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Shoot awesome photos of your food in any restaurant – 10 easy tips for travellers

How to beautifully photograph what you are eating while you’re travelling, anywhere

A huge part of my travels (and everyday life) involves sitting at a table stuffing my face with delicious food.
And I often attract curious gazes from other guests when I stand up in a restaurant to get the perfect angle to photograph my dishes.
Don’t lie, I know you’ve been tempted to do the same!
It’s hard to resist when food is presented so beautifully in front of you!

Are you struggling to capture appetising images of your food in restaurants?
It’s not as easy as some Instagrammers make it look!
Fear not! I’ll give you my top tips on how to shoot in any restaurant and create mouth-watering images that add another dimension to your travel stories.

What are these tips?

1. Go before you (and everyone else) get hungry.
2. Where should you sit? Chase the light!
3. Consider your background.
4. Include the unique style and personality of the restaurants in your composition.
5. Tell the whole story!
6. Play with your food! Create movement with hands and action.
7. Keep your menu, and ask for a second one.
8. White balance and mixed light – the menu saves the day.
9. Deal with low light – another menu trick.
10. Editing
Practise these tips!

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waiter serving amazing pasta in a cheese wheel

Shoot the action as it happens! Include movement to make your images more interesting

Table in a restaurant with plates and nice atmosphere

Capture the essence of the restaurant you’re visiting to tell a unique story

My experience and how it can help you

I am lucky enough to work with The Infatuation, an amazing worldwide restaurant review platform.
They write unbiased and witty reviews and guides of the best food spots in a lot of major cities around the world.
They are awesome, do check them out when you’re planning your next foodie tour!
(This post wasn’t sponsored by them, but they’re one of my favourite clients so I’m just sharing some love.
And also, you’re welcome. I know you’re gonna love them too.)

When I go for assignments, I have to visit restaurants in incognito mode.
Meaning I just turn up to the venue like a regular guest, sit at a table, and order food.
When the food arrives, I pull out my camera and start shooting it.
When I’ve got all my shots, I happily eat all my subjects.
Then I pay my bill and go.

Sounds fun, right? It really is, and every day is also a new challenge!
I don’t know what the light condition will be in the restaurant, if they’ll have a free spot by the window or how much space I’ll have at my table.
I also have to shoot everything quickly, before the food gets cold and starts looking sad!

These are the same challenges all travellers face when they’re out exploring a city and fancy a stop at a restaurant for refuelling.

After years of improvising food shoots on the spot anywhere I am, here are my top tips to overcome these challenges.

Let’s get to them!

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Rustic table set up with flowers

I chose to sit at this table because it was in a corner with great natural light. It also had amazing props, surfaces and background options to play with

Plate of pasta on a marble table in a rustic restaurant set up

On my table, I used the brick wall and chair as a background to include elements of the restaurant design

plate of pasta in a rustic set up with wood

I placed my subject on the furniture behind the table to get a different mood and look

1. Go before you (and everyone else) get hungry

Get to your restaurant soon after they’ve opened.
The place will hopefully still be empty so you have first pick on the best table.

When the restaurant is less busy, the staff can be more helpful so you can find out what dishes look best.
And if you ask nicely they might even do hand modelling for you!!

In the kitchen, the chefs aren’t overwhelmed with orders.
They have time to put extra care into plating the dish, giving you a better subject to work with.

Since your aim is to take beautiful photos, going before you get super hungry means you can concentrate on doing that.
It’s hard to focus when your stomach is growling and delicious food is served in front of you!

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Barista pouring milk to create latte art on a cappuccino

This barista wasn’t busy when I visited. We had time to talk and he started showing me his latte art skills!

waitress showing a beautiful margherita pizza

The restaurant was almost empty so this waitress was happy to pose for me.

2. Where should you sit? Chase the light!

Ok, let’s emphasise this: light is the one thing that will make or break your image.
An image with an amazing dish shot with crappy light will look worse than a modest dish shot with beautiful light. Light is everything!

The first thing you need to do when you enter a restaurant is looking around for a table by the window, or outside.
If you can book ahead, reserve a table by the window.
When you sit at the table, you want the light to be on your side or in front of you (behind your subject).
Having the light come from either of these directions works best to emphasise the texture of your food!

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Lemon tart in romantic candle light

I sat at the wrong table and the only light I had to work with was the candle and the lamps. This light does not do my subject justice

pastry in golden morning light

In this example, a more humble subject is elevated by the beautiful light.

3. Consider your background

Another thing to consider when you choose a table is your background.
Think about how you’re going to frame your subject and have a look at what would be behind it in your composition.

You want to capture the atmosphere of the restaurant but you don’t want something that’s too distracting.
A table in the corner with a wall as a background generally works, especially if the wall in question has a nice texture: brick, concrete, plaster, cushions – these are all great options!
A blurred overview of the restaurant or its surroundings can also work.
Use a wide aperture – anything between f 2.8 to f 5 – to get a softer and less distracting background.

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Ham and egg sandwich stack

I blurred the background to give a sense of place, without being a distraction

Stir fried chicken and vegetables on a balcony overlooking the rice paddies

This restaurant overlooked lush rice paddies. I included the landscape in my background to give a sense of place

4. Include the unique style and personality of the restaurants in your composition

Start by getting rid of all the clutter on your table: dirty napkins, random cutlery, lipstick-stained glasses.
Then put them back in your frame, but with a purpose!

Fold your napkin nicely next to your plate, arrange your cutlery in diagonals, place the nice ornamental flower vase somewhere in your background alongside the cute salt and pepper shakers.
Include chairs, coloured walls and table corners in your composition to get even more elements of the restaurant’s design in your story.
This will help you convey a sense of place and will do justice to the unique style of the restaurant!

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Nicely plated steak with plants in the background

I chose a table with nice plants in the background and used a spare chair to add an element of the restaurants design

Waffles with bacon and eggs and maple syrup

This diner had a very interesting floor and table design that adds personality to the shot

5. Tell the whole story!

While it might be tempting to only shoot crazy close-ups of your food, they’re not enough to tell a deeper story.
Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely get those shots. They’re very effective in making your viewer hungry!

Just make sure to pair them with wider frames that include multiple dishes,  abundant spreads with drinks and the lot.
In the downtime between a course and the next, look around the room and spot some nice interior shots, details of the decor, an interesting menu on a table.
All these elements will come together and complete your food story!

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Table in a pub restaurant with nice atmosphere

To tell the whole story include elements of the location and interior shots

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Food spread at a restaurant

A glorious spread of dishes gives you a general idea of the restaurant menu and the kind of food they serve

Olive tortilla with a slice cut

A close up of the food captures the viewer’s attention and makes them hungry

Bread, butter and liver pate spread

A wider frame like this has a lot of personality

6. Play with your food! Create movement with hands and action.

Having a camera with you is a great opportunity for connecting with people. In this case, your servers!
Are they about to drizzle an outrageous amount of sauce on your dessert? Ask them if you can capture the action!
If they’re too busy or shy to help, no problem!

You can do it yourself with a bit of technique.
Set up the exposure in your camera and have it ready in one hand, grab a fork in the other and go in for that noodle pull!
When capturing action, use a fast shutter speed (increase your ISO if necessary) to make sure you don’t get motion blur. 

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Tagliatelle pasta pull

After setting up my exposure, I held my camera in my left hand and played with a pasta pull

Chocolate sauce pouring over churros

The chef was happy to pour the sauce nicely for me

7. Keep your menu, and ask for a second one.

Usually, when you’re done ordering, servers will take the menu away. Stop them!
And actually, kindly ask them to bring you another one pretty please.
That is a powerful tool in your hands.

Together with white napkins or the drink list, they can help you build a mini studio set up at your table.
Some of the other guests might look at you weirdly, but some images are just worth the curious stares and questions.
The menus can help you in many ways when the light situation is tricky!

8. White balance and mixed light – the menu saves the day.

Often, restaurants have harsh and yellowish spotlights coming straight down your food from the ceiling.
They are so powerful sometimes that you will notice them even if you sit by the window in bright light. Ouch!

These bulbs produce a warm light colour, while the colour of natural light coming from the window is more on the blue side.
When both light sources hit the subject, prepare for a colour clash: they mess up your white balance and cast weird double shadows on your subject!

The magic trick here is to hold your menu above your dish to block the harsh bulb light.
This way, only the nice window light will hit the subject and your colours will be balanced.

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Interior shot of a restaurant

The light on this table is mixed! There’s yellow bulb light coming from above, and nice natural light coming from the window on the right. Cover your food with a menu to block the lamp light and avoid yellow colour casts and double shadows

9. Deal with low light – another menu trick

So, by now you’re holding a menu in the air and trying to shoot with your camera one-handed. Great, you don’t look ridiculous at all!
Jokes aside, I don’t mind looking like a fool if that means I can get the shot I want.
Sometimes even window light is low, maybe it’s almost dinner time.

I have another menu trick for you.
Open it up to a white page and make it stand at the opposite side of your light source.
This way it will act as a reflector, lightening up your shadows and bouncing more light onto your subject!
Rigid fabric napkins and drink lists work for this purpose too sometimes.
And it even worked with my Lonely Planet guide book once. Think out of the box 🙂

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Oysters on a plate of rocks

The light coming from behind was low, and the front of my subject too dark. I placed an open menu there to bounce some light in the front

Burger and beer on a plate

The shadow on the right side of my burger was too dark. I placed a guide book on the right to brighten up the shadows

10. Editing

Amazing, we got some great shots.
If we were lucky, the window was bright and we didn’t have other light sources on our food.
Easy peasy editing in Lightroom: we’ll play with our curves, give our images a bit of contrast, vibrance, sharpness and done.

However, if we encountered some tricky conditions we have to work harder to create a good finished product.
Adjusting your white balance and doing colour correction is the most important thing here.
We want the colours of our food to look as natural as possible.
Look at something white in your frame and make sure that it is WHITE, not grey, not light blue, not yellowish.
That’s how you know that your colours are balanced.
Also, go ahead and use that magic noise reduction panel in Lightroom.
If you were forced to increase your ISO that might come in handy now!

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Shushi platter before colour correction

BEFORE: my camera picked up the blue light coming from the window and this image looks bluish and cold

Sushi platter

AFTER: I warmed up the white balance and did colour correction, reducing the blues. The image is more balanced and the colours look more realistic

Wanna practise these tips?

Follow these simple steps to practise photographing food while you travel, in any restaurant!

  1. Find a nice restaurant and go in early.
    Maybe you’ve read about it on a guide, or it was recommended by a local. Or maybe you just stumbled across an amazing one. Go in!
  2. Ask for a table by the window.
    Remember, we want to stay away from light bulbs, lamps and yellow/orange lights.
  3. Choose on which side of the table to sit.
    Sit with the light on your side or in front of you. Consider your background and choose something that doesn’t distract.
  4. Capture your subject with different angles and frames.
    Play with creating a spread, a wider shot that includes elements of the restaurant, and close-ups to capture the texture of the food. All these elements help you tell the full story of the place you visit.
  5. Shoot the process.
    Hold a slice of pizza, do a noodle pull or cut your doughnut in half to reveal the filling. Action shots awaken your taste buds!
  6. Eat all the things and enjoy!
    Weren’t you here for that in the first place?


Shooting food in a restaurant can be challenging!
There’s a lot to consider and not much time and tools to realise your vision.
Relax, you got this!!

Mainly, remember to enjoy the experience!
Shooting your food is a lot of fun, and eating your subject after capturing beautifully can be even more fun.
Follow these tips and you’ll leave the restaurant not only with a full belly but also with a full soul. 

May the Light be with you xx

Shoot awesome images of your food in any restaurant - 10 easy tips for travellers

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