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Photographing at restaurants in Paris - faux pas or OK? [moved from France board]

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Chowhound regulars, I've seen the amazing photos of dishes on your blogs and Picasa albums and am wondering: how did you do it - both from the technical side and the etiquette aspect.

Did you sneak out a camera and just snap a photo before you were noticed? Do chefs/waiters accept the photography so that you had time to linger with the camera? Did you use a compact or big DSLR?

Isaac

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  1. I always ask the waiter if it's ok; it's only polite.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Parigi

      I try to be as discreet as possible and use a small digital with no flash. This works fairly well at lunch, but my photos at dinner suffer from inadequate light. I use them, especially of the menu, not so much for photographic excellence but to aid my ever diminishing memory.

    2. I don't usually ask, as the person serving the food, usually isn't the right one and keeps changing. I wait until the course is completely served and the waiter has departed and then slip the camera out of my jacket pocket. I use a compact that slips easily in and out and is unobtrusive. I don't spend any time framing as that is redone on the computer. I snap as soon as the green indicator comes on that the camera has self focussed.
      I recently bought a Fujifilm Finepix F70 EXR because I read that it was the best in low light conditions. I really like it and seldom use a flash nowadays.

      2 Replies
      1. re: beaulieu

        I too use a Fuji Finepix and keep it fully visible on the table alongside my bloc-note pad; I use no flash and try to be unobtrusive when shooting plates. If I want to shoot a piece of art on the wall, however, I ask permission. Ditto other customers. I too depend on Photoshop not my composition.

        But Soup should chime in here, because he's got a Monster with a tripod and all that.

        Oh, yah, I have never had problems, but a friend/colleague was once told, shortly after a place I will not name opened, to cease and desist, the chef forbad it (idiot staff didn't realized she has among the most read French food blogs and it was the best publicity they could get.) I hope she doesn't mind my telling this but it ruined our meal and colored my feelings about the place forever.

        1. re: John Talbott

          On the contrary, I fully support a restaurant's right to ask customers not to photograph the food. Who care even if your friend is Julia Child? Maybe if she is so famous she should pre-announce to the owner that she is a famous blogger and should be allowed to do as she pleases.

      2. Same here. I used to ask, but now generally don't bother, at least in France. Here, some restaurants will even help you take better picture, asking if you want more light or something like that. Still, I'm still always a bit uneasy when taking picture, so I try to do it as fast as possible.
        The only time I've been refused to take pictures was not even in some of the most intimidating restaurants in Japan, but in a high-end one in Sweden. They offered to shoot each course from the kitchen. I accepted, they were awful. The meal was good, so I won't hold that against them.

        1. Well, I hope the powers that be won't cancel us for being off topic.

          As Laidback mentioned, good pictures in the end depend on only two things: good photographer and good light. As this ads to budget and schedule issues, I end up doing mostly lunches.

          For the longest time, I used a Nikon DSLR, because in the end it's the only way to have the level of detail I want, especially when it comes to perceiving textures correctly. I made many experiments with lenses, and found that the most important things were to be able to be close enough and to have a fast enough lens. Which is why I only use two lenses -- a macro 60mm (I prefer the 55mm but couldn't find one) and mostly a 35mm f 1.8, the only lens I usually take. That said, my choice of lens depends on the kind of food and what there is to show. Macro is appropriate for places like l'Ambroisie, Loiseau, l'Ami Louis, that are very much about the ingredients and the fine tuning.

          There are two reasons why I don't use DSLR anymore: 1/ My D40 was stolen in my car and 2/ In really low light, it's not enough. Even though DSLR go in high ISOs, in the end, if there is little light, the only good solution is long exposure time, which requires a small table tripod. I tried a mini-tripod with a DSLR, but even I was embarassed to take out all my gear in public.

          So, I find that the smallest possible camera, with a mini-mini-tripod, is ideal, and that's what I do these days. I use a Panasonic LX-3 that belongs to Ptipois -- God bless her. When I'm a grown up, I'd like an even smaller camera. I feel like I don't want to and cannot afford the arm race to the best possible camera. An IXUS 100/SD 780 is all I need, with the tripod.

          That said, wonderful bloggers do wonderful pictures with big high perf cameras -- see Ulterior Epicure, Chez Pim or Very Good Food. They have bigger ressources than I have.

          In the same cheap spirit, I neither use nor have Photoshop. I do sometimes use the Picasa software. But I hate to do it, and I'd much rather focus on taking good pictures than trying to save them afterwards. In that spirit, I find white balance to be one of the most important settings.

          Well, that's all for technical talks. As for the attitude towards restaurants, I now think that it's none of their business.

          3 Replies
          1. re: souphie

            Then I will thank you all before we're kicked off... and I'll be taking my Panasonic compact with me next week.

            1. re: chez_isaac

              I often take pictures and have never been asked to desist. If I've noticed the staff looking at all, it's typically with an amused expression. But I could be in some dense fog and never noticed any frowns.

              Of course, if you are taking a photo of the table and guests, albeit with all the food, the waiters are usually happy to shoot the photo.

            2. re: souphie

              Soupie,

              The one change that I would make would be to replace the word "light," with "lighting." The first connotes a high enough lux/lumen level to record an image. The latter connotes the proper depictation of the dish/plate. Getting an adequate exposure does not equate to a great representation of the dish. If I cannot create an image that cries out to be eaten and enjoyed, I have only recorded something. My personal aesthetic will not allow me to do this. If I cannot make mouths water, I will have failed.

              Just a personal interjection,

              Hunt

            3. Chez_Isaac,

              Though I am a commercial photographer, I abstain from doing any photography, beyond my young wife, while dining. I will photograph the exterior, the signage, but not my food.

              There are a couple of reasons for this:

              1.) I wish to personally enjoy all aspects of my food
              2.) food photography is so much more than flash-on-camera
              3.) those around me should NOT be subjected to my strobes
              4.) my wife likes to enjoy her food, rather than act as my stylist

              If I need to photo-illustrate an article, I will coordinate this with the management and chef, and do it before opening, or after closing. Then, I will be there with my crew and a food stylist, other than my long-suffering wife.

              To me, the dining should be about the dining, the wine, the conversation, the ambiance, the service, and not about me doing my job. If "Food and Wine" has hired me, that is different, and just requires the coordination of the shoot.

              Now, that is just one person's personal perspective, so please weigh it as only one "vote."

              Enjoy,

              Hunt

              3 Replies
              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Yes.

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Hi Hunt! I don't know if you remember me from the NOLA site, but I had some nice back and forth with you on that site a couple of years back :o)

                  Re: food photos, I do agree with you if the taking of the photos takes forever and interferes with dinner it shouldn't be done, but if it only take 2 seconds without flash, I see no problems with it. I don't usually take photos of the food when I'm home in Los Angeles, but I couldn't resist taking photos in France for memories for myself and to share with my food lover friends. I was surprised how easy and fast it was and how well the photos came out even without flash!

                  1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                    Yes, I do recall, but it HAS been some time now.

                    My biggest issue is that I do this for a living - though not really food photography. I am not likely to love a snapshot of my dish, and unless I really wish to pan the restaurant, would never submit such to entice readers/viewers to try a place.

                    On another board, we have a revered reviewer, who believes in doing those snapshots. I hate them. They NEVER entice me to dine there, BUT I know this reviewer, and believe the reports. Those entice me, and I just avert my gaze from the photos. It is not that this person is a bad photographer, but that they are horribly limited with the lighting and the styling of the food.

                    Over 40 years, the only real food photography that I have done has been for ads, and brochures for resorts around the globe. Not the same as the Thanksgiving cover of "Southern Living." Now, I have photo-illustrated a couple of cookbooks, but have to admit that with all my years of advertising photography experience, had to work very, very hard.

                    Were you to call me to do food photography, I would refer you to one, who does that specifically, and has a few very good stylists on staff. Though I have done it, I am anything but an expert, and would struggle mightily doing such for a review.

                    Now, if you wished to advertise your resort property, and food was involved, I would come in with a crew, including a couple of food stylists, and do this work when the restaurant was closed to the public, even if it was at 3:00AM. I'd get the job done, but your mouth would water from the work of the stylists. I'd just be lighting it.

                    Just personal observations, and based heavily on my sense of aesthetic.

                    Nice to hear from you again,

                    Hunt

                    PS - yes, good interactions in the past!

                2. I just came back from my trip to France and took many food photos. I didn't ask to take the photos and was very quick about it. Each shot took about 2 seconds and I didn't use flash, even in the evening. It amazes me how well the shots come out on my little Leica camera!

                  As RandyB posted, if anything, the wait staff seemed more amused than annoyed. At one restaurant in Bordeaux, everyone was actually very helpful with my photos when they were preparing a dish table side.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist

                    I was asked to stop photographing at Atelier de JR, but that was b/c I took a few of the whole restaurant, and some customers apparently objected. So I upset them, and they upset me, no real biggie. Kinda upsetting, but I understood. I kept photographing my food though, and they liked me b/c I appreciated everything so much. No flash, of course.

                    1. re: danlind3

                      Depicting any patrons should be heavily discouraged. Who knows who is there, and with whom?

                      If one is going to "publish" the photographs, then one MUST have a model release for each one. Otherwise, there are legal means to recoup "damages." No one should be shown, unless one has the full model releases, signed and witnessed.

                      When doing the exterior (or even interior) shots, I make sure to omit all people. It might take extra time, but I know what can happen, if one is depicted, and recognizable. Even when my clients have model releases, we often obscure the identity of any patrons.

                      Good shooting,

                      Hunt

                  2. I take culinary students to Paris every year and from modest bistros to 3 star we take pictures but follow simple rules. No flash, one pic with a small camera and no disturbing or photos towards any other table. We have never had any negatives and believe me they are invaluable for later discussion.