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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How To Take Better Food Photos and the Rise of the Food Paparazzi

The food paparazzi.

It's serendipitous that just as I'm writing this post about food photography, the LA Times publishes an article about the rise in diners taking photographs of their meals in restaurants.

Everyone, it seems, is taking pre-dinner snapshots. The article says:

Taking a cue from Twitter and Facebook cultures, serious foodies and casual consumers alike are using digital technology to document each bite, then sharing or swapping the pictures online.

Chefs call them the food paparazzi, and these days, no morsel is too minor.
"This is the game we all now play," chef and owner Ludo Lefebvre said through gritted teeth. "We cook, we smile -- and the people, they don't eat. They get their cameras."
It's an interesting article, although I have to say that in my dining experiences with food bloggers, I've never seen anyone thrust a voice recorder in the direction of a waiter so they can capture the description of a dish! I agree that flash is intrusive and disturbs other diners, which is why I rarely, if ever, use it.

After a few quotes from several disgruntled chefs, the article continues:

Yet few chefs have banned such photography. A sluggish economy has made them wary of alienating customers. They also know the photos help generate free publicity, as does a positive buzz on social media networks.
There is no doubt that food voyeurism is in vogue, and shows like Masterchef Australia are only feeding [quite literally] the frenzy. It also goes some way to explaining why Billy's photography workshop on the weekend was not made up entirely of food bloggers, but people genuinely interested in photographing their food.

There are food photos, and then there are food photos. It's not until you start taking them yourself that you realise how difficult a subject food can be.

Over the course of three hours, our class of fifteen students ran through a condensed look at the principles of photography, working in low-light situations, tips for post-processing, search engine optimisation (SEO) and protecting copyright.

Billy from A Table for Two

The class was held in the private dining room at Mumu Grill with a multi-course arrival of food providing sustenance and opportunities for practice...

Sicilian green olives

Hearing about Billy's approach to food photography was particuarly enlightening. He emphasised the need for your photos to tell a story and to reflect the mood of the occasion. Composition was also vital - follow the rule of thirds and get in close but not so close you lose a sense of place.

Jamon Serrano (15 months) on Catalan bread

Photography students (DSLRs are not necessary)

Grilled chorizo with eggplant relish

Demonstrating how to use Lightroom

The non-food bloggers were surprised by the amount ofpost-processing work required to tweak each image for publishing to the web. I often wonder whether readers realise that most food blog posts take 4-6 hours to edit and upload photos and write the accompanying text.

We were led through tips and tricks on both Photoshop and Lightroom, with Billy recommending that you adopt your own style so readers are able to quickly recognise them as yours.

Asparagus with toasted almonds

Duck fat potatoes

T-Bone tagliatta

Everyone tucking into lunch

Fruit salad, gingerbread and mascarpone sandwich,
chocolate raspberry tart and brown sugar pavlova with pineapple

It wasn't until I came home and edited my photos that I realised how much I had learnt and how incremental changes can make a huge difference to your final photos.

And as iPhones and cameras both become more and more common, I'm expecting more and more food photos at a restaurant near you.

The next food photography workshop will be held on Sat 24 April but is already fully booked. To find out details of any upcoming workshops, contact Billy at A Table For Two.

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MUMU Grill
70 Alexander Street, Crows Nest, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9460 6877

Open 7 days
Lunch 12pm-3pm
Dinner 6pm-11pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
MUMU Grill, Crows Nest (Feb10)
and (Jul09)
32 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 4/20/2010 04:09:00 am


  • At 4/20/2010 7:37 am, Anonymous Trissa said…

    Helen - this sounds like a fantastic experience. I am sure Billy was a wonderful teacher - I wish I could have attended the class and there is definitely a market for these classes. Can I suggest as well - might you consider having one on writing? As a blog - I think it is both great pictures and great writing that makes a blog a success! Your writing is fantastic. I could learn a thing or two from you.

  • At 4/20/2010 8:11 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Very interesting article - thanks for the link. I have to admit that, a few years back and pre-blog, I did use flash in restaurants without thinking, but I also wasn't taking many photos because I didn't have the blog. But it does seem like this article tracked down some extremes of behaviour, which I don't think are representative of the "food paparazzi" as a whole (ie, the video/voice recording).

    That course sounds fantastic - I'm so hopeless at my food photography. I just is not with the good of making photos nope! ;)

  • At 4/20/2010 8:15 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Great post! Looks like you learnt a lot and that is a good thing!

  • At 4/20/2010 8:31 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    HAHAH that's a very good article. I love the last bit :

    Finally, he broke.

    "Respect the food! The salmon's getting cold!" Lefebvre bellowed.

    The crowd turned to stare. Six people pointed cameras at the chef. Click.

    That's classic. :) I think that article is pretty extreme case and I don't think I have yet come across any food bloggers in Sydney are like that. Yes, and I don't see the point of upsetting the chef because of a small disagreement and blog about it just to make your point. I'd rather not blog about it, so that I know it is the restaurant not getting the exposure as it deserves.

    Thanks for coming along to the workshop Helen. Love your photos. :)

  • At 4/20/2010 9:45 am, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    I read the artcile in full and it reads like the worst of the worst when it comes to food photography in restaurants. I've not even heard of anyone in Sydney doing some of the things mentioned in the article. I wonder if any of those people described were food bloggers.

    It's interesting to see the differences in composition and processing considering that we had to deal with the same subject and challenges like variable lighting. Nice work with the post :)

  • At 4/20/2010 9:54 am, Anonymous Tina said…

    Sounds like a really great day - I imagine the food went a little cold ;)

  • At 4/20/2010 10:04 am, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    The ATFT course sounds useful - particularly if someone like yourself, Helen, with so much experience at being a food pap, can get something out of it. I love your photo of the asparagus, too.

  • At 4/20/2010 10:37 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    This looked like such an interesting and useful workshop. Great to see his workshops have been filling up with so many enthusiastic people :) Lightroom is my best best friend!

  • At 4/20/2010 11:59 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    Oh my god~ there is a typo on my powerpoint and you put it up!!! LOL

  • At 4/20/2010 1:13 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    I think Billy needs to make these classes a regular thing. I'm sure there are heaps of people who would still love to go :) (me! me!).

    If only all of our classes and lectures had good food to accompany it hehe.

  • At 4/20/2010 1:22 pm, Blogger Sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    Looked like a great class put on by Billy and nice to see his next one has filled up already.

    I read the article, and wow, I haven't come across microphones yet and really hope not too, also I try to avoid the flash.

  • At 4/20/2010 2:47 pm, Blogger JT @ areyouhungary said…

    Oh I'm now super excited for the ATFT food workshop on Saturday!

  • At 4/20/2010 3:22 pm, Anonymous penny aka jeroxie said…

    Awesome! I am still learning as well and it really does take up a lot of time in post processing.

  • At 4/20/2010 4:56 pm, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    That'll be me this Saturday. Look forward to it. Food looks good and it'll give me a chance to steal a few tips from Mr Billy

  • At 4/20/2010 9:03 pm, Anonymous Adrian @ Food Rehab said…

    NO FLASH! I'm glad I'm no 'food flasher'- oh, that sounds a little wrong!LOL

    Check out the t-bone, you really captured that well. Good student! :)

    How did you all contain yourselves from just munching everything onsite?!

    The class seems great- go Billy!

  • At 4/20/2010 10:43 pm, Blogger Von said…

    Haha...Food paparazzi =] I'm always scared that someone will come and tell me that I'm not allowed to photograph the food- But so far no one has cared. I've never seen anyone else take pictures of food in a restaurant though =[

    I didn't realise that writing a blog post takes that long! But now that I think about, it kinda does....although I think mine only take about 2-3 hours. But that's because my photos are quite bad, I suck at editing and I don't write long posts =] My friends always wonder why I take so long to blog about something....tehehe

  • At 4/21/2010 1:32 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    The eating is definitely more important to the experience than the photography for me, but it's nice to take photos too. Sounds like a good workshop.

  • At 4/21/2010 1:49 am, Anonymous Amy @ cookbookmaniac said…

    Food Paparazzi? Oh no. I don't like the term. Food Bloggers are on a different plateau.

    I was considering attending Billy's workshop, but insomnia is keeping me from many things.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • At 4/21/2010 10:24 am, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    Looks great Helen. I like learning new things and taking better photos is so useful. I am slowly getting there. Lightroom is cool. Its such a handy tool to get your photos looking hot.3

  • At 4/21/2010 12:54 pm, Anonymous Sandie said…

    Hi Helen, nice meeting you last week! I have only just downloaded my pictures from the workshop, I'm so slow! Very interesting article and lovely pics, nice work!

  • At 4/21/2010 1:46 pm, Blogger Iron Chef Shellie said…

    Nice work Helen! Looks like it would have been a fantastic class to attend. Damn me living in Melbourne!

  • At 4/21/2010 4:37 pm, Blogger Matt said…

    I just bought a Canon 450D to take some nice photos for my blog. It might be a bit over the top, but food commands the best!

  • At 4/21/2010 6:04 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    heh CLICK. the class sounded awesome so sad i couldnt go!

  • At 4/21/2010 6:56 pm, Anonymous Forager said…

    Looks like a very educational session! I could definitely use some skills and tips from the master! And it's good to know that it takes everyone that long to write a blog post!

  • At 4/21/2010 7:10 pm, Anonymous cyberiagirl said…

    Sometimes I feel like the only food blogger in the world who doesn't include photos!

    For me I want the challenge of describing my experiences using only words and seeing if I can invoke the feelings I had in my reader.

    I went to my first promo event for food bloggers yesterday, and it was so much easier for me to just eat and enjoy while others had to get good shots!

    That said, I do love all the photos on other people's blogs so I don't want others to stop... but I feel a bit more justified in not taking them if it's so hard to do a good job and some chefs (surely not all or even most) get annoyed.

    ~Rachel, Here Comes The Aeroplane

  • At 4/22/2010 3:38 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I completely understand the bit about how long it takes to put a post together now, it takes effort, but is so rewarding. Still learning, but hopefully one day I'll get there.

    Heh I see my greedy hands reaching for tomato salad. yumyum. :]

    Was nice meeting you on Saturday!

  • At 4/22/2010 4:05 pm, Blogger Just Desserts said…

    Wonderful. I now know I am justified in purchaseing a new & proper camera. I think I get the composition right but the richness & quality in the picture is just not there.

    Do they do any of these classes in Melbourne?

  • At 4/22/2010 10:13 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh booooooo can't believe I missed on all this educational goodness by Lecturer Billy :( Looks like it was an awesome event with great secrets and great food!

  • At 4/23/2010 1:33 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Trissa - It was a great class. Always worth trying to learning as much as you can from others. And oh, you are far too kind. I know that food blogger The Amateur Gourmet from NYC now teaches food writing classes but oh, I think good writing is all about practice. I'm not sure why you need tips - I think your style is perfectly absorbing as it is :)

    Hi Hannah - I think we all start out using flash on our cameras until we realise it is much better to turn it off, both for discretion and photo quality.

    Like anything, food photography is about practice. Mine has certainly come a long way from when I first started!

    Hi Joey - Always good to expand on your skills, and yes, I did learn quite a few new tips and tricks :)

    Hi Billy - The article did make me cringe at times but oh, quite a few elements seemed to ring true!

    Thanks for running the workshop - had much fun and still in awe of your stunning photos.

    Hi Simon @ the heart of food - I suppose it's always tempting to include the goriest or most extreme details but I do wonder how the dining scene has changed as blogs and iPhones have become more ubiquitous.

    It's always quite funny to compare photos - everyone has a different perspective, much like everything we experience in this world, I guess :)

    Hi Tina - Oh I wouldn't say cold, but there were a few cries of protest when the ice cream started to melt!

    Hi OohLookBel - Ha, I may have run a food blog for a while but it doesn't mean my photo skills can't be improved! And thank you, the asparagus shot was a last-minute 'let's be creative' angle. The workshop has made me rethink composition.

    Hi Stephcookie - I'm yet to get onto Lightroom but hopefully soon. The tools look so much easier to use than Photoshop!

    Hi Billy - Shh.... noone noticed... lol

    Hi Karen - Hopefully Billy will run more classes in future although your pics are amazing. What do you need to go for?

    And it's true what they say - everyone always looks forward to the catering most whenever there's training or a workshop!

    Hi Sara - The microphone thing is odd, although sometimes I've wanted to use it myself as a notetaker - I haven't yet!

    Hi JT - Have fun at the workshop. Can't wait to hear your thoughts about the day!

    Hi Penny - Post-processing does take ages. If only we could have all have assistants to help us with our blog posts :)

  • At 4/23/2010 1:48 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi john - Your photos are already great but it is interesting to observe other people's workflows and ways of doing things. Billy is quite generous at sharing. Am sure you'll have a ball.

    Hi Adrian - Food flasher does sound rather wrong!

    Contain ourselves? Of course we did - we're food bloggers! I think we all had reasonably similar patience levels though. After about 3-5 min people wanted to dig in!

    - I've seen quite a few people take photos in restaurants and they're not always food bloggers or tourists. Presumably for their facebook account or personal blog.

    Blogging is a labour of love - only fellow bloggers understand the amount of effort that is invested in each one :)

    Hi Arwen - I agree that eating is important, but it seems that everyone loves a good food photo too. I think it's a matter of balance? And yes, the workshop was great.

    Hi Amy - Food paparazzi is quite a strong term, but then there's nothing quite like a swarm of food bloggers attacking a newly served dish.

    Hope your insomnia is getting better. I reckon a heavy tome on physics would surely help put you to sleep :)

    Hi A Cupcake or Two - Ahh I must get into Lightroom. Seems like everyone is using it!

    Hi Sandie - Was lovely to meet you too. Looking forward to seeing your post on the day :)

    Hi Iron Chef Shellie - Maybe Billy will take his workshop interstate!

    Hi Matt - Have fun with the camera. I think many food bloggers succumb to the appeal of DSLRs quite quickly. It's a lot of fun.

    Hi chocolatesuze - Ha, I could totally imagine that scene happening too.

    Hi Forager - Billy is indeed a master. I am getting faster at writing blog posts but I also seem to be taking more and more photos. Argh!

    Hi cyberiagirl - I admire your discipline in not taking photos. It is a challenge to write without photos, especially when so many publications use photos to help illustrate a story. Keep doing with what you feel comfortable with, I say :)

    Hi nommynomnom - Was great to meet you too and lol, I don't say greedy, I say entrepreneurial!

    Hi Just Desserts - At the moment Billy is only running one more in Sydney, but who knows, maybe he'll be able to organise one in Melbourne soon too.

    Hi FFichiban - It was a fun day and good to get some different ideas and concepts about food photography. You'll have to find out from Billy when the next workshop will be held!

  • At 4/24/2010 9:51 am, Blogger Steph J said…

    hi helen, great to meet you at the class. Thanks for sharing the article on the LA times - i have often wondered what the restaurants think of people who pull out their camera to take a shot of every dish that is served at their table. The whole food blogging thing is all new too me - so i am appreciative of people like you who have the time to do so.

  • At 4/29/2010 8:50 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Steph J - It was lovely to you. A gathering of food photographers is always a meeting of like minds :) Food blogging is great fun, and it can be a challenge, but you do find your skills improving with each and every post!


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