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Planning for an Off-Site Food Photography Shoot

When you’re planning for an off-site food photography shoot, it’s time to think like a scout. Take that “be prepared” motto to heart, and you’ll avoid many potential problems. Your two main preparation tactics are to communicate with the client and to consider the space for the shoot.

The first order of business is communication. You need to discuss the details with your client to clearly understand the expectations for the shoot itself. Take a little time to get to know your client and really foster communication so you can avoid miscommunication on the day of the shoot.

A great way to dodge surprises on the day of the shoot, and to better prepare an appetizing photo, is to check out the restaurant, commercial kitchen, or other space beforehand. An advance visit gives you an idea of what you’ll be working with as far as space, light, colors, and ambience. And you may also be able to do a helpful meet-and-greet with the staff at that time.

Knowing what to expect from the location of a shoot allows you to capture the perfect lighting and
Credit: Focal length: 38mm, Shutter speed: 1/80 sec., Aperture: f/4.8, ISO value: 200
Knowing what to expect from the location of a shoot allows you to capture the perfect lighting and ambience.

Communicating with your client

Before you plan a shoot, discuss with your client the details of what he’s looking for in the imagery. Communicate with him about the overall look and feel of the shots. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Should the shots have some negative, or empty, space to accommodate text?

  • And what about the aesthetic for the food — is he looking for a very light, whitewashed look or a dark, richly saturated look for the food?

  • Should all parts of the food be crisply in focus, or is selective focus the better choice for the food subject(s)?

  • Will the images be blown up to billboard size, or are they intended for a small magazine ad? Knowing the size the images will ultimately be displayed in helps with planning how you shoot the subject as well as your postproduction needs, including dpi and file size.

  • What kind of dishes will be prepared? Are the chefs creating a rustic dish, like the baked pasta shown in the following figure? Or something a little more refined, like oysters on the half shell? This information allows you to figure out what backgrounds and props you'll need.

  • Will the restaurant or commercial kitchen be open or closed at the time of the shoot? If it’s closed, you can more easily take photos and possibly include a portion of the venue (and its ambience) within a shot.

    Having the right backgrounds and props for the dishes in the shoot makes all the difference. [Credi
    Credit: Focal length: 38mm, Shutter speed: 1/30 sec., Aperture: f/4.8, ISO value: 500
    Having the right backgrounds and props for the dishes in the shoot makes all the difference.

Be very clear on the time and location of the shoot. If it’s your first time working with this client, arrive a few minutes early and map out the directions beforehand.

Considering the space

If possible, try to visit the space you'll be shooting in before the day of the shoot so you can get a feel for what you’ll be dealing with ahead of time. Taking a look at the space itself and getting a sense of the ambience within is a great way to prepare for the shoot and figure out what tools and equipment you may need. Keep in mind the following when you visit the space for the shoot:

  • Consider the lighting in the space. Is there an opportunity to shoot in natural light, or should you plan to bring lights in?

    If possible, do the previsit about the same time of day you’ll be shooting. Doing so gives you a more accurate idea of the light within the space at a specific time of day.

  • Consider the size of the space. Is it wide open? Or is it in a small, closed dining room? As you can see in the following figure, the size of the space affects the amount of lights and equipment you can bring to a shoot.

  • Check the electrical outlet situation. Older restaurants or spaces may be completely lacking in power outlets. Pay close attention to the power availability, so you know just how many extension cords to bring to the shoot.

  • Look at the colors of the space. Is it all white tablecloths, wine country rustic, or colorful kitsch? Does the client want a specific portion of the background in the shots?

  • What about the look of the tables? Are they large wooden tables or small round ones?

Considering all these different aspects of a space helps you successfully prepare for an upcoming shoot.

Checking out a space before the shoot gives you an idea of the lighting, size, and colors of the sp
Credit: Focal length: 55mm, Shutter speed: 1/13 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO value: 200
Checking out a space before the shoot gives you an idea of the lighting, size, and colors of the space.
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