Who loves looking at photos of food?

High-quality food photographs are essential if you run your own restaurant. Have you ever seen bad photos of food on a national restaurant chain’s website, or in their marketing material? No, not ever! They understand the value of quality food photography because it is crucial to get people in the door.

WARNING: This page is going to make you hungry!

Make sure you look at every crumb, we’re all members of the “Clean Plate Club!”

Click images for enlargement.
Let’s say you are hungry for a thick juicy steak, or maybe some Magret de Canard Rôti as shown in the photo below, crunchy vegetables, and steaming hot crusty bread. What image did that description conjure to mind? Now, as you do a search on the web, you’re going to want to see photos that match the picture, don’t you think?
Do the photos in your marketing fit what you imagined? Have you thought about taking photos of your entrées, appetizers, and desserts yourself, or hiring a professional food photographer? This is why quality food photography is so important. This guide explains the difference between the types of photography you could opt for.


National food chains have a distinct advantage when it comes to food photography. They can afford to have their photography done by specialty photography studios with assistants, chefs, and marketing people on set to guide the final look, a budget, and the time to spend several hours setting up each shot, but that’s not the case for the simple family-owned restaurant.
Last time I checked, a small mom-and-pop restaurant did not have the time to bring food to my photo studio with a chef who could stay with me all day as we sculpted the perfect, French fry photo. It is for this reason, I go to the restaurant, instead of the other way around.

Below are a few examples of what I call fun food photography I took with my iPhone to show friends when my wife, or I cooked a dish or things we’ve eaten while on vacation. This isn’t pro work, but this is what restaurateurs and patrons will capture with their mobile devices. Before you click an image for an enlargement, take a good look at the large photo above this section with the duck and the red wine. Notice how beautiful the lighting is, and how sharp it is from front to back. Then look at the “fun” photos I took with my iPhone below.

Click an image for enlargement.
It seems like almost everyone photographs their meals these days. The great thing about patrons posting photos of your food to social media is it gives your food, and location more exposure, and you tend to get reviews as well—they are talking about you. If ever there was an important metric to consider for Search Engine Optimization; shared photos of your location and great reviews would be it—because it’s beyond your control. The bad thing about patrons posting photos to social media is they are posting their photos to social media—they’re not always the best representation of your creations. 
How often have you seen a meal that looks yellow, dark, blurry, or too bright? Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing where people go to eat, but I’m not so sure that I’d call them advertising quality. Customers will take pictures of their food, no matter where they are, albeit indoors or outdoors, and why not? IT’S FUN! But what is the difference between a mobile phone camera, and when a professional photographs food? Continue reading, and looking at the mouth-watering images!

So, what should you do; take your own food photos? 

Taking food photos yourself is more budget-friendly, and you can use them in your marketing. Everyone has a pretty decent camera built into their phone, and it can produce some good images; if you know what you’re doing. Just look at some of my fun iPhone photos above. Some of them look pretty good, even though I only had available light to work with. Some of the light was pretty bad! That said, I rather fancy the toasted garlic bread and the Brie pizza, though they could still use a bit more. Which ones do you like?

What if your customer’s photos look better than yours do?

What if they are using the same camera as you? You could ask them if you could use their photo in your marketing, but you’ll pay them something for the usage. How can you differentiate your pictures from those of your customers?

What if you get yourself a much-better camera? You could step up and invest a couple of thousand dollars on a prosumer-level camera. You will get a boost in image quality, but until you learn how to use your camera well, your phone is a simpler alternative. Until you understand how to “create images” and not pictures, you’ll only be taking glorified phone photos—that’s just about it. Check out the two images below to see what I mean.

ABOVE: The scene was captured using a mobile phone camera after I set up multiple lights to illuminate the scene. This is typically what a customer will capture. The lighting in your restaurant sets the scene, so whatever lighting you have setup, that’s what your customer will use as their main light.

ABOVE: The I moved some of the items around to make a better composition. Then, using a 35mm DSLR with the studio strobes precisely placed to accentuate certain parts of the food, I captured the shot. You might be asking, why does the lighting look so much different from the iPhone? It’s because the modeling lights on the strobes are not as bright as the strobe that pops. Then I processed it to bring out more details, and more color.

Look at how much more shape everything has, because of where I placed the strobes. Notice the detail, the crispness in the  food—it’s wonderful!

AT RIGHT: I had an opportunity to photograph a similarly prepared dessert item at a restaurant of a different style. The balls had a similar appearance as the one’s above. Look at how I lighted the subject this time. Look at all the dimensionality, the texture, and the little details that make your tummy rumble. The point is; it’s not just what a better camera can do, it’s the elements outside the camera that without, it would just a glorified mobile phone picture.

The right gear, the right lighting, and the perfect food; Game, Set, Match!

Below are some photos of entrées, appetizers, and desserts I have photographed. Most of them were for Prince William Living magazine since 2018. In no particular order: Semi-Freddo, Hector’s, The Red House, Ghana Jollof, Le Bistro Hermitage, Okra’s, Viet Chopsticks, Binjins Bistro, Zorba’s, Zandra’s, Farm Brew, Maaza-29, Preston’s Pub, Byblos, Dona Azucena, Three Monkey’s, and Abe’s Cafe and Gifts.


So far, you have seen that it takes more than just a decent camera to capture quality images of your food—but it’s possible. So, what can you do, now, with what you have? Place a meal near a window that has indirect lighting coming in. Indirect lighting is diffused soft lighting. It could be from an overcast or cloudy day hiding the sun, it could also be sunlight that is bouncing from something that diffuses it, even the side of a big truck reflecting light into your restaurant. The light will rake across the dish, creating a beautiful diffused texture.
Look around your restaurant, find a window where there is direct hard sunlight, and don’t shoot at that window. Go to one of the other sides of the building and find a window where soft light is coming in. Using a white tablecloth, you can bounce some of that light into that side of the setting. It’s a start, but that’s about all you can do with it without adding additional light sources.


A professional restaurant photographer understands more than how to use a camera. They understand the most important element of food photography—how to light. They also photograph more than just your food. Don’t forget the restaurant interior. Many food photographers also have skills in architectural photography. Lighting food is one thing; lighting a large space can be quite another. Below are some interior photos I have shot. Click for enlargment.


A food photographer will create their own soft window-like light and add additional lighting to bring out other parts of the food on the dish. They may even rearrange things on the plate to suit the composition, and if you’ve ever gotten really close to something with your camera, you will know that the background can be quite blurry. A professional photographer will know how to bring more of the items that are on the plate into tack-sharp focus, so not just the nearest objects are in focus. The photo near the top of the duck with the red wine glass is a perfect example of this kind of sharpness.

A well, light-sculpted place setting will look stunning, and don’t leave out your house drinks; they will glow with color and texture at the hands of a professional restaurant photographer.

Check out the photos below that most restaurant owners might overlook when shooting their own photography: house beverages, and their Chef!


You can do it yourself with your phone or a good camera! Using good techniques, patience, and practice, it’s possible. But it won’t look the same as the work of a professional. As you look and see what other restaurateurs are doing with their websites, eventually, you will begin to wonder why your pictures don’t look as good as other restaurants’ images.
I have a guide I use when I’m trying to decide if I should purchase a piece of equipment, or software; If I’m going to use it a lot, or all the time, it merits owning a righteous version of it. The same might hold true in your business. If you are always going to cook, you own the right cooking hardware and hire the right talent. The same holds true for attracting customers who will enjoy that food; photographs will be working for your restaurant 24/7. Put your best effort forward or reach out to someone who can help get you where you want to go. Partnering with a professional food photographer (or restaurant photographer) is to your advantage. They take mouth-watering photos that will make you, a profit.

Talk To Us

Find out how commercial photography by Mark Gilvey Creative can help your business.