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Abra

Taking restaurant food photos in France

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Daniel, while I'd never claim that these photos "stand up to" professional photos, they were taken without flash and without fuss, in an admittedly well-lit restaurant. I think they do a good job of helping people decide whether this is the sort of restaurant they'd enjoy, which is an important function in itself.

Sure, a pro can take a more beautiful shot, but as we know, some truly appalling foods can be made to look appetizing by a professional photographer.

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Abra, Hi.....

Your points are well taken but I do tend to feel that the well-written word can be much more descriptive than many photos.

As to the "powers" of the professional photographer - I will never forget a shoot many years ago when with my photographer we were trying to photograph a peche melba. The creme chantilly kept falling, the ice cream melted too quickly and the peach, no matter what we did with it, kept sliding to one side.

The solution - instead of vanilla ice cream we used margarine. In place of whipped cream we used shaving cream and we managed to find a toothpick to hold that damned peach half in place. The raspberry sauce was real.

The shot was gorgeous. About 10 minutes after we had finished one of the waitstaff wandered by, saw all of those abandoned glasses with the peche melbas on the sideboard, took a spoon and of all things, he picked the one that was artificial. My photographer and I stood there agape as he proceeded to eat the whole damned thing. Indeed as you say, the professional photographer can make the most horrendous things look delicious.

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The original question asked if it is appropriate to photograph one's food in a restaurant in France.  I would answer the question with a question:  As much as some may see it as appropriate, have you ever seen a French man or woman photographing his/her dishes?

As John says, I do, Clotilde does, every French person I know who has a food blog does. In France the phenomenon appeared with food blogs and seems restricted to it. However there is no notion of "appropriate" or "not appropriate", the question just didn't seem to rise before, and if a few restaurateurs mind, most of them do not.

And then I would ask another question.  With all due respect (which I do have) for those who want souvenirs or want photos for their blogs, do any of those quickly snapped photos stand up positively to those made by professionals were indeed are setting up lights, reflectors, tripods, etc?

Most of them do not, some of them are terrible, some of them are of decent quality, a few of them are the work of professionals (food photographers, food stylists with some knowledge in photography), and some are beautiful. The quality of photos reflects the general quality of blogs. The point in having a blog is not reaching professional quality (except for the rare bloggers who wish to).

Edit: I should point out that snapshots taken in a restaurant (whether for a blog or not) should not really be counted as food photography. No styling is done, you have to do it fast, you shoot what is served to you and that's it. You do not, as in food photography, organize the whole preparation, plating, lighting, etc., for the photo. This is a great difference which puts restaurant snapshots in the category of photoreportage (in the best of cases) rather than in any other.

I loved the story of the pêche Melba with shaving cream; In France that kind of trick is never used in food photography for publishing (books or magazines), but it is common custom in advertising photography. The tricky part in advertising food styling is to know all the tricks, and in book photography the tricky part is not having to use any.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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I was in Paris a few months ago and I simply asked the staff before taking photos. I did the same thing when I was just in Hong Kong and Tokyo. I find most places to be happy to help a food enthusiast. I always give them a card with my website on it (only when I travel--not locally) just in case they want to see the photos later. I have even had some places ask to see my photos after I took them.

When I am in Atlanta, it is a different story because I review the restaurants instead of just documenting my travels. I just try to be discreet as possible and don't use my flash. I have to agree the iphone can be lovely in situations with good light.

Edited to say:

The one thing I am not thrilled with is folks who take photos of people in the restaurants without asking. I always ask, but rarely take pics of people because it is about the food. What do you guys think about that?


Edited by The Blissful Glutton (log)

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I'm very happy to report that when we dined at Jardin des Sens in Montpellier this Saturday evening there was not a camera in sight.

Quite a few Americans there for the rugby, but none taking pictures.

Thank goodness. We throughly enjoyed our meal.

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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.

This is absolutely hilarious. It took me awhile to get over taking out the SLR in New York restaurants .. but for some reason I'm terrified of Paris! I think I'm just going to go for it, flash off, and use the "my friend couldn't be here tonight" excuse ... after all, that is technically true for blog viewers.

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With all due respect (which I do have) for those who want souvenirs or want photos for their blogs, do any of those quickly snapped photos stand up positively to those made by professionals were indeed are setting up lights, reflectors, tripods, etc?

Why don't you tell me, (please?):

These are all photos taken in restaurants, without flash, or fanfare, with a camera about the size of a 1950's cigarette lighter:

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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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Yes, most that is needed now is Photoshop territory.

A little job needs to be done on the white balance in the first and second photo, and the exposure should be corrected (too bright) in the third and fourth. Normally, in professional conditions (because this is the question Daniel asked in the first place; I'd never dream of posting this if he hadn't), a reflector of any sort (might even be a simple sheet of white paper) would have been used, especially on the fourth picture, to avoid shiny bits.

Also professional photographers spend a little time turning the plate in one direction or another to find the best angle, and they do that in restaurants too (yes, some professional photographers do take pictures of their plates). For every plate, there is an ideal angle from which the food is supposed to appear and it is almost never the one at which it appears to you once the waiter has placed the plate in front of you.

Nevertheless, these are great pictures for the equipment you used. For one thing I'd like to know the brand and model number of your camera...


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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Yes, most that is needed now is Photoshop territory.

A little job needs to be done on the white balance in the first and second photo, and the exposure should be corrected (too bright) in the third and fourth.

Those are indeed Photoshopped (all low light photos need to be), and fine-tuned to be exactly to my liking.

Photoshop's white balance on the first one makes a photo that's just too cool and loses the warmth that's a necessary part of remembering that dish, so I intentionally adjusted the white balance to warm it up. The second photo, too, is exactly the way I want the white balance; Photoshop erred on the side of slightly too cool and lost the spirit of the golden sear for me. It's a personal preference, but I care more about the color temperature of the food, and not so much about the gigantic white plates that are now all the rage. I let it cool the asparagus photo, because thatseemed to me in keeping with the colors of the food.

a reflector of any sort (might even be a simple sheet of white paper) would have been used, especially on the fourth picture, to avoid shiny bits.

A reflector is simply not relevant to this discussion, as these are available-light photos.

I generally experiment in Photoshop and re-expose the photo several different ways to see what I like best before I start fine-tuning. And with all photos that start out so dark that you can't even tell what's on the plate, those gigantic white plates will always be slightly overexposed, which is fine with me. I actually like the effect. I can grab only the food on the plate and re-expose it, but it results in a less honest-looking photo.

The photos were taken with a Canon 700IS. I had the new FujiFilm Finepix F50 with me for several of those photos, but felt it didn't do as good a job as the Canon.

But they obviously fooled John. :wink:

As far as styling the food, that's just not what I'm after. I want a photo of exactly what was served to me, exactly as the chef styled it before it left the kitchen. Warts and all, though with the dollar what it is today, in some restaurants, there's a supplement for warts these days. :biggrin:

But I don't want the perfectly styled studio photo, I want a photo that recalls exactly what I was served.

As recently as a few years ago, I used to travel with a digital slr, the Canon EOS, with a flash that bounced into a reflector hood, and a few white cards that we'd hold up on the sides of the table at the moment the photo was snapped...

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And possibly because of my great luck, those were in restaurants in France where the chefs gave us their blessings to take all the flash photos we wanted, and even invited us into the kitchens to take more, and more importantly, where other diners would hand over their plates so we could shoot them.

But with the advances in cameras today and Photoshop for post-production, I'm extremely pleased with the original four photos I posted above taken with only the camera that fits in a shirt pocket.


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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Do not get me wrong, I think your photos are perfect in their own right, and I was not reacting to your photography methods so much as I was commenting them in relation to Daniel Rogov's question and point of view. This was his question:

do any of those quickly snapped photos stand up positively to those made by professionals were indeed are setting up lights, reflectors, tripods, etc?

So I was directly replying to that. As you write, your point is not to make a styled photo, or to make it acceptable for publication. And since they are very good even in those conditions, I was pointing out what would have been missing from them if they had to be used for professional use. Which is very little.

(One of your pictures, actually, is missing nothing to be of professional quality — the fish with the cinnamon stick. The balance of light and shadow and the definition are very good in this one.)

But going back to the subject — in that perspective, there is a difference between the white balance such as you want it to be, or as I would want it to be, and the white balance such as it would have been set for a book or a magazine picture.

A reflector is simply not relevant to this discussion, as these are available-light photos.

Of course. But the good food photographers I work with operate in available light and generally use reflectors. Hence my remark. That applies, of course, to situations of bright daylight.

I made no mention of styling the food, only of turning the plate, which is quite a different matter. However, in food photography, there is a very wide gap between the plating the chef has chosen for the picture and the one that is actually desirable for the picture. That situation is well known by all stylists and photographers: the chef brings a plate "ready for the shoot" and the photographer/stylist has to modify the plating, sometimes considerably, sometimes entirely. It generally takes a little while until the chef understands why that has to be done. There is a definite difference between what looks good on a plate, restaurant-wise, and what looks good on a plate, photography-wise.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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Do not get me wrong, I think your photos are perfect in their own right, and I was not reacting to your photography methods so much as I was commenting them in relation to Daniel Rogov's question and point of view. This was his question:
do any of those quickly snapped photos stand up positively to those made by professionals were indeed are setting up lights, reflectors, tripods, etc?

So I was directly replying to that. As you write, your point is not to make a styled photo, or to make it acceptable for publication. And since they are very good even in those conditions, I was pointing out what would have been missing from them if they had to be used for professional use. Which is very little.

(One of your pictures, actually, is missing nothing to be of professional quality — the fish with the cinnamon stick. The balance of light and shadow and the definition are very good in this one.)

But going back to the subject — in that perspective, there is a difference between the white balance such as you want it to be, or as I would want it to be, and the white balance such as it would have been set for a book or a magazine picture.

Thank you, and thank you again!

After I posted my original reply to you, I did have occasion to read Daniel Rogov's question again, and I guess I think that it's a matter of apples and oranges to have asked it here. What I mean is, I do know all about commercial photography of food. So I know that the ice cream in a dish will be replaced by something else like margarine, and the whipped cream will be replaced by shaving cream, etc. etc. - so when I look at commercial food photography, my mind's taste buds invariably ask "what I am looking at, anyway?" and I don't find them so appealing knowing what they probably are. Yes, I realize that there's an art to finding artificial substances that will hold up to bright lights while the beads of moisture are applied to the "food" and the plate is tinkered with, but that's just not an art that I'm looking to imitate in the first place.

As far as the white balance, you're right that somebody publishing a magazine photo of that dish would've chosen a different white balance. For fun, I went back and re-set it to the one we had discarded when we worked on these, so forgive me if I repeat the original one here so that the difference shows up better...

gallery_11181_4845_76151.jpg

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The second one affects the colors of the food very little, as I see it again. But something about it just doesn't recall the moment for me. But as I said, making a studio perfect shot was never our intention, even if we can come very close by lugging the "big" camera and gear. It's about capturing the moment, for us.

As far as turning the plates, it's something we try to remember, and sometimes we do, sometimes we don't- remember that is. Part of the game is to eat the food while it's hot ( :unsure: ). And the wine that's part of the meal sometimes has an effect on the photographic checklist (and boy were we grateful for the woman at the table next to us that time we were about to devour a dessert and she screamed "stop - you didn't take the photo!")

On another thread completely unrelated to this, I needed to show a pasta photo from the town of Modena, Italy, to make a point, and I went digging through the photo archives for it. By the standards of this thread it's going to be a lousy photo, so I warn you...

gallery_11181_3830_75856.jpg

But do you know... it's from 1974 (!!). We were taking photos of what we ate even back then - years before people even gave birth to the people who'd become "bloggers" :shock: . But in those days, all the vacation photos our friends took were of churches, and statues, and the like, and ours were of "here's what we ate on the first night, and here's what we ate on the second night..." and I wouldn't have it any other way.


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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After I posted my original reply to you, I did have occasion to read Daniel Rogov's question again, and I guess I think that it's a matter of apples and oranges to have asked it here.

I do agree with you, and that was implicit in my first reply to Daniel.

What I mean is, I do know all about commercial photography of food.  So I know that the ice cream in a dish will be replaced by something else like margarine, and the whipped cream will be replaced by shaving cream, etc. etc. - so when I look at commercial food photography, my mind's taste buds invariably ask "what I am looking at, anyway?" and I don't find them so appealing knowing what they probably are.

I think there is a point here that should be very clear, at the risk of repeating myself.

Two different types of food photography should be distinguished. When you look at advertising food photography you can wonder what exactly you're looking at. When you look at food photography in a book or magazine, you are looking at the real thing. Props and foams and artificial substitutes are very common in advertising photography. They are a no-no, as far as my experience goes (which includes testimonies from every food photographer I've met), in book and magazine food photography. As a stylist and sometimes photographer, and sometimes as a writer taking an active part in the photo sessions, I have helped on many books and never once did I see any fake ingredient being used for a shoot, except the odd prop in the form of folded cardboard helping something to stand up right. The very principle of non-advertising food photography is not to play tricks.

It is perfectly possible to make any food look good, raw of cooked; it is all in the hands of the stylist and photographer. A few years ago I cooked a good number of dishes "en cocotte" for a book on the subject, now foods cooked in a Dutch oven are notoriously tricky — but all the dishes looked great. It's just that they were very well prepared, with the notion of the photo in mind at every stage of the preparation and cooking, and that the photographer was talented.

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After one reads "Send, The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home" by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, one is aware that one should not post impulsively, but it's now been 6 hours since the RFC and I ate at Paris's hottest new place, Afaria, featured this week in l’Express, Figaroscope + A Nous Paris, and thus ipso facto has become the new Spring, and we had a fine meal (to be reported on soon by both of us,) marred by only one thing, the taking of flash photos by a foursome of same-aged (as me, that is,) Americans. I can reliably report that the rest of us in the room, French, except for me, cast their eyes skyward and I sank into my seat in shame. I realize that you micro-equipped, non-flash, snappers, do not cause such disruption, but the RFC and I were there for the food and this was really out of bounds.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Since no one has mentioned this reason for not taking/posting photos I'll chime in.

Many years ago, laden with two PX-purchased Nikons and a lot of lenses and filters, etc, I found myself spending all my time travelling tripoding, setting up, taking and repeating shots; so much that Colette said why didn't I just look at things and remember them.

And so, I got rid of almost all my eqpt, started looking, and now it's Colette who takes the digital shots, posts them, distributes them, prints them and I have the memories.

Have I lost anything?  I don't think so.  A word can substitute, I think, for a thousand pictures.

Lovely.

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Problems with pictures:

Only 2 dimensions.

Can't smell.

Can't taste.

Can't feel the élan of the room or the evening.

Can't feel the anticipation.

Can't see your lover.

Can't hear your lover.

Can't touch your lover.

All of this is simply too much to remove from a great meal.

Whats the point of taking a photo?

It tells us nothing.

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I realize that you micro-equipped, non-flash, snappers, do not cause such disruption, but the RFC and I were there for the food and this was really out of bounds.

Personally I'd rather streak and run through the Champs-Élysées at 6 PM than take a flash photo in a restaurant.

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Ah Ha! Common sense coming through on this topic. My hat's off to the anti-pix camp.

I find it notable that even the photo takers seem to be somewhat apologetic about it.

" I do it quickly"

" I turn the flash off"

" I have a tiny camera"

Why do it at all? Has language failed us?

As I said in my first post on this topic; if one wishes to be seen as and regarded as a crass American then snap away.

And yes a few French bloggers feel they must join in, but I notice that they are really very nervous about taking pictures in restaurants.

Obviously, the likes of me won't stop the shutter bugs, but at least I have this forum to voice my opinion on.

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And yes a few French bloggers feel they must join in, but I notice that they are really very nervous about taking pictures in restaurants.

Absolutely not. And I do not see that in other food bloggers either.

And whether I use a small pocket camera of a big Nikon reflex camera as I do now, that does not make any difference.

If I never use a flash, it is primarily because it makes the photo look like crap. Yes it is agressive and annoying but that is only another good reason not to use one.

As long as one does not use a flash and shows a minimum of discretion, I see no reason to be nervous about taking pictures in restaurants. Personally I have never taken a picture of a dish just to keep it as a souvenir. I always had publication of some sort in mind, whether it was followed by actual blogging or not. I do not see the point of taking a picture just for the picture's sake.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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Problems with pictures:

Only 2 dimensions.

Can't smell.

Can't taste.

Can't feel the élan of the room or the evening.

Can't feel the anticipation.

Can't see your lover.

Can't hear your lover.

Can't touch your lover.

All of this is simply too much to remove from a great meal.

Whats the point of taking a photo?

It tells us nothing.

Really, then, there's no point of taking a picture of anything, meal or otherwise.

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Really, then, there's no point of taking a picture of anything, meal or otherwise.

Not true, some times these things are not important.

With food they are.

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Really, then, there's no point of taking a picture of anything, meal or otherwise.

Not true, some times these things are not important.

With food they are.

I still don't buy the argument. You can't get those things from written descriptions, either, so by those standards there's no point in writing about food. Most of the things you listed are important in regards to people, so then we shouldn't be taking pictures of people, either.

FWIW, I take pictures of food at home whenever I feel like it, but in restaurants, I do so infrequently depending on the restaurant, my companions, and how self-conscious I feel at the time (about taking pictures), and never using a flash. I think both photographs and the written word can be inspiring, but in different ways, and some people may feel more inspired by one medium than the other. As long as those taking photos of their food are doing so respectfully and with courtesy to the other diners, I don't see the problem. Except for when one might accidentally drop her camera into her soup while taking a picture of it (it was an accident!).


Edited by prasantrin (log)

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Unless accompanied with text, it is often difficult to get any sense of a plate.

Picture this: a deep pink thick fluid in a soupplate with a white island in it. Tell me, is it sweet or savory? Is it a puree of beets or of red fruits? Have herbs or spices played a role? Is the island creme fraiche or sour cream or mascarpone or whipped cheese or gelato or sorbet? Are there any intreguing buried treasures under the surface?

With all of the "fun" and "faux" food presentations that are the vogue, one could carry this to all kinds of extremes.

IMHO, verbal descriptions of food are far more seductive than photos.


eGullet member #80.

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if one wishes to be seen as and regarded as a crass American then snap away.

What about the Japanese? Or South Koreans? Or Singaporeans? Or Germans for that fact? Having been on both sides (i.e. as a diner and a cook) I can tell you from personal experience that all kinds of people from all nations are taking photos in restaurants. American's may have a bigger photo snapping presence here, because this is Paris. Reverse the situation and make it NYC and I will show you dining rooms full of Asians, Germans and even French taking photos. Are most of them bloggers? Probably, but given how many E-gullet members have blogs, I don't think that narrows the field that much.


"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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