If you’re in the food business, especially as a restaurant, caterer or other foodservice provider, if you haven’t already upped your food photo game, now is definitely the time.
Customers have always eaten with their eyes first, but now they’re pre-feasting online to research their options, look at menus, read reviews and, increasingly, peruse food photos on Instagram and other social media channels before making a restaurant (or caterer) choice.
According to research by menu engineer Gregg Rapp, taking good photos of your food can increase sales by as much as 30%.
And the millennial crowd isn’t just documenting what they eat via social media channels; they’re using social media photos to decide where to eat as well. According to research by UK restaurant chain Zizzi, 18-35-year-olds spend five days per year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30 percent would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak. In my own 40+ year-old circle of foodie friends, I see a similar trend.
Taking Better Food Photos, Option 1: Hire a Professional
Ideally, foodservice providers will invest in professional photography for things like their website, menus, google, marketing collateral, signage and key social media graphics.
“Remember that if food is your business, it’s hugely important to share photos that represent your work in a professional manner,” says Nancy Farrar, a Dallas/Fort Worth-based food photographer who first worked for decades in the food public relations field.
To get the most out of hiring a professional, think and talk through what you want to take pictures of ahead of time and develop your "shot list." If you're a restaurant, for example, your list should possibly include shots of your: interior, exterior, signage, mainstay menu items, team photos and seasonal menu items you'll want to highlight during the year.
Hire a photographer who is experienced shooting FOOD. Food photography is a whole different ballgame, and those who specialize in this field of photography will provide the best photos for your business.
Taking Better Food Photos, Option 2: DIY
Social media, especially Instagram, is a hungry photo consumer. For best results, you should post often and consistently. To do this, you need a lot of photos. A lot of GOOD photos.
“It’s better to post nothing than to post a dark, ugly food photo,” says Farrar.
It can be cost-prohibitive for many in the food industry to continue to feed Instagram daily with professional photos. Instead, some restaurants and caterers work with a local PR/social media pro already trained and experienced in taking good food photos (typically, with their phones). Some get key members of their staff trained to take better photos with their phones. Others do both to ensure they have a constant and updated food photo supply.
Before you ask chefs, managers or other staff members to start snapping pics with their phones, it’s best to invest in some sort of food photography training for those tasked with this important job. Some options include:
Farrar Food Photography’s iPhone Food Photography Class – a course created for restaurants, chefs and other food professionals; offered in person for those in or near the Dallas/Fort Worth, TX area or offered real-time via Skype elsewhere.
Creative Live – Andres Skirvani’s recorded online food photography course; not specific to phones, but a good food photography course.
Tablecrafter – a free mobile phone food photography course that covers some of the basics.
What are some basics you can adopt right away to improve your DIY mobile phone food photos? Farrar offers these 3 tips:
Never, ever (really, never!) use the flash on your phone when taking food photos.
Move the plate to the nearest window and shoot using natural light.
Learn how to use the edit button on your phone. Play with it to get familiar with the settings. And don’t worry. You can always hit reset to return the photo to its original look.
Don’t Stop There
Ideally, food photos will become an integrated part of your culture and process. A couple other things to consider:
Be consistent with your photos and ensure that their look and style matches that of your business. For example, if your restaurants’ style is modern and minimalistic, your food photos shouldn’t be cluttered with a lot of props.
Consider rethinking your plating. If your dishes skimp on garnishes and/or don’t have a lot of color, consider what your plated meals will look like in your photos (and your patrons’ photos). On the flipside, if you add color and garnishes in your photos, that’s what diners will be expecting, so don’t add to photos what will never be there in real life.
Think through your operations and processes. Determine who will take photos and when. If staff members will use their personal phones, ensure that they send them to your PR/social media manager and/or upload them somewhere central, so others can access them (and in case they ever leave).