Restaurant Food Photography Tips and Tricks for Managers

Restaurant Food Photography Tips and Tricks for Managers
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

We eat with our eyes first, and you can be certain that customers see what your food looks like before they decide to push go on delivery or sit down at the table. Whether they’re checking out your Google reviews, scrolling through Instagram, or browsing your site, high-quality restaurant food photography is essential to how diners experience your business online.

As third-party delivery platforms claim a bigger share of your sales pie, you want food photography that makes customers stop scrolling and hit the add to cart button. According to Deliveroo, items with images see up to a 6.5% increase in sales. Great images can also make your social feeds online listings, and marketing stand out among the crowd.

While you could hire a professional, food photography costs can tip into the thousands per session, and take weeks to coordinate and receive images. In these lean times for the restaurant business, there are a number of restaurant food photography tips and tricks that you can use to create professional-quality images—even if your only camera is a smartphone.

1. Lighting is king 💡

Perhaps the most important factor that will separate a good and bad photo is light. It can make or break a photo, and natural light will always reign supreme. Luckily, a good window is all you need. Food looks best when the light is coming from behind or from the side. Each will create slightly different shadows, so try out different dish placement to see what you like best. Be sure to turn off any overhead lights, as they may tint the photo yellow.

Natural light vs Overhead light photo of lemons on a leaf
Natural lighting brings out the best in these lemons, whereas the overhead light makes them unappealing

For a little bit more control, you can use a white piece of cardboard or paper to “bounce,” or reflect the light onto different areas of the food. Have another person hold the reflector and experiment with angling it until it looks right.

And when it comes to flash, it’s like stock from a box—don’t use it. It will make your photos look harsh, flat, and unappetizing.

Photo of lemons taken with flash
The flash blows out the photo and gives it an amateur look

2. Shoot photos at different angles ↙️

That burger may look mouth-watering when it drops in front of you at the table, but a photo from the same angle won’t have the same effect. Different types of food look their best at a certain angle. Here are a few general rules to stick by when composing your shots:

  • Straight-on is best for food with layers and height—burgers, sandwiches, and stacks of pancakes. This angle also works well for cakes and tall beverages such as beer.
crispy fried chicken sandwich and french fries on plate
The straight-on angle showcases the layers and texture of this fried chicken sandwich from Prairie Sun in Saskatoon.
  • Diner’s View, or the same angle as when you see food in front of you. It’s best for capturing dishes with depth and texture—like a bowl of ramen or slice of pie with ice cream. It’s also a great angle for shorter drinks such as coffee or cocktails.
mac and cheese with meat on platter
A 45-degree Diners’ View shows the layers of this mac n’ cheese from Otto’a Bierhalle in Toronto
  • Top Down is what made that influencer risk their life by standing on your chair to take a picture—it’s the best angle for dishes like pizza or avocado toast. It’s also the optimal angle for capturing charcuterie boards or collections of dishes for a pre-set menu.
avocado toast on blue plate
This avocado toast from Page One in Toronto is a great example of a top-down perspective that works

3. Add a little bit of action 🤲

It should look pretty, but don’t forget that food is for eating. Add some hands or action to the shot to create a more enticing photograph. Some examples of this are:

  • A huge cheese pull from a pizza or grilled cheese
  • A cocktail being passed across the bar
  • A noodle pull — like cheese pull, but with pasta or ramen.
  • Chocolate or maple syrup drizzled on pancakes or dessert
  • Chips and dip in action
cocktail being passed across bar
A cocktail being handed across the bar, like this one at Drift in Saskatoon, is much more enticing than one sitting by itself.

Another great way to add some human touch to your photos is to take one with a person holding a dish in front of them. There’s nothing like a delicious-looking plate of food being presented right in front of you.

Note: If hands will be a part of the shot, find your best hand model on staff and make sure to keep hands nice and clean for the photos.

4. Keep it clean and tidy 🍽

The background of a photo is just as important as the subject. If you choose a busy background, it will distract from what you really want people to look at: the food. Use a simple backdrop like a cloth napkin or clean wood table that enhances the food and doesn’t distract from it. For texture and interest, add small flourishes like:

  • Flatware and glassware
  • Tea lights
  • Logo matchbooks or pens
  • Your menu or wine list
fancy french dinner white tablecloth
A simple white background and minimal flourishes keep the focus on the food, as pictured from Gare De L'Est, a French brasserie in Toronto

Try to keep it to one or two accents, lest you’ll create a messy table that confuses the eye. If your restaurant has outdoor seating, some food photography is a great way to show off your garden or patio. Try to avoid using stainless steel backgrounds like the pass or a prep table. They can tend to be overly reflexive and give your photos some lens flare—good for sci-fi movies, bad for food.

For your plates, glass, and cutlery, make sure everything is spotless. Even the smallest smudge of sauce or hard water stain will stand out in a food photo. It’s always a good idea to keep a damp sponge and some towels around just in case you need them.

5. Go to photography school 📸

Well, not really. You can, however, borrow a few universal techniques that will give your photos a professional-looking edge.

The Rule of Thirds
Food doesn’t always look the best when dead center in the frame. The rule of thirds is a photography technique that uses lines to divide the frame into 9 equal rectangles (try enabling the grid setting on your camera). This creates a grid on the frame, which will be your guide for composing the photo. By placing food where the lines intersect, you’ll create a photo that the eye is more naturally drawn to and appears more interesting than a front-and center-approach.

rule of thirds for food photography
By placing this pasta dish along the gridlines, it creates a more interesting image

The human eye is a pro at recognizing patterns, and you can take advantage of that to create some visual interest in your shots. Use items to create a pattern, such as a full tray of cookies, muffins, or a stack of bread loaves.

stack of baguettes french bread and butter
Stacked baguettes from Gare De L'Est in Toronto make an interesting photo from an otherwise normal loaf of bread

Another great way to use repetition is by breaking it with one out of place item. That tray of cookies? Take a bite out of just one and put it back. This would also work with a pizza, by removing one slice, or by having one part of the pattern be different from the other—like a different flavor.

By employing either or both of these simple photography techniques, you can give your photos a professional look that will be sure to separate your restaurant from the pack.

6. Touch it up ‍💻

Every photo looks better with a little bit of editing. You can edit directly on your phone or computer with a few simple tools. You don’t have to do a ton:

  • A few tweaks to brightness, contrast, and saturation will make your photos pop.
  • If you want to take a deeper dive, try adjusting the highlights (how bright the brights are) and the shadows (how dark the darks are).

Once you start to see how different values affect the image, you can find a style that makes your food it’s best.

Note: Avoid adding filters, turning photos black and white, or inserting text. Let your food shine!

A few small tweaks give this image a much more appealing look
Prairie Sun in Saskatoon

7. Take as many pictures as you can 🤳

Even the most seasoned photographer’s first shot won’t be perfect, so take as many as have the bandwidth to. Experiment with different angles, framing, and props until you get the right shot. The more photos you take, the better you’ll get!

Final Thoughts: Restaurant Food Photography

Whether you’re taking your restaurant online for the first time, updating your menu in delivery apps, or looking to improve your social media, it all starts with great restaurant food photography. When you’re done shooting, tag us on @7shifts so we can see your delicious photos!

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!