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Does it Pay to Photograph Your Food?

r
racer x Nov 4, 2008 02:56 PM

I apologize if this question has been addressed in a previous thread.

We've all read/heard stories about how the quality of service a diner experienced could be significantly influenced by the restaurant staff's having recognized the diner as being a professional restaurant critic, a celebrity, or someone who is otherwise well-connected.

Now that pocket-sized cameras have become ubiquitous and so many people are posting pictures on food blogs, has anyone found that taking out a camera and snapping shots of the dishes affects the service that you receive (positively, or negatively)? Whether in restaurants or specialty food shops, like bakeries?

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  1. Jetgirly Nov 4, 2008 03:57 PM

    I always try not to let anyone working there see me do it, so as to not affect (either way) the service I receive. However, I think I've been caught a couple times and I believe that the fact that I do it so discretely results in better service. If I had a DSLR out and was like, taking flash photos or something I would imagine the service wouldn't improve!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jetgirly
      j
      janniecooks Nov 5, 2008 04:03 AM

      presumably all your snapshots are discrete, not multiple exposures, being taken discreetly one hopes.

    2. c
      cimui Nov 4, 2008 04:00 PM

      no one seems to have be very impressed when i whip out my decrepit little camera phone to take pictures of my food. but maybe if i had a sexy digital SLR, they'd all scurry to do my bidding.

      actually, half the time in nyc, i suspect they'd just think we were overzealous tourists.

      1. Miss Needle Nov 4, 2008 06:23 PM

        I rarely do it. But when I have in the past, it's been as discretely as possible with no flash. Honestly, I don't think the restaurants were thrilled with it even though it was no flash. And I once tried to do it and the woman stopped me saying no photographs were allowed. Perhaps they think we're competitors. Perhaps they think it's tacky. Perhaps they think we're food bloggers. Not all restaurants like bloggers -- actually, I think quite a few of them can't stand bloggers. And Momofuku Ko in NYC has a no-camera policy.

        1. Bill Hunt Nov 4, 2008 07:33 PM

          I am an advertising photographer, though food is not my specialty. I do have to photograph if for many resort brochures and ads. Still, when I am reviewing a restaurant, it is because I am dining there, not doing this for a living. I am more interested in enjoying the evening and the company of my wife, or my guests. I also realize that I do not have a staff of stylists and assistants, when dining. I do not bother taking a "snapshot" of my food and will not bother doing so. If I cannot do a praise-worthy photograph, then I will not do so. I do not want to call any attention to myself either, as I want my reviews to be totally objective and do not wish for the restaurant staff to even suspect that I am likely to be doing a critique. I want them to treat me like any diner. Sorry, but if I cannot do the shot in my studio, or with unlimited time on location, with my crew, I do not wish to submit it to the public.

          Hunt

          2 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt
            MMRuth Nov 6, 2008 11:57 AM

            I'm not a photographer, but I don't take photos in restaurants for several reasons:

            1. I'm there to enjoy the meal and the company. The fact that I choose to then post about it on Chowhound is secondary to me. It's bad enough that I take photos of the food I cook at home before we sit down to eat dinner.

            2. I know my husband would completely cringe were I to take photos in a restaurant.

            3. I'm very careful not to attract attention to myself as a CH poster when I dine out - I make the reservation under my husband's name, I never discuss CH at the table, if asked where I heard about the place I say "Oh, online somewhere" or "From a friend." So, the same goes for me and photos at restaurants. I want to ensure that my report about a place is as completely unbiased as possible, and that I've not received any special treatment etc., for whatever reason.

            1. re: MMRuth
              Bill Hunt Nov 6, 2008 03:30 PM

              MMRuth,

              Those are probably better reasons, than my "I would be unhappy with the pictures," motivation, especially #1.

              Hunt

          2. K K Nov 4, 2008 09:05 PM

            Some restaurants have a no-photographing policy that if I encounter that, I would respect it. But I've pulled out my low tech cel phone cam when the occasion calls for it.

            In other countries you could be seen as an embarassment as a visitor photographing the local food (and others might think you are stealing ideas for the competition or tabloids) or be given the tourist treatment.

            For me it is about capturing memories and a fond love and appreciation of great food. Depending on where you go, some establishments only care if you spend money where it counts. If using a restroom at a bar in Europe requires me to spend a Euro or more to buy a coffee, I should be able to photograph the toilet as well.

            1. c oliver Nov 5, 2008 05:02 PM

              I only get the NY Times online. Does Frank Bruni takes pix of the food he reviews? I guess people will do what they'll do but it just seems...icky? gauche? self-important? Doesn't sing to me. I believe the only food I've ever taken a picture of was the biggest pastrami sandwich I'd ever seen (up close in NY). And that was for the pure humor of it. Friends have enjoyed chuckling over it

              5 Replies
              1. re: c oliver
                c
                cimui Nov 5, 2008 05:06 PM

                I think Bruni reviews in secret and then, afterwards, photographers from the NY Times tell the restaurant the paper might be doing a feature on the place and ask to take pics.

                1. re: cimui
                  Bill Hunt Nov 5, 2008 08:34 PM

                  Considering the photographs that I see associated with the professional reviews, I would agree with you. While I'm not familiar with this reviewer, or the NYT reports, most that I see (photographs, that is) seem to have been styled and lite fairly well. I'm NOT talking a cellphone camera here.

                  Also, these folk do this for a living. Most CH diners do not. Oh, they might have a blog, and aspire to greater, but they are not pros. They are also not professional photographers or food stylists either, judging by the bleak images, that I see.

                  I dine, and I review. If someone wants my photographic talents, they need to pay the big bucks and hire me and the team of my choice. Two totally different things from my point of reference.

                  Also, should I do a surreptitious photograph in a darkened restaurant, I doubt that even I, a skilled professional, could do justice to the food. Who gets hungry looking at a snapshot in dim light with flash on-camera? I know that I do not.

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    c
                    cyberroo Nov 6, 2008 01:02 PM

                    My experience with the photographers at the LA Times (and other LA publications, now that I think about it)...

                    About a week before the review is published, the photographer will call the restaurant and let them know that they'd like to take photos. They would sometimes mention a few dishes that they wanted to shoot, which generally inclued "one additional item of your choice." They'd work with the restaurant on a location that is suitable for taking the food shots without any major setup. The LAT photographers would not touch the food once they received the plate - any styling was done by the restaurant/chef in advance, and it's the restaurant's responsibility to be sure that the plate stays fresh and provide a fresh plate if the photography takes enough time that the garnishes, etc get wilted. The magazine photographers that I worked with made a bit more of an effort to style the photo, and would do minor touchup to a plate, but were still pretty hands-off.

                    One interesting note is that the only exception to the "call in advance" rule that I experienced was for a half-star review. The photographer just showed up at the restaurant unannounced. Not sure if that was a coincidence, but we never would have let them take the photos they took if we had been notified.

                    1. re: cyberroo
                      Bill Hunt Nov 6, 2008 03:36 PM

                      Thanks for sharing. Even though I am in an area of the same business, I have no experience working with any newpaper, or magazine on payroll.

                      In the PHX paper, the shots look pretty good, considering the reproduction medium. Lighting, for instance, is not that bad.

                      I did wonder about the shootings, as our main food critic stays pretty well hidden and some of the reviews, repleat with photographs, are fairly brutal.

                      I can understand shooting for a magazine's spread/article on a restaurant, though these are more often PR "puff" pieces, and not reviews.

                      I appreciate your taking the time to educate me. Learning a lot tonight!

                      Hunt

                    2. re: Bill Hunt
                      hill food Nov 6, 2008 09:05 PM

                      I absolutely agree. a pro shot is SO different and frankly the "snap" leaves me thinking "whuh, why?" and that extends to many subjects. I'm not a pro, but when I do bother to set up a shot, you better believe tripod, aperture and fstop are all considered and exposures bracketed.

                      a photo of food tells me nothing. smell and flavor are the keys. ok, looks are nice. but...

                2. n
                  nkeane Nov 6, 2008 12:30 AM

                  I take thousands of Pics a year of food at various restaurants with my DSLR. The trick is to walk in like youre on vacation and you just happen to still have your camera with you.
                  Turn the flash off, have a Macro lens,dial up the aperture and dont get out of your seat to take t he pic.
                  that being said, if you(like me) arent a professional food reviewer, If the restaurant thinks you might be, and treats you as such.......is that a bad thing?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: nkeane
                    r
                    risottoman Nov 6, 2008 08:55 AM

                    I'm an active food blogger and I often take photos with my camera. I have a large lens (for aperture) and a smallish DSLR and usually get noticed by restaurants. But that doesn't mean I receive, or even expect better service or comped food. I take photos because I enjoy food photography and use them for the purposes of my blog. If flash is the only thing that works, then you should use it, though there are more and more digital cameras that have high ISO (better low-light sensitivity) that enable one to take decent photographs without flash. The best would be to use a wide aperture lens such as a 50mm f1.4 lens. If you're serious about food you'll get the best photographs with these. They're not only faster than digital cameras, they're excellent in very low light without a tripod.

                    Just be discrete and know the occasion. If it's a special celebration I generally refrain from taking photos as it detracts from the experience. However, it's you're there to enjoy the food, I think it's perfectly okay to take photographs.

                    1. re: risottoman
                      c oliver Nov 6, 2008 10:35 AM

                      In reference to the second paragraph above, do you also consider that the people exposed to your snapping away, might be having their own celebration. If you don't want to detract from your own, then I assume you consider it a detraction. So don't detract from others please. And PLEASE NO flashes.

                      1. re: risottoman
                        Bill Hunt Nov 6, 2008 03:58 PM

                        In your instance, it IS part of what you do, whether for love, or money. For me, it's just for fun, and to share my observations with others.

                        I've observed folk, who start out by shooting their dining partners, but then start concentrating on shooting the food. Watching them, I usually wonder if they are shooting for their blog, or newspaper review. Their maneuvers probably go unnoticed by most others, but I can usually tell what someone is actually shooting.

                        For me, I'll keep it to words, at least for now, and address the issues of photographs only if they should ever become necessary.

                        Now, for a series of reviews in a couple of cities, I did shoot the exteriors and signage for inclusion here, but not any of the food - especially as I was fortunate enough to be dining with my wife. Poor lady gets enough of my wine and food "geekdom" as it is. She doesn't need me snapping photos of our plates. Though, if Wine Spectator wished to hire me to chronicle the 3-star restaurants of Europe, maybe she'd understand...

                        Hunt

                      2. re: nkeane
                        r
                        racer x Nov 6, 2008 12:32 PM

                        I've wondered whether some of the positive experiences on which others have reported after a single visit to a restaurant/shop in which they took photos might not be representative of the experience that I might face going to the same place but not taking photos.

                        1. re: racer x
                          MMRuth Nov 6, 2008 01:55 PM

                          Yes, that is my concern too.

                          1. re: racer x
                            erica Nov 6, 2008 02:40 PM

                            These days there are so many people snapping photos of their food, I wonder if it would have any effect at all on the service you receive.. Every other person has a food blog these days...my guess is that it makes no difference in a big city restaurant...

                          2. re: nkeane
                            Bill Hunt Nov 6, 2008 03:47 PM

                            "If the restaurant thinks you might be, and treats you as such.......is that a bad thing?"

                            I'd only have a problem, if I was doing a review on CH, or similar.

                            I even disclose that I am a "regular" at certain restaurants, when I write about them. I'd like to think that stellar meals are the norm, and that I am not getting any special treatment - still, I always mention if we host events there, am known by the staff to be a regular, hire their catering wing for parties, etc.. Maybe that's just me.

                            Now, some of my anonymity might be compromised, when I ask for a copy of the menu, and parts of the wine list. I just tell them that my wife loves to build scrapbooks of the places that we dine. I also keep the notetaking to a bare minimum, so as to not call any attention to what I might be doing.

                            I also wonder what the staff thinks, when my wife and I deconstruct all of the spices and elements in a dish and ask the staff for clarifications. I pretend that we do a "guess the spice" contest, and am usually given most of the info. This is especially true, when we start asking about things not listed on the menu's description of the dish. The staff is usually excited that we found the anise, etc., when it was not listed, or when we can tell that it was fennel, and not anise. We also dine often with a couple, in which the lady writes cookbooks. When we're together, we keep the staff busy with the ingredients and the prep, though most often in a very positive way.

                            To get back on-topic a bit, I have had the pleasure of doing the photo-illustrations for her latest book, plus her Web site and all of her advertising and PR. Though I would never think of myself as a "food photographer," I guess I've done more, than I even realized. There are still a few resorts, especially in Aspen and Vail, CO, that are using my photographs, including the restaurants' food... OK, so I have done some of that.

                            Hunt

                          3. c
                            Cathy Nov 6, 2008 10:29 AM

                            I was invited, along with seven other bloggers, to a dinner at a relatively new restaurant about two years ago.

                            The week prior, I went there with my husband and took photos of the food we were served.

                            At the dinner, where all of us were known bloggers, I ordered the same items.

                            Needless to say what known bloggers were served versus the general public was presented in a vastly different manner. Larger portions of sides on single serve plates, a bit more on the appetizer plates, free refills of beverages...(they charged The Mister and myself for refills of regular coffee at our meal).

                            I did not blog the place, have not gone back and will not ever let myself be known or attend a meal as a blogger again. I still blog, take photos in an unflashed mode, and just talk about the food I ate.

                            That is what a blog is- an open diary. I am not doing it for the money. It is more therapy than anything. For me.

                            1. rockandroller1 Nov 6, 2008 12:29 PM

                              I have been with a lot of foodies who snap pictures while eating and I think it's really annoying and honestly, who do you think is reading the blog? Some people's blogs and especially, places like eGullet get REALLY bogged down when there is a thread about a restaurant and every time an eG member dines there they post 20 pictures afterwards. It must take up huge bandwidth.

                              1. Anonimo Nov 6, 2008 02:34 PM

                                PAY? I only wish it did! <chuckles>
                                I do it only in casual places (o.k., o.k., I did do it in the Union League Cafe in New Haven, CT, a few years ago).
                                I try not to bother other diners.

                                The hard part of taking photos in restaurants is getting the plates lined up nicely, without others' elbows in the picture or crumbled, soiled napkins. You have to get the plates _away_from_the_edge_of_table_ for a nice shot.

                                It's also important not to work the shot so long that your dining companions' food gets cold and they get pi55ed off. Some sensitivity toward others is useful.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Anonimo
                                  hill food Nov 6, 2008 09:10 PM

                                  "Some sensitivity toward others is useful."

                                  my new motto.

                                2. Jetgirly Nov 6, 2008 07:01 PM

                                  When I photograph my food, I put the photos on two websites: Flickr and one of the popular travel websites. I put it on Flickr because I like photography, and I put it on travel sites because I often get good information about restaurants from travel sites and I like to return the favour. From a global standpoint, sharing my personal experience on a site like Trip Advisor or Yahoo Travel would reach more people than a site like Chowhound.

                                  I lived in Mexico for the first half of this year and went to an upscale restaurant in my temporary hometown on the recommendation of both Chowhound and my guidebook, particularly because they had "rose petal quesadillas". I imagined something quite spectacular... but ended up getting deep-fried mozzarella balls with about two rose petals in each one, covered in strawberry jam. I guarantee you that if I'd seen a photo- even an amateur photo- of those "quesadillas" beforehand I wouldn't have eaten at the restaurant. Now, that is not to say that deep-fried mozzarella balls with about two rose petals in each one, covered in strawberry jam are outright bad, but it was more like carnival food than fine dining, and I would have known that right away if I'd seen a picture beforehand. That's why I take photos- so people can get a basic idea of what the food looks like at a particular restaurant (especially in restaurants in other countries or restaurants that are far off "the beaten path"). Flickr shows you what search terms people entered to end up at your photos, and every single day I get hits from people searching for "restaurant name" +food +photo or similar terms.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Jetgirly
                                    c
                                    cimui Nov 6, 2008 08:51 PM

                                    i, for one, really appreciate the food po_n, jetgirly. i've never felt disturbed by anyone taking pics in a restaurant, before -- except when i'm forced to be the subject. i could imagine it being annoying to try to eat in close proximity to someone who's doing the full flash papparazi light show thing, but i've personally never witnessed that.

                                    1. re: Jetgirly
                                      r
                                      racer x Nov 6, 2008 10:11 PM

                                      I've seen some great food photos on flickr.

                                      Sure, professional pics that are good enough to grace the covers of Gourmet Magazine are a delight to look at, but unlike, bill hunt and hill food, I'm happy to settle for viewing snapshots of food when I'm trying to decide whether it's worth an hour trek across town to try out a place (at least, as long as the photo is clear and reasonably well illuminated).

                                      Just consider how powerful a simple description of a dish can be in getting the juices flowing (doesn't "double smoked bacon, boston lettuce, beefsteak tomato, lemon mayo, on buttered brioche with old bay fries" sound so much more appetizing than a BLT with fries?). Words are powerful, but views can be a thousand times more seductive.

                                      Since jetgirly mentioned a few sites, let me put in a word for biggestmenu, which I recently discovered. It isn't very popular in my area, but gets a lot of traffic out on the other coast. I'd love to see chowhounds and others sharing photos like that in my area.

                                    2. Chew on That Nov 7, 2008 12:10 PM

                                      I take pictures of food CONSTANTLY and not once have I ever noticed it suiting me one way or the other in terms of service. In fact, sometimes I have bad service and I become annoyed because I would have given that place publicity but they're being rude.

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