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Does taking food photos bother customers or staff?

88 posts in this topic

I do both professional and hobby food photography. For the first, I'm doing it for a restaurant, and I'll usually do whatever it takes to get the shot.

For the latter? I still like to get pictures of my food, but if I'm not doing it professionally, my foremost rule is that I'm there to eat, not photograph, and to make sure that my photography doesn't get in the way of my enjoyment.

My second rule is "try not to annoy the restaurant, or the other patrons". I don't think I've ever used a flash, since they are, quite frankly, annoying. A good camera, support (I have a mini-tripod that's great for this), and some patience are all that's needed.

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It doesn't bother me when I'm at work - so many of our guests do, but they are mostly discrete - we are not talking huge flashes or anything like that - I did ask someone to put their tripod away as it was blocking the walkway to other tables and was really a bit ott in my opinion. As a diner, I snap everything with my iPhone - no flash and I do it quickly do it doesn't disturb anyone. I generally don't bother if the light is bad enough to warrant a flash although people take pictures of friends/dates etc so am not sure why I hold back really! I think the key is to be quick and discrete - if it was going to cause a distraction/wasn't allowed by the restaurant I wouldn't do it and wouldn't sweat it.


"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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David,

When I take pics in a restaurant I'm doing it for my website or maybe to post elsewhere. While I'm not trained to produce publication quality, I do want my pics both to represent the food accurately and to have nice color tones and glisten. I've tried shooting in low light without a flash with my SLR - upping the ASA, opening lens, high shutter speeds, etc. Only thing I haven't done is shot in RAW mode. Thing is, I'm never happy with the "punch" of the end result, especially compared to the same pic shot with just the built in flash on my camera.

I'm not being critical; just trying to figure out what is possible in low light situations. The pic you posted seems a tad faded or washed out. Is that a function of low light photography?

Perhaps dimly lit restaurants preparing pic-worthy fare should designate a portion of the dining room for flash photography.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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David,

When I take pics in a restaurant I'm doing it for my website or maybe to post elsewhere. While I'm not trained to produce publication quality, I do want my pics both to represent the food accurately and to have nice color tones and glisten. I've tried shooting in low light without a flash with my SLR - upping the ASA, opening lens, high shutter speeds, etc. Only thing I haven't done is shot in RAW mode. Thing is, I'm never happy with the "punch" of the end result, especially compared to the same pic shot with just the built in flash on my camera.

I'm not being critical; just trying to figure out what is possible in low light situations. The pic you posted seems a tad faded or washed out. Is that a function of low light photography?

Perhaps dimly lit restaurants preparing pic-worthy fare should designate a portion of the dining room for flash photography.

If you can't shoot in low light with your equipment, I think you just need to leave it be.

Flash photography is going to have issues in those kinds of situations, even without the problem it causes for other customers. To get a good result, you'd need a proper flash gun or some kind of ring-flash setup. It would just end up being ridiculous in a restaurant.

That said, with an SLR, you should be able to get a decent enough shot with a fast lens and steady hands. Some of the mid-high end SLRs will perform adequately at ISO 3200+ which should be plenty unless it's almost pitch black.

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Holly--One reason you may want to shoot RAW is access to more convenient tools for non-destructive editing, which is particularly useful when you can't control the light. Personally, I like a less saturated look, but if you like more color saturation, it's easy enough to bump it up, presuming you are starting from a reasonably accurate white balance and exposure. RAW lets you adjust the white balance easily after the fact on a calibrated monitor, if you have one, without losing any information in the original file.

Exposure you need to get right when you're shooting. Look at the histogram display to make sure you're not clipping your highlights or letting the shadows get blocked up. If you can see both ends of the curve, you'll have room to adjust the exposure later.

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So far I have not had any problems with taking pictures of my food. As a general rule I avoid using flash on the basis that the picture will really suck if I do. This is not a photo shoot, this is my meal. So I try to be as quick and discreet as I can either with my DSLR or my iPhone. At the end of the day the pictures are for my and my readers enjoyment, not to hang on a wall.

My friends are so used to it by now that when we go out to eat they always let me snap a quick picture before digging in but that's about as obtrusive as it gets. There's no whine of the flash charging, no bright lights and most of the time there's not even the signature "click" of the picture being taken. Camera's are much quieter now than they used to be so as long as you're not making a big show about the pictures you're taking I can't imagine it being a problem.

One of my best fixes has been one of those tiny table top tripods. That way I can use natural light even in a low light condition.


Seth Mariscal

The Nutty Food Lover

http://www.nuttyfoodlover.com

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I tried to capture my first food appearance (a cookie with an elaborate system of dough folding in Sicily) as a pen drawing on a napkin. It was so remarkable, I just had to capture it. And then I realized . . . wait . . . I can just take a picture . . . doh . . . then I started taking pictures of the food that matters to me -- pastry, cakes, cookies, remarkable decorating ideas, etc.

I suppose someone might think I'm going to copy it (I'd rather try to improve upon it) and get hairy, but that's never been so, even in Paris.

In Sardinia, I asked permission first, and then took a photo of every single one of dozens of cookies. And effusively complimented the baker.

I suppose this is my way of documenting sugar of the world, and why not? These are artworks and deserve to be admired as much as the architecture.

One of my sub-genres is decorating with candied fruit and nuts. I collect 'em all. Maybe I'll make trading cards . . .


I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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An added two cents from me: Recently had lunch at Osteria Francescana, and did take pictures. I asked first, although the one early arrival from the party at a nearby table already had his iPhone out, and was snapping away. The waiter looked surprised, ever-so-faintly amused that I asked (and this place has three Michelin stars, it isn't a scenester hang-out/packed with Yelpies). We didn't fuss over the pictures, just pointed and shot, so they aren't brilliant images, but they were taken simply as something to reminisce over, to show friends and family, when we were enthusing about the meal.

No one showed any sign of being bothered by our taking pictures (I particularly watched staff--especially the chef--for the tiniest sign of even suppressed displeasure, and was cheerfully prepared to stop, should it manifest; it didn't), but then again, three of the four parties present were taking pictures (for those curious about the demographics: all appeared to be between 35 and 55, and were French/Italian speaking), and this was lunch, which tends to be more casual than dinner.

The diners' photography behaviour was consistent with their general behaviour: The quiet table was unobtrusively taking pictures of plates, the more exuberant (this is relative, no one was actually making a row) table was a bit more obvious, took more pictures of the members of the party, the decor.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Phones are coming out with ever-better cameras. My Xperia Arc has one of the fastest lenses (f2.4) I've heard of on a phone - one of the main reasons I chose it - and makes a great job of restaurant photos. As daydayxvi said, we're now able to avoid shutter noises, and with faster lenses flash is just not necessary (quite apart from it making the plates look awful. Brightly-lit, but awful).

If you're discreet and don't bother other diners, I can see little objection to doing anything you like with your food once it's on the table.


Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
Host, eG Forumslcraven@egstaff.org

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relatives ~ Oscar Wilde

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Yeah as long as there's no flash I find it rather flattering really...


Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

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Interesting thread this.

I photograph all of our restaurant meals, and never use flash. I have a dslr camera which is just too bulky and obvious that I never use it. Besides which some of the tables are so small there is no room for it.

My weapon of choice is a little Canon S95 which is one of the best point and shoot cameras on the market. Its discrete, quick and simple, so in no time at all, I can take my photos and then in moments we can get down to the real business, which is enjoying the food.

Never once have I detected any whiff of objection, in fact most people seem to be enjoying their own company/food to bother with anyone else.

We have been in high end places where boorish people have spoilt our meal somewhat with flash photography and high spirited behavior but no one has said anything. Loud, selfish, overbearing people are the ones who cause offence in restaurants, not the quiet couple in the corner taking a few snaps of the food.

Btw, don't let anyone kid you along that chefs don't like you taking photos of their food. They love it. Its free advertising and I have had a number of chefs compliment me about mine.

Happy snapping :smile:

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Btw, don't let anyone kid you along that chefs don't like you taking photos of their food. They love it. Its free advertising and I have had a number of chefs compliment me about mine.

Mmm, there is at least one place I know of here in NYC where food photography and note-taking can get you banned from the establishment.

I'm going to one such place at the end of this month.

It's a safe bet that I won't be taking pix at dinner. :laugh:

These days, I don't shoot food in restaurants at all, since I prefer to work under conditions I can control. Not possible in a social setting.

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Now I am a bit of an anti food blogger. Partly because we were disturbed once in a nice restaurant by someone on the next table taking photos of everyone's plate with his oversized digital SLR.

Now to me a meal is an experience, it is not just the food, but the atmosphere and the company and I don't need photos of my dinner to be remember the event.

What is the inside view on people taking photos of their plates. Can you take it too far (I have heard of diners with tripods and videoing serving staff). Is a discreet photo with a compact without flash acceptable?

I have noticed that professional food critics rely on their writing skills alone. They may use a PR supplied photo or a photo of the venue.


http://www.thecriticalcouple.co.uk

Latest blog post - Oh my - someone needs a spell checker

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Now I am a bit of an anti food blogger. Partly because we were disturbed once in a nice restaurant by someone on the next table taking photos of everyone's plate with his oversized digital SLR.

Now to me a meal is an experience, it is not just the food, but the atmosphere and the company and I don't need photos of my dinner to be remember the event.

What is the inside view on people taking photos of their plates. Can you take it too far (I have heard of diners with tripods and videoing serving staff). Is a discreet photo with a compact without flash acceptable?

I have noticed that professional food critics rely on their writing skills alone. They may use a PR supplied photo or a photo of the venue.

I take photos and don't bother anyone. The alleged tripod/video thing sounds a little suspect to me.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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I take photos and don't bother anyone. The alleged tripod/video thing sounds a little suspect to me.

One poster in the UK forum actually admitted to videoing the server without asking for permission. See the response by the owner "The Greek"

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/28546-le-champignon-sauvage/page__st__330


http://www.thecriticalcouple.co.uk

Latest blog post - Oh my - someone needs a spell checker

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Weinoo

"I take photos and don't bother anyone. The alleged tripod/video thing sounds a little suspect to me."

How do you know? Maybe people are just too polite to say anything.

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I completely agree that taking someone's picture or a video of them without their permission is rude and obnoxious. Using a flash is rude and obnoxious (and not particularly effective). Insisting on taking pictures of everyone else's dish at your table is obnoxious.

However, I fail to understand how sitting silently and alone at a table by myself (or with others who don't have an issue with it) with my camera and possibly my compact tabletop tripod taking ambient light pictures of only my own food can cause grief to others at surrounding tables. I think the biggest reaction I've elicited so far from other diners has been curiosity.


Food Blog: Exploring Food My Way: Satisfying The Craving -- Exercising my epicurean muscles by eating my way through everything that is edible.

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Weinoo

"I take photos and don't bother anyone. The alleged tripod/video thing sounds a little suspect to me."

How do you know? Maybe people are just too polite to say anything.

This is NYC. No one is too polite to not say anything.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I tend to be bothered by pretty much everything, but discreet photography in a restaurant isn't one of those things.

By 'discreet' I mean you only take pictures of the food on/people at your table (okay, I can understand the urge to take that big group that includes the waiter, which is a tradition that apparently goes as far back as photgraphy), you don't engage in moves that encroach on diners at other tables (if I keep wondering if or when you're going to back into me, I'm going to become irritable), and you don't use flash. That last one is probably open to debate: I find a flash going off like a slap across the eyes (but as I said, pretty much everty damn thing bothers me, so).


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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MJX - pretty much my view.

Small compact camera, no flash, is fine - anything more is rude.

However it is not something that I personally would feel comfortable doing and would see it as bad form if you are dining with others as a social occasion. Nearly as bad as using a phone at the table and actually I would get pretty miffed if someone in my party wanted to photograph everyone's plate.

I know a lot of food bloggers rely on photos for their reports, but, I would feel pretty self-concious about taking photos of plated meals rather than tucking in and enjoying the food.


Edited by PSmith (log)

http://www.thecriticalcouple.co.uk

Latest blog post - Oh my - someone needs a spell checker

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I happily take flash-free, silent pictures at the table with my iPhone - my foodblog was all done on the 4S - but I would feel very awkward with an SLR or something like that. If people want to use them at their own tables, it doesn't bother me, but loads of flash certainly does

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A dining room is not a chapel. People talk loudly. Tables sing "Happy Birthday." Diners snap photographs. All part of dining out. It is a balance of the level of dining, the judgement of the diner taking pictures and the tolerance/sensativity neighboring diners.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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What if they had been taking pictures of each other (say it was a birthday celebration) intead of the food? Would it be just as annoying and rude? Or is that a forgivable sin?

Life's too short to be upset by something so picayune.


“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

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What if they had been taking pictures of each other (say it was a birthday celebration) intead of the food? Would it be just as annoying and rude? Or is that a forgivable sin?

Life's too short to be upset by something so picayune.

Rarely do people take photos of each other while they are eating but usually wait until a course has finished. Plus it tends to be a one off photograph rather than an ongoing thing every time a plate is brought to the table. Additionally, often in that situation the waiter or waitress is usually willing to take a photo - and sometimes have offered (as they did in the 360 in Toronto) - so the disruption is minimal.

It does also depend on the venue. Some venues are more designed for a quiet intimate meal rather than a raucous birthday party.

As I said, I don't have a problem with people using a compact without flash, but we experienced someone standing up, shuffling around the table with his digital SLR.


http://www.thecriticalcouple.co.uk

Latest blog post - Oh my - someone needs a spell checker

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