What do you think of the moment you hear the words “restaurant photography”?
Fat glistening on steak beneath a waterfall of peppercorn sauce. Or a quarter pounder next to a side of thick-cut, skin-on chips. Maybe you’re in the mood for something sweet like a black forest gateau.
Most people are blissfully ignorant to the environment where a good dish is made: the sweltering heat, steamrolling along the rooftops, the cacophony of pots and pans clanging together. That’s where the real action is.
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If you’re reading this and find yourself interested in the skill that is restaurant photography, then stick around as we discuss the action shots – what they are and how to do them.
Action photography – what’s the big deal?
Picture yourself flicking through a cooking magazine. Inside are articles upon articles of mouth-watering food – so mouth-watering your stomach begins to gurgle. You know for a fact that the chef who made it was skilful, a true master of his craft. You can’t help but wonder what it was like to make that piece…
Action shots are a huge part of commercial kitchen photography. The one thing more impressive than how food looks is how it is made. Think of a tornado of fire spiralling in the sky, or pizza dough spinning freely mid-air. We all love a good show, and that’s no different when it comes to food. Photos of these moments are without a doubt eye-catching and are very often used by restaurants to draw attention to their chefs and promote service. In fact, it’s so effective that some restaurants have even begun to cook their food in front of customers, giving them a front-row seat to all the action.
By getting involved in restaurant marketing and photography, your world will be opened to a whole new side of cooking and no two pictures will ever be the same.
Six top tips for restaurant action photography:
1. Get the best cut
Just like a good steak, you want the best cut. Kitchens can be a busy, messy place, and a lot can happen at any given moment. By being alert, you can react to the best opportunities and grab those key shots. When the kitchen is a bit tamer, grab some pictures of the more methodical and intricate cooking practices. Having a diverse and saturated portfolio guarantees you’ll have a good few best shots.
2. Learn the kitchen
No kitchen is the same. Each has its own nooks and crannies, and its open areas for wider shots. It’s important to remember that action photography is still photography. Look for windows and natural sources of light at the beginning of your session. If there are no natural sources of light, look for the brightest areas and spots where you can take advantage of angles.
3. Close the distance
Don’t be afraid to get closer to the chefs in action. There’s only so much a long lens can do for you. By getting stuck into the action, you can take advantage of a whole new set of angles and get the crisp, clear details in each shot. Don’t forget – the restaurant wants the money shots, and that means putting your all into it. That being said, it’s also important to give the chefs their space when they need it. Try to avoid being in the way when chefs are moving around the kitchen and look out for indications that a chef might need some more space.
4. Do your research
What kinds of food does the restaurant make? Are they a formal restaurant, or is it a fast-food joint? Learning exactly who you’re doing a photoshoot for can help direct what kind of photos you should be taking. If in doubt, speak to the chef beforehand to find out exactly what kinds of food they specialise in and who their usual customers are. Knowing this should give you some ideas as to what shots will be the most effective.
5. The money shots
Angles and distance – use them. Which angle shows the fat glistening in the light? How much of the space is being used up in your photograph? A lot of the best shots in food action photography involve air. Manipulate the angles to create the distance you want. When sauce is flowing from the jug to the food, a lot of distance can often leave too much space untouched while a shorter distance can make the photo too cramped. You should also try setting your shutter speed to at least 1/125 to freeze the motion. Then, you can clearly capture the flour in the air or salt as it falls to the freshly made dish.
6. Enjoy it
This is probably the most important point out of the lot. There’s nothing more obvious than when a photoshoot is done out of necessity rather than passion. The kitchen is a busy place, and it can be easy for those of us not used to it to be afraid of such a wild environment. If you’re not passionate about the shoot you’re doing, the photographs will reflect that. On the other hand, if you find yourself excited about the prospect of taking kitchen action shots, then get stuck in and do your food junkies proud.
Bonus tip – don’t go in on an empty stomach!
The world is rife with distractions, and food is one of the best ones there is. If you go into the shoot on an empty stomach, you’ll soon find your eyes on the food, not the camera. Do yourself a favour and fill up beforehand.
Food photography can be hard to get right at first, and action photography is even harder. By putting these tips in practice, and with your continued dedication to the wonder of food photography, you’ll be confident in the kitchen in no time.
Kitchen photography is one thing – food photography is another.
If you’re interested in discovering some great food photography tips, then take a look at How to shoot food photography for restaurants next.
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