As businesses try and keep pace with creating content, photography skills are necessary to ensure you are showcasing all aspects in the most flattering way possible.
One of the mistakes I see frequently in restaurant photography (and photography in general) is the execution of an image being tainted because light wasn’t factored in after a subject was chosen. I know that hearing photographers drone on about “the light” can seem confusing or pedantic, but I am hoping to create some clarity and recommendations so you are mindful and strategic when thinking about the next image you make.
Location is Key:
Once you have a subject in mind, start thinking about areas of your restaurant that would suit it best. Part of that equation is thinking about when light is going to be coming in the windows from the sun. If that isn’t an option, what areas are utilizing non-harsh or diffused light that aren’t going to create shadows or be overly harsh in nature (no heating lamps!).
Expose for the Subject:
Are you exposing for the subject? What I mean by that is that if you point your camera/phone at the subject, do you tap the screen or toggle where the subject is or choose selective exposure points? Many phones also offer an exposure dial to scroll up and down on to ensure you are making the subject stand out as much as possible. Lighting from the side and front help ensure that the subject is bright enough for the viewer. Just focusing on the subject can lead to darker images. We always want to show what we are emphasizing above all else.
Time of Day:
Light has different variation and color temperature depending on the time of day. Photographers often speak about “Golden Hour” or “Blue Hour”. Depending on where the sun is in the sky, you are going to have to evolve to the type of light you have available. In nature, you can set yourself up for success by being ahead of the warm non harsh sunrise light; same at sunset. Overcast days mean you have diffused light available all day, with no harsh shadows on your subject matter. It was pointed out to me that warm light is actually more appetizing than blue light, so food should have a more warm appearance overall when dealing with consumable offerings.
Easy to use Light Tools
I utilize a light diffuser to spread light evenly across my subjects when direct light is too harsh or is not portraying the image the way I want. For a simple solution that costs under $2 in most thrift stores, grab a white bed sheet or table cloth to put over the window while photographing. Are you in a really dark environment? Try using a phone flashlight through a white napkin. Also, check the curtains in your space; is light completely blocked, or is some coming through? How does it make your subject look?
Direct Light Example
Diffused Light Example
Cocktails and Other Beverages
If you try to expose a drink from the front with typical lighting conditions, the image is going to be lackluster. Mainly, because you are exposing with light hitting the front of the glass and the liquid is going to appear dark. Have the light source directly behind your cocktail or beverage to showcase the contents and colors.
Play with Light
There are light sources everywhere, and the images you are taking are free. Utilize light where it exists and have fun!