Food Photography for Restaurant Menus

I created this page to address clients looking for food photography for their restaurant's menus or website. These clients aren't just looking for a couple of food images, but a bulk number of images featuring their offerings. Often I'm asked, "how much would it cost to . . ." To which there no simple answer. When bidding a project, I try to figure out what is required for the project and how much time it will take. And when it comes to food it can be as simple as 3 minutes a plate to 1 hour. So, I'm left needing more information from the client. I want to know as much as I can about what they are envisioning, so I can appropriately bid and make recommendations.

So here are three strategies to photographing numerous plates for you restaurant:

Option 1 Restaurant Menu Food PhotographyOption 1 Restaurant Menu Food Photography

1) The first strategy is to photograph all the plated food on a (usually white) paper background because the plated food will be digitally cut out to be composited onto a menu. The camera doesn't move, the studio lighting does not change, and the plates can be photographed as soon a they come out of the kitchen.  This method takes the least amount of time and therefore would be the least expensive option.  The downside is that all the plates begin to look the same and it does not reflect the ambiance of the restaurant. I see this often in Mom & Pop fast food Chinese restaurants and in on-line menus. The only limiting factor to how fast we can shoot is how fast the food can come out of the kitchen. What does slow this process down is if the presentation or cleanliness of the plates coming out of the kitchen needs to be enhanced.  A variation on this can be to use a restaurant table instead of the paper background, and possibly drinks and props may be included, but the idea is the same, the lights and the camera do not move.

Option 2 Restaurant Menu Food PhotographyOption 2 Restaurant Menu Food Photography

2) The second strategy is to set up an area of ambiance; make use of a wood surfaced table, rustic background, and a possibly few complimentary props like silverware and drinks. The location and setup stays the same for every shot, but the camera moves around the food looking for the best angle to capture it.  The results are more professional in appearance than the first option, and the ambiance ties into the dining experience of the restaurant. This is a much better option than the first option, because it looks to communicate the ambiance of your restaurant - and you should already realize the importance of ambiance.

Option 3 Restaurant Menu Food PhotographyOption 3 Restaurant Menu Food Photography

3) The third option is similar to the second option as it ties in the ambiance of the restaurant with the food, but the gist of this strategy is "photograph each plate to make it look as great as it can".  And to do this each plate is given individual attention instead of the factory process of the first two options. It is this style that one sees in high-end restaurants and national franchises. The camera is positioned for the best angle according to the plated food. The lighting is keyed in to the food and camera's position. Drinks and props are swapped out and positioned according to the camera's angle. And often times, the location of where in the restaurant we are photographing changes to give more variety to the images.  Some setups might be on the bar, some on a window-side table, some by an interesting wall, and some possibly in the kitchen. Obviously this style takes the longest amount of time because of so many factors involved and therefore may be reserved for a only a few key dishes.

So now that we have some understanding, what method are you interested in? How many food items are we looking to shoot?

Thank you, Jesse