While I may appear to spend all of my time photographing families in meadows or lovebirds out on the beach, my photography interests aren't strictly limited to people! It feels like most of my income gets eaten up by bills and taxes, but what the government doesn't take from me goes straight into my favorite hobby – dining out. My boyfriend and I are always looking for an excuse to try out a new restaurant, and we have no shortage of options living in New Haven! But with so much to choose from around us, how do we end up picking a place, especially one we've never tried before. What persuades us to risk a new spot, while we have so many tried-and-true restaurants we know we'd be happy with? The answer is simple to many who spend a lot of time scrolling through their phone: food photography on social media.
Who Needs Food Photography?
My boyfriend, Mehran, may specialize in business and marketing tactics for a living, but as a customer himself he knows the impact that good food photography has on a restaurant because it affects our own meal choices every day. I can't count the number of times one of us has scrolled through Instagram and said, "Wow, look at how cool this burger looks!" and then gone and visited the restaurant that very weekend to try it. It's simple; the human race always has and always will be sold on the visual appeal of products and this is especially true for photos of food – they literally cause us to feel hungry!
So you might think with such an effective and straightforward marketing tool that restauranteurs everywhere would be utilizing food photography to draw in new customers, but equally as often we actually see many who choose not to. Whether it be due to the hesitation of spending money on this venture, or sometimes even the dismissal that something like this would substantially benefit their business, we've found that many restaurant owners decide to forego food photography altogether, usually with the mantra of "our food will speak for itself". Now I don't disagree at all that this confidence and pride in your dishes isn't admirable, and I'm sure it's probably true! But there's just one problem here: you need to get diners into your restaurant first, before your food can do the talking.
Why is Food Photography Important?
Something important to understand here is that, while this may not have been the case back in Y2K, the social media age has drastically changed how businesses receive new customers since then, and this is impacting both brand new food trucks and 50-year-old diners alike. Food photography isn't just a luxury these days, it's a necessity! Now this may not be quite as drastic for a bakery opening up in a very rural town, as competition will likely be low and word-of-mouth will travel simply by the appearance of a newly-painted sign on a window. But for those opening up in a saturated market like West Hartford where there's already several other bakeries right in their zip code, how do they steal some of that clientele? Or for a coffee shop that's been passed down through several generations and sat on the same street corner for decades; how do they maintain steady business when a trendy new cafe opens up the next block over?
In this time of social media and online blogging, there's one thing that is guaranteed to catch the eye of new potential customers, and that's a consistent online presence and engaging content. And there's nothing that's much more enticing than a photo of the freshly-glazed cinnamon rolls you pulled out of the oven this morning. Content like this is what makes potential clients stop scrolling in their tracks and click through your profile and website; they might even make a mental note to persuade their spouse to go visit your restaurant Friday night!
So far I've dabbled in food photography for a handful of Connecticut restaurants and shops, and I can easily say by far that my favorite has been the most recent photos I shot for Curry On Tap, a contemporary Indian food truck coming soon to Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. While some chefs may be tempted to cut corners and forego photography for their dishes, owner Amol A. knew that photos like this are what's going to capture the attention and appetites of potential customers online. Although it requires a small investment, this food photography is going to be the icing on the cake (or chutney on the samosas?) that ties his website and social media together, and converts those phone-scrollers into real live customers that come to find his truck.
Because I'm such a diehard believer in the power of imagery, I also want to talk about some alternative tips for any restauranteurs reading here with me. While there isn't a way to truly replace the quality you're going to get from a professional photographer's work and editing, there are still several reasons why you might want to learn how to make some content yourself as well. The two biggest would be:
First, if you're a brand new restaurant and you've already spent your current budget during the grand opening process, you're still going to need some form of content to post and draw in your first customers in order to kickstart your business; later on when you've saved up a little, you can start looking into investing in a small branding session for some more professional results. And secondly, because restaurants change their menus and produce new specials regularly, it's understandable that the average owner may not have the budget for a new shoot every month. That's why in between branding shoots, it's good to know how to create some decent content of your own so that you can sprinkle these into your social media as well, to have a mix of both professional images as well as real-time blog posts of the new dishes you're cooking up. Continue on for a few tips!
DIY Restaurant Photography.
Although they may not be able to replace the quality of a professional camera, our own phones can do at least a good enough job to still give us some acceptable results for content, but how you use your phone does make a difference! In the examples above I actually used my own smart phone to demonstrate how lighting can have a big impact on the appeal of the dish. The image on the left was taken with the use of some dim yellow bulb lighting, similar to the lighting you'd get in a restaurant. I see this mistake made often, even by restaurants I've been to myself where I know they have good food – but unfortunately photos lit in this way don't usually translate that, especially in conjunction with a phone's lower quality.
However the same exact dish taken with the use of natural light, either outside or by a window, immediately freshens the food up! Now a big tip here is to be mindful of the way that sometimes our phones' auto settings can overcompensate natural lighting to be a bit too cold and blue. If this happens to you, simply go into your phone's editing settings and warm the temperature up, and maybe even boost a little contrast. Same phone and same dish, but two very different results! For some added embellishment, try photographing your dish on the table with some other props, like a pretty cocktail and side salad, or even photograph the plate from directly above the table to get that satisfying symmetry!
So even if you don't feel ready for it just yet, I hope this may have shed a little light on why food photography isn't just a luxury these days and shouldn't be overlooked. I don't say this only as a photographer, but from the perspective of a customer as well! Photography is truly the main selling point for almost anyone who owns a smart phone or tablet; it's what makes us stop in our tracks and click around. What is this restaurant? Where are they located? And what was that amazing sandwich I just saw? So come chat with me, and let's catch some eyes and make your future customers start asking these questions too!
Morgan Ofsharick of MEO Photography specializes in family portraits, engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn, senior, and headshot portrait photography, servicing New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, Litchfield, and plenty of other regions all around Connecticut!