The etiquette of the food photograph
By now, you've probably seen the New York Times report about restaurants that have put a ban on photographing their food. To many of us, it seems a bit crazy. But, if you've ever sat next to someone who insisted on flashing away at their foie gras before eating, you understand at least a little. So, we've put together a few tips for wannabe food photographers to help keep them from getting the boot.
1. Don't use your flash
This is what iPhone flash does to beef. The horror. The horror.
This is by far the most important thing to remember. Yes, it's dark inside of many restaurants, which is the exact reason you should leave that flash powered off. Firing a strobe of any kind is going to be immediately conspicuous and annoying to some other diners. If you're using a smartphone, the offense is even greater. Not only are you bothering everyone with a bright light in a dark space, but the inherent awfulness of smartphone flashes is likely making your gourmet food look about as appetizing as week-old prison gruel.
If you're shooting with a camera, use the widest possible aperture and don't be afraid to jack up the ISO a bit. If you're shooting with a smartphone, like the iPhone, try and turn on the built-in HDR mode. It will likely work well since the food isn't moving.
2. Turn down the brightness of your screen
The flash isn't the only thing on your camera or smartphone that's throwing light all over the place. Those giant 3+ inch screens are like big, rectangular flashlights. If you need to use it to compose your shot, turn the brightness down and don't leave the screen on to admire your handiwork.
3. Don't fire away
To photographers, the sound of a camera shutter is a beautiful thing. It's like a well-hit iron shot for a golfer. But, to someone trying to eat a $90 steak, it can be an annoyance. If you're shooting with a DSLR, take one or two shots, then pack it in. If your DSLR has a silent mode, like the Canon 6D, you should definitely engage it.
If you're shooting with your phone, turning the shutter sound off should be a no-brainer even if you're not in a restaurant. If you can't turn it of (some phones don't allow it) just keep the volume as low as possible.
After all, it's a plate of food. It shouldn't take more you more than one or two shots to nail it since it's not going anywhere and the light likely isn't changing at all.
It was an incredible meal, but it's a bad photo.
Yes, part of the reason restaurants are banning food photography is because of the distraction element. But, there's likely another reason: They want their food to look good. Taking an ugly cell phone shot of a complex plate in a dark restaurant is less than ideal. So, when you share that photo with the world, their food ends up looking bad. You could attach a caption like, "Best steak ever!" but if the picture makes your beef look like dog food, it's still not going to be good for business. It also makes you look like a bad photographer.
Editing before sharing is a problem that reigns in the world of mobile photography. Every photo goes online, even when it's bad. It's certainly understandable to want to remember an amazing meal, but you don't necessarily have to share each one with all your friends. After all, how many bad jokes have you heard about Instagram being cluttered with food photos? Probably plenty and there's a good reason for that.