Preparing your restaurant for a successful photoshoot

Food photography is the cornerstone of a restaurant's marketing campaign and yet with all of my experience shooting for chefs, restaurants, and food brands over the past few years, I find that many times the actual photo-session is treated as an after-thought by the establishment. 

Now, first, I get it. I don't exactly pour my heart and soul into doing my accounting every month - its a have to, not a want to, but in the case of food photography, think about this:

The number 1 piece of content that restaurants publish online in order solicit new customers are professional photos of their food.

So, lets just say its important! Additionally, you've hired a professional photographer so its time to think about getting your money's worth out of that investment. 

Here are 5 tips to help prepare your restaurant for a successful photoshoot

1. Establish your content matrix

what are the photographs going to be used for?

Most of my restaurant clients that have a professional marketing manager have decided the type of image content they need before the photoshoot and communicate this with their photographer. Often times it looks something like this: 50% plated food and drink shots, 20% restaurant space shots, 20% customers (or people they've placed as customers) enjoying the food, and 10% prep or behind-the-scenes shots of the chef prepping ingredients or staff working in the kitchen. If the chef you have working at your restaurant has an award-winning reputation or is part of the branding of your restaurant, you'll want to increase the ratio to include more shots of him or her. 

Equally important is knowing what the shots will be used for. My clients that do visual content creation with me require a mix of content they can use for their online marketing channels ( website, facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) as well as content that is ready to leverage for PR or editorial pieces. As a photographer, its incredibly important to understand what the images will be used for ahead of time. For example, most magazines will ask for images that a portrait aspect ratio (vertical in orientation) because that is what their medium demands for layout. This way I know to shoot an equal mix of photos that are landscape (horizontal) for website and social media platforms as well as portrait. Knowing this helps me compose shots accordingly and ultimately provide the client with images that are instantly ready to publish. It's a win-win for the photographer and the restaurant.

2. Give your photographer a shoot list

make a list, amend it, send it

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In the case you work with the same photographer on a regular basis (highly recommended) he or she might be able to collaborate with you in establishing a good shoot list before the photo session. However, if its the first time your restaurant has hired a professional or worked with a particular photographer give them a shoot list to make sure that all the essentials are covered. Once on set, its easy to become consumed with the details of what dish should be on what plate and forget to get shots of a signature cocktail or dessert that really needs to be documented. Having a shoot list prepared ahead of time allows everyone involved to relax during the session knowing that all bases are covered.

Additionally, you know and understand your restaurant best, not the photographer. Its up to restaurant owners and managers to make certain that what they need in images reflects the most marketable points of their business. Photographers are great at finding the best angle or adding some spontaneous details that they find visually appealing, but ultimately the value of what needs to be communicated in photographs should be talked about before the shoot.

3. Invite the photographer to visit your restaurant before the photoshoot

make sure the person you've hired understands your brand, light availability, and space

I can't emphasise this point enough. Photographers are visual people. They're obsessed with finding the perfect light, the perfect background, and ultimately giving their clients the most high quality work they can produce. Ensuring that they have seen your restaurant prior to commencing a photo-session will ensure they know what they are working with, what kind of lighting to bring, which parts of your space are most photogenic, and any concerns they might have so that mistakes can be avoided. The photographs will be much better for it and it will also help you establish consider all possible options for each part of the shoot. Sit down, have a coffee, make sure they understand what you need and which parts of your space to highlight (and hide).

If this isn't possible because the person you have hired is traveling from out of town, send them some smartphone photos of the space or any links to social media that showcase your space. Alternatively, ask them to show up an hour before the shoot so that they can ask any questions before they start shooting.

4. What style of photographs does your restaurant want?

get on Pinterest, make an inspiration board

One of the most fun steps in planning a photoshoot is the creative part (for me anyway) and that begins long before I pick up my camera. Understanding what style of photographs a restaurant wants is key to building their brand and informs the kind of equipment a photographer will need. For all my clients in gastronomy I always send them a Pinterest board of different styles of food photography that they can comment and choose from so I have a solid idea of what we're going for. And luckily, there is no lack of inspiration to choose from. 

If your restaurant has 2 Michelin stars and a 16-course tasting menu chances are you might want to go with a minimalistic style that emphasises the detail of each quality ingredient. You may want all your prep or backstage photographs to be black and white. If you're the best 2-for-1 Taco joint in a 50km radius you might want your food photos to scream with abundance and colour. Fortunately, our lovely friend the internet has no lack of image content from which to draw inspiration. Use it, abuse it, and collaborate with your photographer so that you're on the same page.

5. Decide who is going to be involved while the photoshoot is in session

avoid the pun, "too many chefs in the kitchen"

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I might be shooting myself in the foot as a photographer by saying this but having a designated marketing manager or the chef themselves on set while shooting can be an amazing benefit to keeping the photoshoot on track. Chefs are the artists of the food you're restaurant is serving and oftentimes their creative input is incredibly helpful to making sure the food looks as good as it possibly can. In cases where your restaurant has hired a food stylist, this is your chance to use them. As annoying as it is to have someone creeping over my shoulder looking at my camera screen while shooting, its a good thing to a certain degree, as a food professional is going to pick up on details that a photographer might not, and visa versa.

By contrast having a team of people huddling around the photographer giving input every 2 seconds is counter-productive to getting good images. (Trust me, I spent 6 years working in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Mecca of inefficiency when it comes to business). You've done the planning, you have a shoot list, you've established styling. Five people giving their opinions at the time of taking each photo is stifling to creativity and should be avoided just like having too many chefs in the kitchen. Somebody needs to be the boss and the masses need to back off.

With these points in mind you'll have an effective set-up for getting great photographs for your restaurant and maximising your investment of hiring a professional.

For more information on visual content creation packages for restaurants visit my site:

To see examples of professional food photography: