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How to Plan a Successful Restaurant Shoot

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

So, you’re ready to make the most important investment you can make in your restaurant, and are hiring a professional photographer…

First of all, congratulations! Nothing will take your marketing assets and strategy to the next level (or next several levels) than having stunning and true to brand images taken of your menu items and restaurant.

That said, just hiring a photographer and just expecting them to understand your vision and what you are wanting to use your images for with no upfront communication is not a good plan. It’s also not their job, and you are setting yourself and them up for failure if you do.

While it’s not necessary or even recommended that you plan every single shot down to the last detail, it is a good idea to have some plan for what you are wanting shot, how you will use your images, and what you are trying to convey with your new photos.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Know what you will use your images for

Are you building or updating a new website? Are you wanting to have a library of content to pick from for social media? Are you running a special ad? Perhaps a mix of all of these?

Knowing in advance what you are wanting to use your images for will give a good photographer an idea of what to shoot, how to shoot it, how much time it will take, and other important details.

Photography isn't one size fits all, or, more appropriately, one platform fits all. There are definitely differences in what images are going to stand out where. Also, certain styles of imagery and photography require a bit more attention, such as studio lighting or styling. A good photographer is going to understand this and be able to communicate this to you in advance and also bring what is necessary along with them to the shoot.

Gather as many inspirational images as possible before your shoot that you can present to the photographer

This process will not only help a photographer understand your brand and vision, and how to execute it most successfully, it will also help you get a better idea of what you like and what you want to convey about your brand.

At minimum, I like to ask that my clients send me 8-12 inspirational images ahead of a shoot, and even before I will share final pricing. When looking at images for this purpose, look at things like lighting, colors, textures, whether there is a human presence, how many other props are in the image, etc... These are things that a photographer will use to gage timing and also what equipment and props might need to be gathered ahead of time.

Don’t use quantity as a gage for what constitutes a successful photo shoot

Just don’t.

While a good photographer is going to understand how to work efficiently, trying to blast through as many images as possible in the shortest amount of time possible is not going to get you the results you are wanting. It also has the potential to squelch creativity and might actually cause everyone to be stressed including the photographer.

A quality set of images will take time to plan and execute. That’s why you are hiring a professional who understands all of the aspects that are involved in taking a good photo, and understands how to execute your vision in a timely manner, but also takes into account what might take more time and can plan ahead for that.

Be sure and hire an actual food photographer

While it might seem like any professional photographer should be able to photograph any and all subject matter, that's just not the case. And, it's definitely not the case with food photography. I actually know professional photographers who refuse to work with food because there is so much nuance involved, it takes a lot of time to learn and understand all of the different aspects of different foods and drinks, and it can be very tricky to understand how to style food to make it look it's best for a photo.

Unfortunately, I've also talked to many clients who said that they hired a photographer who they thought had experience with photographing food and were sorely disappointed in the results they got.

Most food and product photographers will advertise themselves specifically that way, but, if not, be sure and ask. Ask things like what experience they have taking photos of food, what kind of foods they've worked with, if they do styling as well, and be sure and ask them for examples of their work ahead of time.

Try and include your photographer in the planning and timing of the food items being photographed.

A lot of times when I've worked with restaurants, there seems to be an idea that the quicker they can prepare and get all the food out, the better, or that getting all of the food out at one time is a good thing. it's not.

There are a lot of aspects to freshly prepared food that need to be photographed as quickly as possible right as the food is made. If it sits too long, there are all sorts of things that can happen to it that make it look dull.

There are also a lot of times little tweaks that might need to be made to a dish to insure that it photographs well, and those can take a little bit of time.

Finally, a good photographer will understand that all food does not photograph the same, some dishes are more photogenic, they will know how to make use of natural light and what time of day is best to shoot, and all sorts of other things that they intuitively or from experience know will make a really good photo.

Ask them how you can prepare your restaurant for the shoot in advance

Again, a really good photographer should know all of the ways that a restaurant can prepare for their arrival in advance, and will also know how to make sure things are timed correctly. Tapping them for this helpful information will make the shoot run a lot more efficiently.

These are just a few of the things that will help you insure that you make the best use of your time and investment with your new photographer. Hiring a professional photographer is a big step and there are ways to make sure it is a success!


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