How to Take Mobile Phone Photos for Restaurant Marketing

By Brian Murphy, Foodable Contributor

Content for social media is something that comes naturally to some and can be the bane of a restaurateur’s existence for others. Professional photographers are brought into some establishments, while others rely on heisted images found on Internet searches. Marketing imagery options are abound, but professional photographers can get expensive and showcasing someone else’s food doesn’t make sense. Behold the power of the smartphone you may be holding at this very second.

The cameras in smartphones continue to improve, and third-party apps and attachment lenses are a small investment that pay big dividends in the marketing department. Guests are demanding authenticity in imagery, and want regular updates that capture their interest. Here are ways to get great everyday shots.

Lighting

There are a lot of hospitality environments that aren’t particularly conducive to showcasing beverages, food, or guest experience. Clubs are a great example of this, where the obtrusive flash needs to be used, only to produce an image that is washed out and far from the quality guests should associate with your brand. Unless a decent camera with a quality flash is being used, make other arrangements. Smart phones just don’t cut it in low light situations.

Planning ahead is important, so take time to get photos with lights turned up, or if access to an outdoor area or natural light in a window is available during the day, use it. Indirect lighting is best, so use the shaded part of the patio or the table next to the one being cascaded in sunlight. This method will soften the harsh light and shadows, making for a much more appealing image, and will buy you time to take several shots before the lettuce wilts or ice melts. Kitchen lighting can be tricky, depending on what lights are in the kitchen. Fluorescent lighting can change the color of foods (which can be edited), but for the most part, provide enough light without harsh shadows. Watch the shadow of the phone and be sure it isn’t photo-bombing the menu items being showcased.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy.

Composition

Putting together an engaging photo of menu items isn’t difficult, but it is something that takes a bit of practice. Trying different angles is recommended. Not sure what angle is best for that particular item? Ask a few staff members for their opinion. Overhead shots are great for some dishes, but get lost on things like beverages and dishes that are built with some height. In these cases, try an angled approach — ten to 40 degrees from the table is usually best. Experiment, because sometimes resting the phone on the table to get a direct-line shot works quite well. Some dishes display better when the sight line is just above the table, giving a bit more perspective of the dish.

Beware of “noise” in the photos you take of menu items or the establishment. This includes unnecessary items in the image, taking away from the main focus. Taking photos in kitchens or closed restaurants requires taking in the whole picture and considering everything. The plated food could look amazing, but if the dirty floor mat in the background is also present, the message being delivered is not quite as powerful. Simple things can easily be overlooked during this process, especially when time is at a premium for people working in industry, so missing the crumbs on the table, spots on the glass, or dying plant in the background is a possibility.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy.

To avoid distracting guests (and potential guests) from what you really want to show them, get in close to menu items or parts of the establishment. Close enough to see the glisten from the oil on the olives, the delicate beads of sweat on the glass, or the steam from the piping hot osso bucco. Getting in close gives guests a visual taste of the quality being served, conveys the idea of the dish, and leaves them wanting more. They don’t need to see the entire plate, nor do they need to see the entire portion.

The right angle can offer guests a glimpse of the star protein in complete focus, while the sides and beverages are partially cropped out and perhaps a bit blurry in the background. Give some context in photos, as well. Are dishes meant to be shared? If so, then offer a nod to that by simply placing a few forks in the background to suggest that. The important thing is to be as authentic as possible. Don’t dress up dishes and get all fancy with the food styling if the dish guests actually get isn’t actually accompanied with the extra seasoning, garnishes, or presentation.

Edit

This is a big one. There is not enough editing happening in the mobile photography marketing game, and it can take a decent photo of your product and make it amazing. Phones have built-in editing capabilities and there are many apps that offer even more. Start with the basic editing in just the lights and the darks. Drop the “black point” down to make darks darker, but not too dark, of course. Similarly, increase the levels of highlights slightly. Often, these two are enough, but contrast, brightness, and shadows all provide compelling changes as well. Practice makes perfect and takes time, but not taking the time is causing people to scroll right past your work.