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Photographing in Restaurants: Hero Shots

Lesson 26 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

Photographing in Restaurants: Hero Shots

Lesson 26 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

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Lesson Info

26. Photographing in Restaurants: Hero Shots


Class Trailer

Day 1


Class Introduction






Hero Shots


Motion in Restaurant




Restaurant Details


Lesson Info

Photographing in Restaurants: Hero Shots

It's great! So we're going to be back to finish this off, too, because there's so much to share with you all. So where we left off on the from the last segment was I'm showing video clips of us photographing this restaurant for that day, and we are now on to showing you how we shot the hero shots so here shops and turning in terms of the full plated where it's on the plate and you have a napkin and utensils and and every thing rather than just the process shots. And so this is a video clip here where we just finished with chef propping plating, cleaning the plate, and now we're finally ready to go take it to the table by the light and to shoot him. So what we did in this situation because it was so easy for us to set up a tether where we actually had a computer, we had a tethered cord connected to todd's computer, so whatever he shot immediately went into the computer. This situation is a rarity away ready on a number of a number of reasons, one because during a busy restaurant scene, ...

particularly if you're shooting during service, where there's customers and guests and waiters and and everything that's going around and fire and knives and all these safety hazards there's no way that we would ever set up a tethered situation and also because sometimes some of those dishes we get a chance to shoot a real quick and it goes out to the guest there's no way that we can actually sit and even nurture a shot for more than two to three minutes. So there's never a situation where we can't set up a dedicated station, but in this situation we we could and when we can, we try to because it allows the chef to be a part of the shoot, and they love that I love being able to get input, the love being able to get feedback, and I love being able to make edits to make some changes. Yeah, I mean, you saw a little bit like when we were shooting just with the chef's going freehand occasion will show him like the back of the camera, too get them to feel is part of the process, it makes them, it helps them feel involved that it's not just removed from them, but they get to see what we're doing is they're they're sharing with us and to give back to them and be able to share what we're doing and how were capturing their work because they have no idea what's going on the back camera, you know what you shooting, but they have no idea so to help them feel involved in connected part of that I think it's a great thing that we can deal, and so we have the opportunity like we did with this particular situation where we can shoot up and you are tether up and show him on the computer, it helps even a little bit more with that process to feel them, just part of it and involved. Yeah, and I love it because we are working together to make it pretty in his best it's possible, and a lot of times they actually don't get this opportunity. They don't get to see the opportunity of what their dishes look like from a photographer's perspective until maybe it's already printed back up a bit. I'm just going to narrate through here because I don't really hear any audio, so we've walk through the process of him making the dish. We brought it over to the window light here, and we've set up a tether and when you're shooting in a bright situation and when we're on tether on location, the ambient light falling onto the screen makes a huge difference and exposure and looking for color correction. So usually what? People will always uses some type of black cover box or a hood to cover so you can isolate the lighting on the screen. To be as dark as possible so to make sure you can focus on color saturation and detail because if I were to pull this like a computer screen right here and all this bright ambiance light or in that situation the bright sunlight that's shining through everything would look washed out it would look bb bright and if we shot based on exposure from that screen with everything being right we would try to darken it but by the time you took that that that screen and actually edited in in in an environment that was great better for editing it would be too dark so making sure that you give yourself an environment within your computer screen when you're tethering particularly for shooting outdoors to be able to make sure the awful color saturation you can see everything on the monitor and you know, like we talked about we like to go guerilla we like to keep it low key and so that's why we'll just use a lot of times just the cover from the five of wine or one of the layers from the five on one to just use that as a little hood to deck underneath its little face is probably gear that we already have so we have the heads what you lookin and add two laptop they can work great sometimes it doesn't get quite as much coverage as we want like if we're in that hard right son and so this is becomes are just are serious go to for all the time and you can see in the video here I'll marry three hours you're watching and I've taken off the five in one I have covered it so so the silver is on the back the black part is what's inside that's covering the screen some I was sticking my head r a needs to make sure I have a dark situation to make sure I see color saturation and to be able to give him a good color correction. So this is where we shot one of the first shots of that um was it the first dish that monica made thisa vj watching tv you see all the beautiful layers on that? So this was shot right next to the window light with no filler bounce so obviously that harder shadow and when we're shooting it, we were going to fill it in to give another example, but but we always shoot without a bounce without any type of phil first to see where we're at because it was like that starting point and then when the chef joe saw that he liked that he liked that mood and he liked the contrast and the interplay between the dark and the light, so we kept it so every scene that you see here with us shooting hero you'll never see us bouncing or feeling because we that was his style. That was the voice of the restaurant because it's it's such a small, intimate space and really moody so was it were able to get that, you know, if you remember back, we're going with the plating of this dish where monkeys showing it the camorra front for the dish. So she had what she thought was gonna be camera fight. And then when we shot it, we're all looking at it. We decide it's going to be a little bit different, so you're gonna have, like, that flexibility that's where it's, great to show them to it's like they see how first, what there envisioning. But until you get from the cameras perspective from the photographer's perspective, it's going to be a little bit different. So then were you able to shift and adjust the dish a little bit? Tio tio, where everyone was like I like it, and the video is playing here where moving back and forth, he noticed something that he didn't like, which was changing the cilantro. So rather than move the plate back over to the prep station, we had monica bring over the cilantro and everything and ingredients and re place the sprig of salon because it was looking tired, so he cc he saw all those things, and and he really want to make you better and this is where they have fun too this is where they really get to relax a little bit and people part of the creative process so here's monica right here replacing the cilantro because again things die, things were looking tired and after this point they noticed too that the ice was melting. So you see, this is one of those things where sometimes because the ice because it's shaved ice and it melts so super fast assuming it's taken out of that vessel put onto the cucumber and the fish, it starts to die so you might have about forty five seconds before it really starts to die so way essentially did this twice she could see on the dish there she's taken off with this launch show she's taken off some of the ice and we're doing it over again. So so this happens often, you know chef will be able to see their dish on camera because how they see it plated often doesn't convey and transcend into the computer, so after chef takes a look at it, they'll probably want to make changes and um that's definitely okay, I mean there's so much to work with and so much flexibility in terms of trying to get it really as great as possible, so here it goes again chance number two you make it better, but I get everyone's just working really quick. So I know we had this is camera front. I think we actually should rotate it just a little bit. See how, with the lights catching here off. Yeah, that's gets a little bit of better structure to our old, just great, but, well, todd shooting, we're not gonna be bouncing right away or adding light because we feel like you just need a photograph. It first to see where you are in a starting point and that's, what we talk a lot about is shooting it to get a starting point. So many people so quickly try to fill and bounce before they really understand what they're going to be getting. And for restaurant scenes like this, particularly with the lighting that's already within this restaurant. It's so moody and so intimate. It's really great light in here. We want to make sure we capture that have that reflected in the food so it doesn't feel like it's this bright area place because it's really not. You know, you guys have a lot of personality in this restaurant. Wait attacked the forks and knives closer. Do you think so? Here we did it again, it looked better because the cilantro now wasn't so droopy. And then there's more shaved ice and it didn't look so melty, so sometimes you might have to do it two times three times you know whatever it takes and whatever chef wants to dio and I think we got this good the first time or the second time and also you notice part of shooting details you've got to not only think about what's within the bowl but everything around it too, so if you remember in the video will tie was focusing on changing the angle I was making rearrangements too so you gotta work quick so your stylist at the same time or whoever who's with you need to make those decisions like are we gonna have wine? And they're particularly in a case like this because you don't have a chance to shoot and seo do we want wine? Sure let's go find the wine let's go pour the wine and like away it's now green waters where the ice core so think about all those things ahead of time timing, timing, timing workflow workflow workflow like how you could soothe actual space itself do you have any proper line or anything that's opening and so you notice how I said that you like the wood he's always talking about the wood, the nature of the wood and it's good to hear those little things they pick up on those little things that either the art director there chef is talking about because I would think that after so many dishes we would want to change the texture count like what we do here let's mix it up but if they like the wood and that's their branding then by all means use it and shoot everything on there if you want we shot a restaurant one time where their branding was all blue tables was a bright blue table we shot everything on a blue table and we thought about mate be mixing it up to the bar where there was a wood bar and they said no that branding you know we want you to shoot it on the blue table so pick up on those things and it's less work for you because we didn't have to search your home the restaurant trying to find a new texture anything like that well we'd like one will make you feel like it's more lived in thank you thank you you shoot this one pulled out the carbs okay so let me get a hold on here we go hold on hold on let me see yeah I'm gonna get an action shot but can you just uh going into before we even started shooting hero it's like we've already established with chef joe that they're going to do to so it's like we knew we had like that time on the first ones we could shoot the first one and then we could start playing with the second one and see what else you want to add into it so we know that that sort of staging was already kind of pre mentioned we added this later because he wanted to show you the pouring wine part and that's part of the action too and movement and plating sometimes even if a dish is a little bit boring you can have a little bit of activity in the back with wine pouring a water pouring just to make it a little warmer more interesting because honestly not all plates are interesting you know because if you have to sell like a side dish of um I don't know just some simple boiled green beans or something like that it's so the bottle right above the glass don't four yet just so I could get placement can you just get a little closer if you can and just like feel like it's really natural there we go chef go for four fastest for natural so getting this it's a plate a dish too but it's more experience in life style two and then again every anytime I get an opportunity to be able to inject a little bit of that environment personality portraiture movement into a plaited scene it's really important so that not every shot is so literal so when we give this to a client it's like yeah here's your plaited scene but also hears a different perspective of it and exposing it to wear make sure we can get the shadow in the back, but still getting a feel for what's on the other side of the window without blowing it out. But these action scenes are always really valuable, too, especially for plated shots, and I took one wide and I can't remember if there's a tight shot okay, stop where you are! I'm gonna get one detail earthquakes so always, especially with pouring wine. If you want to get hero dishes of pouring wine, let me tell you, the person who was pouring is always so cautious they're going to go slow. Those type of shots looks like a trickle out of a wine bottle, so they have to always be very intentional and poor, natural and normal, so when you get into a situation like that, particularly if you can't pour it back into the bottle and you have tio, you can't pour the wine back into the bottle to do it over again. You got to make sure if you get one chance like I did hear, I tell just a poor, fast like normal and then they understand, so don't do it for the camera, just portas if you're pouring so it looks like it's a gush out, and then I had a poor half for the wide and then I stopped him you heard me and then I wanted to get a detail so then so this is where if you were one person shooting it you don't have somebody wide shooting the dp wide and somebody shooting the detail I'd stop him halfway I run in and I shoot the rest you just run a lot and we're really good shoes can you do it one more time quit right quick boom boom quick because once he pours that glass to where it needs to be filled you're done and in this situation I don't want to ask him to pour it back in the bottle and then go back into the glass it just felt too repetitive and after about three shots was done we can drink it I mean that yeah shots when we forget after yeah have somebody larry how come no one drinks it so again you know if you had that one opportunity for action why stop don't move and I will tell him don't move stay where you are that's always my my go to statement stay where you are so that they stay because sometimes you'll say stop and they're like okay, I'm released he's they're releasing their self from that position so always just reminded to stay where you are I'll be there in a second and then I run up so I'm far stay where you are okay let's do it again on always say thank yu always say thank you and this is where he was looking at it and he didn't like the sprig and spring way to go he's like so this was the backlight, so we shot another situation real quick with a backlight and chef was really awesome to be ableto at a little bit more here and there make it better to do that. So this is another different angle on that tiny little bar table. It was so so narrow keep shooting, keep going, chef he's totally zod and seeing all the little details that really make a dish so we good with that? Yeah, that looks great. We'll do one last one and then we'll go to the next one. But this feels great too. If you do, you have the fifty. Can you make sure you grab a little bit of the wine and the thing that's giving us this will be great if you guys did some type of type but you put your logo going across it on on the black part there is another angle. I mean, you can only shoot this so many times on the table, but try to get the most that you can you get your three o'clock sidelight, you get your back like version and then you get a top down, you know so just shoot as much as you can to get a different variation, but this is also a great variation too, and I think he really loved this one again standing on a chair, always having a chair or stool beside you okay, can you put you the craft close to the wine glass just like grab a focus on and go closer closer? Okay, okay for normal, so you know, even with the craft, I don't want him and particularly with hero drink shots for them to have the tip or spout of the the main pouring vessel away from the glass because my focus needs to be on the tip of the wine glass, so I tell I was telling the move closer, closer as close as you can, so I can get a focus on that because if you think you you've got your focus and they start pouring and you have literally maybe seven seconds for them to pour it all and you don't catch that focus right away you've already lost that opportunity, so I was tell always tell them so it's easy for me to get close as you can literally as close as you can to the glass and they rested there and then I grabbed my focus I know where it's coming out of to the tip and then when they pour, so every time there's a pouring shot even if they only poor once I always get at least four shots from it I always get a good shot because I've already set it's set myself up to succeed if I didn't do that and they just came from two feet away and started pouring ire to set myself up too not get a shot and also the distance that they're going to pour from to and then from the vessel that they're pouring into particularly you'll find that like if you're shooting bartender screen cocktails you get the big flare you know big pores and he might not be expected to know that the bartender's gonna pour that far away from it so all you have is your cocktail glass and then the stream coming in from nowhere because you didn't realize that they were going to pour from so highway so you can at that point have them place where they're going to pour from so that way you know where it's going to start so it's like you know just ask is like can you but the you know let's say it's a cocktail put the shaker where you going to pour from so I know like where you're going in then you can also ask him at that point can you move a little closer or maybe you want to capture that why do anything that's really cool but you know that you now need to back out a little bit so you can capture the whole thing just getting yourself ahead time before that poor you're sending out so it's like boom I know exactly what's gonna happen when it's gonna happen so if your food photographer that wants to specialize in drinks and those type of pores timing is much more important it's just crazy relish you make them have to pour it back or just use the whole bottle of wine and sometimes they don't get too happy if they have to keep our fast that's great thank you so you see when I say poor fassi how natural that poor fields it's not a trickle it's not like trickle, trickle trickle it's an actual full stream that has momentum coming from the vessel mein pouring vessel into the glass and that what makes a good wine pouring glass too if your focus on those type of shots because that's what makes it feel natural and powerful you know if you got a substantial too so doesn't look like they're your being cheap in going into something's glass okay do a detail so start with top down top down we're always moving keep going going, going and then see how todd's doing that from top down I worked with the linen a little bit you see me in the bottom right hand corner and they played the section okay do a detail so start with top down top down so I'm playing food stylist here moving, moving, moving, getting it in the same way that the two of us are working together to make the timing is suspicious possible move this over so you can see the value of that linen right there, so mix it up a little bit different, you know? It adds a little bit more texture in there you can't say, can I add a red because they don't use red, you know, most of the time it's always white, so how to make quite interesting to make this hero shot nice is I just used it a little bit of the corner you notice a little fold the movement and the rest of it what you don't see was very wrinkled, so I don't want to put that whole thing in so I knew the the edges were the most starched and the most clean pressed and giving that little fold in the corner that added just a really nice touch without taking away from the dish, then I love the top down to so visual, particularly for this dish. The crispy skin was very important for the chef uh for this dish so it's like we want to make sure we're finding ways that we capture that so a lot of times you're asking the chefs that's like, you know, it's like what you love about the dish what's or sometimes I'll just tell you it's ok at this point hopefully after working with them a bit there's gonna be a little bit of just going back and forth and they're sharing sometimes not always but definitely tryto find out from them one way there whether through natural conversation we're asking them questions that what they love about each individual thing we're just shooting more angles when she do for top time you do an angle because he really wanted highlight that crispy skin and then then we also wanted to show the beautiful filet and the flakes within the fish too so todd dropped down got the angle I feel like this shows a crispy skin justus well because you see how crisp it flat it is from this angle so if you're always shooting top down mix it up we always make it up top downside talk downside that's why I didn't want to drop down too much either because then I lose the crispy skin so I'm still keeping this crispy skin and mind evil I'm dropping down to an angle how can I capture a best and still catch the height of the filet because it was you know this beautiful filet so you having multiple things in mind like when you're finding your angle catching the quarter right? Yeah um stay where you are can we do one warm my hands aaron it real quick you know we want to do the hands you know, mix it up so I'm gonna play model now do this because if we do this a lot go over my shoulder ready way crispies in I think that adds a really nice touch to it too you just feel so much for engaging feels like you're part of a restaurant I feel like this really um he's a little more in tune with just from listening and working with chef joe it's like it's just so authentic and they're you know this feels really, really too allows you to see inside the fish it's okay christy skin I'll make her speak well that's that's hero playing shots didn't anybody have any questions before I move onto the decks video at all? Yes questions so so you're saying this is a rare opportunity so typically you will shoot food for a restaurant when it's coming out of the kitchen on its way to the customer so I'm just to the customers sometimes they're making it special for us, but usually service is still going on so the or like a food event or catering event? Yeah events food's coming in and most of having the restaurants are in operation it's rare for a photographer to be able to get in off hours when the restaurant's closed for them tio you know, get the kitchen going it's like they you know just that behind the scenes there's so much intense schedule just to get a normal day going you know there's so much prep time you know, the hours are long ships so long already and then most time they don't have the resources to be able to allow you in when they're off have someone come in prep it you know make the dishes for you so it's usually wall is part of service so services usually going on and so you have a lot of other factors that you you have to tow manager you had more time to play around with your positioning otherwise you've got to get it on that shot move on everything in life when we showed earlier the puck to cost shoots those air all in and out in and out no no that was special for us it was catching it put it here right before it goes out literally like maybe forty five seconds and then moving on yeah yeah sometimes like those dishes were maybe forty five seconds to maybe a minute they've got to get it out to the guest so you know it's it gets really expensive for a restaurant to dedicate a separate day frida shoot hero detail and then dedicated days you can shoot action so it all happens on that same evening she always could be prepared always got to be prepared and one from the internet yes fantastic. So this is from the food and wine diva kind of a two part question. Do you ever recommend writing a shot list in advance food shoot in a restaurant? And I'd like to know personally how much pre visualization you do before you head on over, right? Previous visualization always happens in pre trial, and there's usually always is a pre po some pre prose or more intensive than others. Sometimes you'll get a shot list most the times you don't most the time they're still developing the menu forever, whatever situation they need to shoot for, for example, there's a special event for client that we didn't they still didn't have the menu fully developed yet, so they finally finished it the day before, and they're still always continually developing it. So yes, all that happens in pre pro we ask a ton of questions, so we for the shot list. If we do get a shot list at a time, it helps us to know if it's half savories steak. Then we kind of know that, eh, there's? Gotta be some challenging, ugly dishes. If it's all desert, it helps present. I always think of delicious. Well, I mean, but or if it's all desert, I would love to know that I would love to know if if I need to have ice chest next by close by, but I did have dry ice to make sure I or a box of dry somewhere where I could put that desert there really quit while we set up, because all those little things help whatever you can ask and communicate with the client ahead of time, this super helpful or else it just getting pictures if you're not able to go to the location getting pictures, whether it's from their own websites, even if it's from yelp or whatever so you can start to see what the environments gonna be like, what sort of windows they have, what sort of lighting they have, um, and that way it just gets you an idea of what you're stepping into. Yeah, and always like again, just like when we do for table top clients like this, we say sent us the storyboard we need a mood still bored, storyboard or some type of photography guide give us pictures that you found that you think represent your brand because sometimes communication not sometimes communication can always be confusing because somebody says, I want my images to be shot clean and natural well, what is clean and natural mean, I mean it's, just so they press at least knowing all the different interpretations that can happen with clean, unnatural. Some people might say, like artistic and stylish. Well, what does that mean? You know what you want. You're food to be artistic and stylish. So send us a mood board, always a storyboard, and they collect these images, and they put it there and then and then they send it to us. And then that helps with us accomplishing what they want us as if you can get it. If you get most of the time they will. Because we tell them it helps. Our job will help us. Make sure we photograph your food better and they say okay, well, if it makes the job better, let us do it so they'll invest some time in creating some type of monica and it's. Always great. Anything home where you can do ahead of time. His super huge weight well depends. Shot was shot, lis, for our solace, it's just that mental capture list that we talked about my shot list from the client it's? Yeah, sometimes a client. I'll give us a shot list of dishes that they want us to shoot other times. It's like it's done on the fly.

Class Materials

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Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

First, thank you to Diane, Todd and the CreativeLIVE team for a wonderful exploration of "shooting" food with artistry. This course offers the beginner and professional photographer many incites into the world of natural food photography. With some business and lifestyle tips the majority of this course showcases an effective natural shoot style that allows anyone to deliver wonderful images. The strongest point I found useful is to “find a voice” for the story, your images or your client. While I understand “finding the voice” when writing copy it is the realisation that any activity can have its own voice. Your voice can be the style of image you like, the shoes you wear, the books you read, etc. it is not limited to how loud you (or anyone else) shouts. Using general principles and building good habits through practise will allow you (and me) to achieve, not just find, success. The “lighting clock” is a useful shorthand helping communication with clients, producers and peers. The strong emphasis on practise, speed and taking advantage of any appropriate situation both improves productivity and reduces the impact on a client. Last but not the only other gem in this course is the bald (not a joke Todd) fact that any photography business was, is and will always be based on the relationship between the photographer and the client. Building a relationship is the best marketing device any photographer, food stylist, entrepreneur or creative mind can develop. Other courses offered by CreativeLIVE also stress the relationship aspect of good businesses as their best marketing asset. I highly recommend this particular course for lovers of (in no preferred order) food, photography and life. Thank you for reading and I hope you find your voice in all things. FJH...


Diane and Todd are amazing! They've held nothing back when giving the rest of us an honest, detailed look into what it means to be a food photographer. I've seen many seminars on the topic from different companies and photographers and this one is my favourite. I love their no fuss approach to food photography. It leaves me feeling like food photography is manageable without having to fuss with cameras and lighting gear that are outside of my budget. I love that Diane often mentions how there's more to food photography than the plated dish. And Todd is just adorable and has the cutest laugh! They're a fantastic team that are engaging and make it easy to learn from them. Highly recommend purchasing this course!

MAlisa NIcolau

I loved this class and how Todd and Diane taught it. It was very personal and inspiring, with lots of insight and tips. This is not a camera technical class, but more an artistic, motivational and visual food photography learning environment. Their examples on how to set up scenes and stories behind the food and people involved are very enlightening. They gave me a lot of great ideas and hope that I, one day, will become as good of a photographer as they both are. Great team!!!!

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