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Photographing in Restaurants: Lighting

Lesson 23 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

Photographing in Restaurants: Lighting

Lesson 23 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

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Lesson Info

23. Photographing in Restaurants: Lighting


Class Trailer

Day 1


Class Introduction






Hero Shots


Motion in Restaurant




Restaurant Details


Lesson Info

Photographing in Restaurants: Lighting

This is really exciting. Um, so you're still going to see a shoot? But you're gonna see a shoot within a restaurant. I'm unfortunately creativelive could make this happen. We say, Why don't you bring the restaurant here? You know how the chef have the tables and we don't give them enough time. But I know that if we made that request, they would have made it happen. That's how amazing they are. So what we did instead was we met with Chef Joe and Monica of Market, and Joe happens to be here in the audience way. Thanks, Chef Joe, for being hair and and to be a part of this, we really wanted him to be here to see the work because this is something that happens often. Sometime chefs are alienated or not alienated but separated from the process of the photography. They don't often get to see the process or get to see most of the final images until it goes in print. And if it does, they might see one or they might be might see, too. So it's really great to have him here to kind of flip throug...

h and get a of a new idea of what we shot the other day. So what we're gonna do is we have other notes here we have a couple different videos that were broken down into different segments, and these all all our all our showcasing location, work, photography, work, restaurant work at market. And, um, the first segment is dealing, of course, with lighting. That's probably our life blood topic that we always resonate and always bring back in everything that we talk about because it is so much a part of our success to be able to capture the image by finding great light. And we've talked about this a little bit before in Segment one, where when you're in and location in a restaurant, you kinda you don't have a lot of choices when you're shooting natural light, particularly if it's a smaller restaurant. And this is a really small, intimate restaurant. I think it's a 28 cedar, so 28 people is not a big restaurant. So because winter was a little, um, when I let with little limiting. But when we go into a location, the first thing we look for is light, light, light, light. Before we even shoot. We walk in and we identify all the lighting areas and in this case there is just one wall, a doorway and a wall. And but don't make yourself feel like, well, then I have to compensate with strobes and flashes and everything like that, if you can, to try not to be disruptive, tried to use that light to work to your advantage. And we're going talk about lighting in this video and this the quick discussion on what we're looking for. We have a lot of big issue and we have right here, obviously by the door. This is a great space right here. So here we are. You can see how small the restaurant is just right there. This view right here from the left wall to where the chef is sitting right back there is half the restaurant. Okay, the other half is actually the kitchen. It go runs deep, but it does not run wide. So because of that, we had that little that wall of window and we had a doorway. And when we walk in and to any location, like we told you yesterday, a doorway is a great source of light And so we used it to our advantage. And we use that as an opportunity to photograph. And you'll often find us hovered over a doorway, not letting people in or out. And we are a fire hazard because the fire Department came in and said, What are these two photographers doing on the floor blocking the emergency exit? She's a fire hazard. I'll take that over the joke. But yeah, it's it's something that we do all the time, right? Always hovered over doorway. And this is a setting up a scene on the floor. You can see here that we identified The floor is a shooting space. So when you go into a restaurant and after you've been like searching for light, um, always identify textures to and surfaces to shoot still life one. And we're gonna cover that another video. But this is just a quick little peek In terms of lighting on, the floor is amazing. The door gives wonderful light. You see that? We set up this scene very briefly on the floor with that light coming through coming through the door. The door was it was ah, window door with a bunch of pain pain when no door and window door. So I'm gonna scrub back a little bit here. I could do that. Just play. So you see, You see that will spot that doorway spot. That's the entryway. It might fit two people wide, but that was an amazing source of light. Now, I didn't fit two people, if it would. Hungry person, like maybe people. But that is an amazing asset. Okay, so when you're walking into a location light looking to find the light situations that are an asset and for us people will always eliminate those little pockets of light, that little pocket of light is probably a bigger asset to us than a big, big bank of window life. Yes. So you see what you got going on on the floor there? Just think todo off the thing, and that is going away. They go like that. Okay. It'll go in a second thing. Yeah, but I want to show you the photo right here. So again, we use that as an opportunity to photograph. Facing the door is wonderful light. So you see the shadowing on there? So, in terms of lighting like we talked about before, we even, um, move onto any other additional images We're not gonna bounce. You know, this image, there is no balance or fill because we love our shadows. Okay, we love the drama, and this is the type of dramatic lighting that we it would have been harder to achieve on a big bank of window light because we would had to help. I don't know the process. Block off. That's the one. Hold a top, cover our top black folk or board, and create that that mood. But this isn't a great opportunity to be able to to find those pockets, flight and shoot little detail like this. And often times will step back into another corner peak. Open a window a little bit. So don't think that those dark spots are invaluable because personally offend those darker spots in a restaurant. Absolutely valuable to be create debate, creating these mood lights. I mean, of course, it depends on the restaurant. Try to get a feel of the sense of the individual place your your at some restaurants, they like that. Are they fields very bright, very airy, you know, super clean. Um, and something like that. You're not necessary gonna wanna have, like deep dark shadows and moody lighting for the shots that you do for them. But other ones, like a place like this, is very intimate, very cozy. You know, it has a little bit that Zen aesthetic to it. You know, something like that, as they get goes great with it. So, yeah, just continue. That's a small restaurant. It doesn't feel like there's not enough life because there really is a great light this way. And look at that, you know, I mean, that's just that lighting is awesome, you know, And that's one of their walls, one of the few wells that has, um, any type of artwork or design. And it's just great to see that little top window light shine through. And that was another pocket of light so might not be coming from a window. Adore. It might be from above, so don't always look to the sides look above sometimes them. Some restaurants have, like airy open kitchens, have been dining rooms, so that's always another asset. So look down to the side and look up. We're looking everywhere. Yeah, always for life. Great. Right back here. Back with ships are so we. Luckily, they prepped right where the light shines in, and it was just a perfect spot to be able to capture a lot of the prepping that goes on here. And it's just enough mood to you get a little bit of the shadowing on his body. You get the rich tones that come off the base of the cutting board, and it's just such a really wonderful deep light. And, um, we're shooting this. There was no bouncing or feeling because we didn't feel like we needed it. So again, even when you're shooting and you're preparing for light, don't always think that you've gotta have bounces ready or 10 boards to be rated to fill. I think there's and there's no time either. Both of us are shooting same time. There's not gonna be time for one person to bounce. Whether the person shoots is being inefficient, use of our resources of both of a shooting at the same time being able to capture it. So yeah, it's like we're looking for ways that we don't necessarily need it and finding the shots that that it's not necessary. Sometimes you're asking them to move a little bit. Other times you don't have to like this. It was awesome. It was perfect. We just found a place where it it just naturally lied. And it was work great for the shoot. Yeah, and a lot of that is accomplished in the pre pro. Like before we go into this project. There's always the discussion with the chef introducing ourselves and again, like Todd said, always making sure we're respectful of the space. Because if it is a busy restaurant and in this situation there was no service going on, it was two chefs. But if it was a situation like we've gone in too many times where there's actual diners and people eating and spending the evening in a restaurant, they don't want to be bombarded by a bunch of gear from a food photographer or bunch of lighting. So we are always really respectful because we know we're going into a restaurant and it's a special evening. We don't want a bunch of crazy stuff, you know, interrupting our meal. It's always be respectful of not only the restaurant, the chef, but also the diners there with your light. If you're shooting on location. And if you need to bring out any type of artificial waiting and gear just in here to just always be respectable everybody around you because lighting is always keep. But you do want to be flashing everyone who's having dinner. It's like, you know, like with this these scenarios, it's more important by capturing the moment that is, to getting the perfect light. If you confined, it's like you look to find the great light, and finding the moments within the light is awesome. But if you have to choose one or the other and go for the moment at this point, we want we have actually good spots back here, too. We have that little bit of, uh, almost like a spotlight coming through this guy. So is he using a lot of that moody light? This is like a little bit of a still life here, which we'll talk about later, but this is a top light. You get a lot of the harshness, but we find this, you know, very interesting, and we love these type of shots. It's hard to describe, you know, like technically, what could be good about it just because most people feel Look at anything. Well, there's a lot of blow it on the right. There's some shadowing on the left, but it's just a very like, mesmerizing, thoughtful shot in terms of showing a little bit of the intimacy of the restaurant before busy service and the shadowing Zehr there, the hot spots on the right. But to me, this works. So don't feel like when you're you know you're capturing an image, and the lighting doesn't always feel right that it's a bad shot. There's something that communicates in an image beyond technical greatness. Okay, there's that emotional fuel, so technically, the nights like the light is not perfect. But there's something else there within the frame. Keep the shot. And for us we love the shot. And we know a restaurant would be able to use this image because that dark shadow down there would be a perfect place for them to show branding, to show some type of logo or to show some type of promotional title or event or anything like that. And that's such a big part of the restaurant right there. It's there, tabletops. Before it captures kind of things that I saw which put together that made me want to capture It is you see the clean lines of the restaurant. It's vory just clean. You have these big, beautiful oak that's used everywhere through the restaurant. So they capturing this top down, I get to capture that grain of the oak. And then the way the light came across that, then it dropped that hard shadow on the chairs underneath. So then you get that separation from the table to the chairs and you get to feel the geometric clean, this of those lines and then same thing, the plates and the glass where I just has just shifted them around just a little bit. I didn't just leave them where they were initially just moving them around a little bit. Just place the linens and the forks just on the plates and angles that it just kind of felt like it worked for the frames again, top down. I'm feeling more like the geometrics of it, and it just felt great with this light kind of casting that spotlight, falling across the table, giving a little bit that depth and dimension to it was just a kind of fun shot I thought at the time, I I'm really excited about this store way. I think there's a lot of great food like they're going to get a lot of good to go. You're talking about that door. I love those. Yeah, but it is. So you know, essentially again. When you go into a place, look for it. Sometimes again, it's it might be from, um, opening a fridge. I don't know if you want that dramatic light. I mean anything. If there's light in a fridge, if it's dark in the kitchen and you needed to get a quick shot of something, you can quickly have someone hold it. Grab that light from another being source. Maybe like it's over the bar and they have, you know, dependent lightings underneath. Dependent is going to be sometimes better, maybe not directly, even underneath, but maybe on the fringes of where that light's hitting might be a cool spot to shoot, depending on what sort of shot you want, how the light is, of course, so just looking for how the light is in the restaurant, why there be natural light or the ambient light from the restaurant, how they are staging and lighting a restaurant. It's like they're more or less putting on a show. They have a lot of thought, tends to go into the design of it, how the diner feels. And so you're basically using what they've already created for you, too. Get your cool shots to get the shots that represent them.

Class Materials

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Gear Guide
Places to shop for Food Styling Props

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!!!!

Student Work