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Taking restaurant food photos in France


Abra
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Now that I'm finally living in France, I'm having many crises of conscience about la politesse. In the US I don't hesitate to discretely photograph my dinner in a restaurant, but so far I haven't dared to do it here.

Are there some guidelines about how it should be done, i.e. ask permission first, no flash (of course not) and so on? Or is it considered really a weird and rude thing to do in any case?

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Well I guess you can whip out your camera in the restaurant and take pictures; discreetly of course. That is if you want to be identified as an American tourist. Now, there's no shame in being so identified especially if you are in a restaurant that you are unlikely to ever return to. But, I've never in many years seen a European take pictures of their food. It just ain't done.

I've been & am regularly tempted, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Gauche is the word that comes to mind.

Maybe its just me, old age and old fashionedness, I don't know? I'd love to hear from others who actually live in France to hear their opinions.

What say you? Guru's of the French forum.

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I have been on both sides of this situation. For a long time I had tried to photograph everything I was eating and always felt awkward. I would whip out the camera fast and put it away quickly. I wasn't really sure why I was being so cloak-and-dagger about it as it seems like Japanese tourists have made us novice photographers seem like shadows in the wake of their constant restaurant photography. Now that I am cooking and watching when people photograph my own food. My sentiment on photography has changed completely. I am flattered that people want to take pictures and it's ironic cause they usually respond with apologies. I honestly attempt to make a plate look better as I think about it being photographed. The only thing that can be distracting is the flash. When I take pics at a restaurant now, I kill the flash, steady the camera and leave the shutter open. This way I don't disturb another diner.

"When planning big social gatherings at our home, I wait until the last minute to tell my wife. I figure she is going to worry either way, so I let her worry for two days rather than two weeks."
-EW
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Dave, as for Europeans not taking pics of their food, what about Clotilde, Ptipois and Caroline Mignot to name a few.

"When planning big social gatherings at our home, I wait until the last minute to tell my wife. I figure she is going to worry either way, so I let her worry for two days rather than two weeks."
-EW
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Cycle-camping through France every summer, I take pictures of food/ a glass of wine or anything that takes my fancy and have never been tasked about it.

It seems to me though , the more wine I have drunk, the bolder I am.... :biggrin:

I will admit, my flash is always turned off.

Martial.2,500 Years ago:

If pale beans bubble for you in a red earthenware pot, you can often decline the dinners of sumptuous hosts.

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Not a French forum guru, but I have lived in Germany for two years and traveled a lot in Europe including France. I have never seen anyone here take a photo of their food. My feelings about it are in line with those of Dave Hatfield.

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Dave, as for Europeans not taking pics of their food, what about Clotilde, Ptipois and Caroline Mignot to name a few.

Clotilde, Caroline and I have one important thing in common: we're all bloggers. Bloggers take lots of food pictures. It's in their genes.

My personal approach to restaurant photography: 1) Have the nerve to do it and do not think twice. Do it wholeheartedly or do not do it at all. Never be apologetic — you're already a very slight nuisance, don't make yourself a big one. Self-consciousness attracts attention. 2) However, do understand when (a rare case) the restaurateur does not want pictures taken. He will let you know. 2) Never never never use a flash. 3) Shoot faster than your shadow. 4) Use a very good, silent, sensitive, small compact APN. Mine is a 2002 Konica Revio I would not part from for all the tea in Chiney.

Oh, and 5) Sometimes the company and the food are so delightful that you do not even think of pulling the camera out of your bag. That is what happened to me today at L'Astrance. One less blog post but some things are more important than blogging :biggrin:

Edit: 6) DON'T shoot plates with your mobile phone, especially if you are going to put that on your blog.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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I can't even bring myself to photograph food here in America, and I've really wanted to in some cases.

Ok, digital camera companies.....listen up!

I don't think it's beyond today's technology to make a decent miniature digital cam and disguise it as a fork! Right? Or a spoon, or a salt shaker, or hey, what about a credit card? Inapperçu, non? :raz:

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Well, let me share with you some of my experiences taking photos in restaurants in France:

We were in one place in Alsace (a Michelin "bib gourmand" restaurant) where we took photos of everything we ate. After a few nights (we kept returning because we loved it) a stern-looking, matronly woman who had seen us snapping flash photos every night marched up to us at the end of the meal and asked in German if we were Germans, and I replied that no, we were Americans. She exclaimed "Wunderbar!" and went on to tell us how wonderful she thought it was that we cared enough about our food to photograph it.

That restaurant is here.

A few nights later a French family at another table held out their plates for us (as they had ordered different things than we had) and suggested we photograph them. And when we dug into our dessert one night, a Belgian woman at the table next to us (who then became a friend) turned to us in a panic and said "STOP! You forgot to take the photo."

Now we move on to a 2-star restaurant. We had gone and eaten an all-truffle dinner, and had been afraid to bring the camera. The meal was so great we made reservations to come back and eat it again a week later, and asked the chef sheepishly if by any chance we could bring the camera, and the answer was "Absolutely! You have every right to photograph your meal." And after we did, he invited us to take photos in the kitchen.

That restaurant is here.

And if you go to the "France" page of the 'extravaganza' site in my signature, you'll see loads of other meals photographed in lots of upscale restaurants there. Nobody has ever minded. Nobody has ever been less than happy that we do it. (And nobody has failed to invite us into the kitchen either.)

Edited by markk (log)

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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If you want to take a photo of your plate just go ahead and do it.

Some people will thing you are weird, some will think you are rude but at the end of the day who gives a crap it's not like you are blowing smoke in their faces - it's just a damn picture.

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P'tit and Markk, you've given me the confidence to try it out here soon. We don't have any starred places here, so people may be less used to bloggers, but if needed I'll try to explain that I'm going to make my lunch internationally famous via the Internet. I can't wait to see how that goes! So far we've mostly been eating out at lunch time, so no flash worries in any case.

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I can't even bring myself to photograph food here in America, and I've really wanted to in some cases.

Ok, digital camera companies.....listen up!

I don't think it's beyond today's technology to make a decent miniature digital cam and disguise it as a fork! Right? Or a spoon, or a salt shaker, or hey, what about a credit card? Inapperçu, non? :raz:

So inapercu that next thing you know you'll put it in your mouth and give a big crunch. :cool:

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the only place I've been asked not to take pix of the food was Pierre Gagnaire.....I think that is his restaurant's policy.

On a very recent trip to Lyon/Haute Savoie I actually took photos of a lot of the meals we ate because I was absolutely blown away by the standard of cuisine(we had flown down from England in our small plane) and we were eating lunch at airfields we had landed at....very small airfields, some above 5000 feet in the mountains and very remote and short.....we couldn't believe there was a small resto at every field! We were served uniformly fantastic plates, normally of local specialities. We were staggered because the equivalent in the UK is the boringly predictable greasy fast food followed by crappy coffee (if indeed there is somewhere to eat)....and the wine was wonderful.......................only joking :biggrin:

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I've taken piccies (flash off obviously) in Tour d'argent, le gavroche, Bruneau in Brussels and Jules Verne (on valentine's night).

Nobody has ever batted an eyelid.

www.diariesofadomesticatedgoddess.blogspot.com

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You don't, of course, have to be a blogger, to take photos of what you eat.

If anything is said, you could always say that one of your party was too ill/elderly/unable to come on the trip at the last minute, and you promised him/her a photo of everything you ate.

It's a touching answer that I have kept at the ready. The only place I ever had to use it was at a hold-in-the-wall Cuban joint in New Jersey when some guy (who wasn't even inconvenienced by the photos) demanded to know why we were taking them. I said that it had been my mother's favorite place many years ago, and as she was now to old and infirm to travel, she asked me to take a photo of everything we ate there for her. If the guy was going to go into an anti-blogger rant, he went away with a tear in his eye.

Then again... I was doing this in the 1970's before there were blogs, when I traveled through Italy with a letter of introduction from an Italian-American magazine I wrote for and which my traveling companion shot photos for. The letter opened the door to many restaurant kitchens for us and got us invited during the day to shoot prep work and interview them. Once on the Isle of Capri, we spent the day interviewing the elderly family that had founded a now-chic restaurant, and arranged to return the next night for dinner. When we did, we couldn't reach the front door because of the thick mob of paparazzi there, who informed us that the restaurant was closed for Christina Onassis to have dinner there privately, having just arrived by yacht. Well, we pressed our way to the front door, and the owner opened it a crack and let us in with our cameras while keeping the paparazzi out, and there was a minor riot. The two of us and Christina Onassis's party were the only people dining in the restaurant, at nearby tables, though my photographer had his back to her. When his lobster dish arrived, he photographed it several times with flash. Then an Onassis henchman built like a bouncer stood up, grabbed my partner's camera, and was just about to smash it to the floor when Christina yelled "shut up and sit down, you big goon - he was taking a picture of his lobster - didn't you even see that he had his back to me!" Even she didn't object to our food photos.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I just returned from France where I took pictures of food in every restaurant from Provence to Paris. I, of course, did it as quickly and discreetly as possible but I never had anyone even look at me funny when I did it. I also brought along an apron that I've had chefs from all over America and Europe sign and in all cases, when I asked our server if he thought the chef might have time to sign it, they not only signed it but came to the table to talk with me. It made for a great experience.

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Hey, Markk, that's a cool story.  That's what I need, a letter of introduction...maybe from a well-known online food forum?

Thanks. But I have to tell you that I've been invited into just as many kitchens, and have had just as many invitations to come back during daytime prep to watch and take photos, just by showing an interest in the food, as I used to get with that letter. I find that chefs, at least in France and Italy, are very taken by people who genuinely love their food, and I've yet to have the scenario where I've gone back to a restaurant 3 or 4 times (because I couldn't get enough of it) where the chef didn't come out and sit with me after the meal and invite me to observe a meal from the kitchen. That letter was keul then, but it doesn't really make any difference, I have found.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I've also taken pictures at Taillevant, Le Bristol, Arzak, Petrus, etc discreetly without flash and have never had a problem. Actually at Le Bristol the chef came out and talked to us as the waiter told him how interested in the food we were and at Petrus (London vs Paris) they grabbed us and took us into the kitchen to meet chef Waring when they noticed the camera.

I think discrete and no flash are the keys, and if in doubt ask the restaurant if they mind.

Happy Blogging Abra!

p.s. taking pictures on the new iPhone is actually really quite nice :)

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My personal approach to restaurant photography:

1) Have the nerve to do it and do not think twice. Do it wholeheartedly or do not do it at all. Never be apologetic — you're already a very slight nuisance, don't make yourself a big one. Self-consciousness attracts attention.

2) However, do understand when (a rare case) the restaurateur does not want pictures taken. He will let you know.

3) Never never never use a flash.

4) Shoot faster than your shadow.

5) Use a very good, silent, sensitive, small compact APN. Mine is a 2002 Konica Revio I would not part from for all the tea in Chiney.

6) Sometimes the company and the food are so delightful that you do not even think of pulling the camera out of your bag. That is what happened to me today at L'Astrance. One less blog post but some things are more important than blogging  :biggrin:

7) DON'T shoot plates with your mobile phone, especially if you are going to put that on your blog.

Bravo! I think this list should be laminated and send to the powers that be to be given out to each and every eG food-blogger.

I think the most important part is finding a fine line between being discreet (my translation of #4) and being an apologetic twit (#1). Taking into consideration #6 as well, I took many pictures of meals during our trip last year. Nobody was bothered, and in fact we were asked once if we had any questions oabout the dish the server had not answered. I guess the world is getting used to bloggers.

A.

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The only place in Europe at which I have been asked not to take photos was Pierre Gagnaire. My understanding is that policy may have changed since then.

As for Europeans not taking photos of their food in restaurants - that is patently untrue. In addition to those mentioned above, I have seen and been with a number of Europeans doing the same. I have also had my share of wonderful experiences and introductions secondary to my camera and my interest in the food.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I think the most important part is finding a fine line between being discreet (my translation of #4) and being an apologetic twit (#1).

Of course you have to allow time for the camera to focus and for your eye to set the frame. But think of a press photographer taking a snapshot before you've even had a chance to see him seize his camera. Or of a fox stealing a chicken from a coop. Alert, attentive, swift, silent, but by no means apologetic.

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