what’s achievable and what is not – or what changes need to be made in order to achieve the goals.
Probably the biggest challenge for the photographer, shooting at a restaurant, is lighting: the available light might just not be suitable. What do you do? you need to be able to set up a mini Studio in the space available to you, and make good light happen – that’s what you have to do!
I specialise in Studio lighting ( strobes ), and to me the weather makes no difference at all; I just can’t rely on a nice sunny day, I need to be able to tell my client the shoot will happen on a given day ( the restaurant will likely get in special supplies for the shoot and roster on an extra staff or two ), and I will executed all the images we agreed upon. That’s what a commercial photographer does – editorial photography, on the other hand, is less performance driven and, don’t get me wrong, I love working with natural light but sometimes I just can’t afford the luxury.
So what are you really looking for when you first inspect a location for an upcoming shoot? white walls and ceiling to bounce your lights off- if there aren’t any you make them, if you can’t make them you are in big trouble! Never turn up to a location shoot without having carried out a proper inspection before; it’s part of the process, it’s called pre-production and you’d better include that time in the quotation you send to your client. Preparation is the key to a successful shoot.
But pre-production alone is not enough; after the shoot, a competent post-production must follow : immediately after wrapping up ( same day or following day ) you supply the client with a contact sheet including a selection of all the best images; the client chooses the images to be used and makes his observations in regards to mood, crop etc… ; the images are then retouched and presented back to the client for a final approval.
It’s quite a serious business, food photography – without the right approach it can be very frustrating. We’ll discuss the use of props for restaurant photography in a future post – just be aware that they are another variable that needs to be taken into account and discussed when a photo shoot comes along.
Dario Milano is a professional food photographer and food stylist, based in Sydney and servicing predominantly advertising and commercial clients, restaurants and the food packaging market.
He also teaches regular food photography and food styling workshop in Sydney, as well as in Melbourne and Brisbane.
To get in contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org