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Carb Lover, I need some restaurant photo ettiqutte!

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  • Pablo Jul 28, 2005 07:29 PM
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CL, I am very inspired by your photos, however I am not so sure about whipping out my camera in a restaurant and snapping away. Do you have a james bond style camera or do you just snap away? Do you ask first? And finally if you do ask first, is it a resounding no problemo? or are you treated like a spy?
Thanks!

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  1. I'm glad you asked this question because I have been wondering about that.

    I wouldn't feel uncomfortable taking pictures in a burger joint, but moving up the chain, I wonder about mid scale and top line restuarants.

    I've seen people do it at mid scale restaurants without a flash.

    I saw the first photo spread on a gazillion course tasting menu at a Bay Area restaurant called Manressa. I would not even have dared to ask there. However, it was pretty impressive.

    I was at one shop/restaurant where people were told to STOP taking pictures (Boulette's Larder). The owner felt the design of their restuarant was unique and did not want unautorized pictures.

    So I guess asking first is a good idea. Still haven't done it yet.

    But I am interested in how Carb Lover and others handle this.

    10 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I take a lot of food pictures, and my rule of thumb is:

      1. Never use the flash. It makes the food look zombie-ish and it attracts unwanted attention.

      2. Hold the camera steady and take more than a few shots because I guarantee the first few will be blurry.

      3. If you think that someone will mind that you are taking pictures of the food, ask first. Otherwise, most places won't care and sometimes encourage you to take them. It is free advertisement after all!

      4. Take pictures of your dinner companions first. Having your dining companions posing for shots makes other diners and the restaurant staff more at ease that you are taking these photos because you want to remember a special occasion, not doing a covert mission for a competitor or that you are a food pornographer. Plus, your friends/family will appreciate that you want to remember their company as much as you want to document the food.

      Link: http://elmomonster.blogspot.com

      1. re: elmomonster

        Great tips! I know, my friends sometimes make joking comments like "What, no camera today? Oh, they must be taking us to a so-so restauarnat."

        Having never been to a place like Manresa, I can't say I wouldn't be intimidated. At cheap and mid-range places, I've never had any problems. Sometimes the patrons look over when they hear the click (never a flash!), but they usually smile knowingly. The staff usually asks if we'd like a photo taken of the group. Sometimes we say yes, sometimes we decline and say something like "It's just so pretty!" I have not yet had a waiter ask me to stop.

        I think if they're proud of their food, seeing someone snapping away is both amusing and flattering.

        1. re: nooodles

          I've gotten to the point where I usually bring my bigger "granny purse" out to eat so that I can have my camera along, just in case. I take waaaay more food pics at home, as everything needs to feel "right" for me to take pics out in public. I never know if I'll take restaurant photos til I'm there and the food is before me. The flow and the company take precedence over photos, so I probably only take restaurant photos 25-30% of the time now. From a photographer's standpoint, I know that it's best to take several shots, but I usually only take one, maybe two. At home, it's more like 95% of the time w/ 3-5 shots.

          I pretty much follow the guidelines as outlined by elmomonster (whose pics are getting better and better, BTW!). I have learned to never use flash by keeping my hand more steady and maximizing natural or artificial light. I also love my camera (Canon Powershot A95) which has a good lens and adjusts for low lighting. If I felt like I should ask for permission, I would; however, I haven't been in situations that have called for that. I usually only take pics of the food before us that we paid for and don't take general shots like of bakery cases or stuff that feels out of my "domain." Use your judgment.

          I never hide the fact that I'm taking photos. For instance, at Manresa or in Big Sur (for those of you familiar w/ those photos), I had my camera on the table the whole time. I'm pretty sure the staff knew that I was taking photos, which gave them the chance to say something. If I was asked to stop, I would readily oblige. I actually feel *less* sheepish about taking photos at higher end places for these reasons: it's a special occasion so a camera seems normal; the food is more like a "work of art"; the restaurant probably is more used to people taking photos; I'm paying alot for the experience so why not memorialize it. Of course, I make a concerted effort to not disturb nearby patrons.

          In contrast, I was at a soul food joint last night that just re-opened in my town. I had my camera but decided against taking a photo b/c it would have drawn too much attention and I didn't want the owners/staff to feel uncomfortable. I'll still write about them b/c I want to give them the "publicity" but a photo just felt weird in that moment.

          Pablo: I hope this helps! I'm really happy that my photos have inspired you and I love to see more photos on CH everyday, so go get that camera and click away!

          1. re: Carb Lover

            Thanks to all and CL for your great responses! I will let you know how it goes!

        2. re: elmomonster

          Aww... I like your #4... :) I know when I'm out with the hounds, I don't mind them snapping pictures before I'm allowed to dig in... but I know I have some friends who would be put off totally!!

          Anyway, I don't take pictures of food, but I have been to high end restaurants where my companions have and it's been no problem. The only time one of my companions was asked not to as a fancy bake shop (Ironically, it's name is the first 5 letters of the shop mentioned above who also asked for no pictures...) and they said it was because everything was copyrighted.... bleh!

          --Dommy!

          1. re: Dommy!

            Yeah, I usually don't take general photos of bakery cases or places where the merchandise is all displayed out front (like a gelateria, for instance). It's very tempting since everything's gorgeous, but if I really wanted a shot, I would def. ask first.

            The people you're w/ is really key. When I'm w/ hounds, they usually don't mind since they're as obsessed as me. When I'm just w/ my husband, he's now conditioned to pause for a second before digging in. If I don't take a pic, he wonders what's wrong or even insists now! But when I'm w/ people who I don't know well or who would be annoyed, I would never break out the camera to spoil the mood.

        3. re: rworange

          I recently went to Italy, where I shot a picture or two of each restaurant where I ate, interior and exterior. I shot a few meal pictures too. I have a very small camera (Nikon 7900) and use the "museum" setting which does not use the flash. I also have a tiny tabletop tripod for food shots.

          The only drawback with not using a flash is that sometimes people move and blur the picture; however, I've noticed that in a lot of published photos lately the background will be in focus but a moving subject will be blurred. No problem with the food...unless you're trying to shoot one of those "live meals."

          1. re: LT from LF

            Wow, a tabletop tripod; never seen one of those. When I'm traveling, I have less qualms about taking photos. If I'm local, sometimes I just mentally tell myself I'm a tourist so I won't be as self-conscious. Did you post your Italy food photos anywhere? Would love to see them. Thanks.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I think the rule of thumb should be to do so not just discreetly, but selectively.... I have a friend who is a photographer who visited me here in Madrid and he took lots of photos. Several times in restaurants and clubs, he stepped over the line and took too many photos (with no flash) and was asked to stop. He had asked ahead of time if it was okay to take pictures and they had said yes. But there is a general disdain for anything that is done "to excess" here. It got on people's nerves (my own included, to be honest...) when he took more than a few.

              1. re: Carb Lover

                I really only took a couple of food pictures...silly me. Should've taken more. Mostly I was just photographing the restaurants. Alas....

          2. We recently had a wine dinner at an upscale restaurant in Washington DC. Not only did we take pictures, but the chef posed in some of them with us and the server offered to take some so that everyone could be in them. We always use a small digital camera, and we have never had anyone complain. Of course, these dinners get pretty "happy" at times, so the flash would be the least of anyones complaints if they had any.

            1. A while ago, we were two couples at Monty's in Boca Raton, a very good stone crab place. One lady pulled out her mini-cam and panned the food and all of us goofing around. Our waiter was Ruben, a good natured guy who is a Cuban emigre' with a bunch of kids, and happy to be in the U.S.

              The food was great, but Ruben made the experience with his attitude. When he saw the camera, he had to get into the act, hamming it up with us all. Our favorite was when he brought (another) tray of refreshments, calling extravagantly with his Cuban accent, "These Buds for you!"

              No one objected, and his co-workers were laughing and waving for the camera too. Bottom line is our great time ensures we will go back, and it's all about the people.

              1. I don't think you should worry about taking pictures. Outside of a dark romantic atmosphere place, where yeh I might ask for permission, I can't imagine problems. It's not like talking on a cell phone, having a screaming child, or being a loud drunk.

                But this post does remind me of a favorite story. Years ago, before discreet digital cameras, a good friend of mine used to come up some summers and visit me in Monterey. She insisted on bringing her huge 35 mm camera with her to restaurants so she could take pictures to show her friends and husband all the great food she had eaten with me. Anyway one evening we were eating at a place where I knew the chef. My friend had spent the whole meal taking photos, sometimes even getting up out of her chair for better angles. I admit I was a bit embarrassed. Anyway, at the end of dinner, I gave my business card to the waiter and told him to give it to the chef and to tell him that ed had really enjoyed his dinner. So a minute later, my friend comes out from the kitchen and shakes my hand and says hi briefly before he has to go back to work. So as we were leaving the restaurant, several other diners asked us which magazine we worked for and when the review would be published. I had to laugh. Back then it never occured to anyone that somebody would take pictures of food for the same reason that they would photograph a tourist attraction. Cuz it just looks so pretty.