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taking photos in restaurants

Sitting by the restaurant’s window: the best place to take food photos

To create an atmosphere, or romantic mood, some restaurants will turn down their lighting so much that you can barely see the print in the menu.

If you are like me and enjoy taking photos of food that looks appealing, then sitting in a dark restaurant just won’t do. The alternative is using the built-in flash, which tends to wash out the image.

Whether it’s using a iPhone camera, or even a DSLR camera with a f1.8 lens and ISO cranked up high, dim lighting in a restaurant sucks. Big time. I’m not a happy diner if I can’t share my review with beautiful, appetizing photos!

So this is why I always ask to be seated by the window if I’m dining during the day. For night dining, a well-lit area is a must – either with a lamp above the table or just to one side.

Taking food photos by the window is the best way to get extra lighting without any additional items required. My favourite light for food photos is natural light because it works best to bring out the colours of the meal. It also creates some nice shadows, which the camera flash eliminates from such a close distance.

A few tips on getting the best shot:

  • Don’t be afraid to move your plate around on the table. Position it so that it gets the best light and offers the best view.
  • Shoot your photos from different angles – from the top, sides, and on an angle. Get close up. Move back to take wide shots for a view of the whole dish.
  • Be aware of glare from natural light off of glazed or slightly shiny plates. They can play havoc with the contrast and distract the eye from the food. This is where post-processing is required for cropping and colour correction.
  • If you can set your ISO, remember that the higher you go, the grainier the image, but can get a better exposed shot. If you have a focal point in the meal  – a key ingredient that you want to spotlight –  move the plate so that it receives the most light and try to use a lower ISO. By keeping the camera steady or propped up on the table you can get a decent, crisp photo.
  • If you use a DSLR, invest in a prime lens that has a f-stop of at least 1.8. It will help allow more light in, even in dim settings. Normally, I avoid using a DSLR these days as they are big, and in many cases my iPhone will capture fairly decent photos in better lighting situations.
  • Worst case scenario there’s no window seat with natural light available. You have to use the camera flash! Diffuse the light by taking a paper napkin or kleenex and removing one layer (slightly translucent) and holding it in front of the flash while you take the photo. It will create a slightly softer light that does not create harsh shadows or over-exposure.
Taking photos in restaurants

Another example where I used the light from the window to my right to illuminate the drink. I had to be careful with my exposure and the glare on the glass from the outdoor light. Note – this is from a client event in a dim restaurant.


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