“As soon as a person who owns a restaurant takes pictures and posts them online, they are no longer amateur photographers, but professionals.  You put that out there to the public—you are now a professional photographer. Because of that you have to protect your visual property and make sure it’s really, really good. Or don’t put it out there…”

- Jeff Kauck

Access to high-quality cameras has made DIY food photography more approachable than ever. Whether it's getting your daily special up on Facebook or designing a new menu, you hold pixel power.

Professional food photographer Jeff Kauck set NRA Show 2014 abuzz with his hands-on Foodamental Studio workshop on food photography. For anyone who missed it, we caught up with him to get the goods and share them with you again.


Here are Jeff Kauck’s basic tips, tricks, do's and don'ts to help you do your food justice….

A La Mode
Food photography is just like fashion—it ebbs and flows with styles. A lot of it is socially- or fashion-driven.

Go to as many websites as you can find. If you own a hot dog stand—go find great pictures of hotdogs. See what professionals do with that same food, and that should be your standard you want to try to replicate.

The Tools
For typical web work, your smart phone is perfect. Artistic apps like Instagram are useful to make small photo adjustments—they’re also incredibly social-friendly and allow you to post directly from the app.

On Lighting...

...Never use on-camera flash…ever. 

Daylight is easiest and best. For night shoots, find the most even light you can. Try to backlight the food a little—professionals never front light their food.

Filling your light is important because often the shadows will be too heavy. Professionals typically use a stiff white card, but it’s as simple as using the napkin on your lap (if it’s white). Experiment by holding the napkin up to bounce light back onto the food and trust your eye to judge when you’ve softened the shadows.

Choose Your Good Side
Chefs work very hard plating food to make it proportionate and visual. When a waiter sets a plate down and spins it, that’s the way the chef wants it presented, and that’s the front. That’s where you shoot.

The Right Angles
Right now, if you look at most of the food magazines, the camera hangs right over the top and shoots straight down in what they call an overhead shot. This is always a good option.

You should also be setting up your shot at what’s called “the angle that you eat.” If you’re sitting at a table and are looking at your food, the angle  at which you would bring the fork up to your mouth is where you want to position your camera. It’s what we’re used to.

Change the position.
It’s called that visual pacing. If you just put a camera in the same place every time using the same scale, it becomes very boring—even if the food changes. Change up the angle and change the closeness.

Get in really close for some shots of something like some sauce or a brussel sprout. Then back up and shoot the whole plate plus a little atmosphere, like a wine glass, napkin or some silverware. 

Be careful with photo manipulation
If you fill the frame and do it correctly, you’re going to get the best resolution. And there’s nothing better than the best resolution. Take the time to get the right picture on the spot. If you have to crop or make adjustments—go ahead—but don’t use it as a crutch. If you fill the frame, be aware of your edges, use negative space, you’re going to get better photograph because you’ll have worked really hard to do it right.

Be critical.  Work hard at it.
There’s a tendency to just shoot and post. To provide some context, one of America’s greatest photographers, Robert Frank, put out a book with 87 photographs for which he shot 21,000.

Hit each entrée a bunch; you can always throw the pixels away, and they don’t cost you a penny. If it’s a one-plated entrée, start close in your bite zone, come over top and try it, pull back, move close in. Try moving your fill cards around. Try, try try. Then pick one.

Food Has Built In Drama. Enjoy It.
Food is special. The light from breakfast is different from lunch…which is different from dinner. Right there you’ve got three opportunities. Bohemian vs. chic and upscale. The food, the lighting, atmosphere, attitude, set. You have all this opportunity to express yourself as an artist.

Have fun with it.



Additional Instagram tips and inspiration are available here on Manage My Restaurant.