Full disclosure: I am a food photographer. This makes me very biased about why restaurants need professional photography.
Given my background, you might think this is a very easy article to write. But it has actually been pretty difficult for two main reasons. The first one is, as I stated, I am biased. So, writing an objective article about this subject is inherently difficult. The second reason is that I think having quality photography is a no-brainer. But it’s not a no-brainer. So, I am writing this article, in part, to force myself to qualify the reasons restaurants need professional photography.
Do I Need Photographs At All?
You literally have seconds to make an impression on a website visitor. We are an impatient society, no one will want to read all about the history your restaurant when they first visit your site. Any designer will tell you, most design begins with the images. This is especially true for restaurant web design.
Take a look at the two homepages below:
Which one tells you more about the restaurant from the get-go? Which Taqueria website makes you want tacos?
Sight is actually the most important sense when deciding what is appetizing and what we want to eat. Something that smells good or even tastes good can be passed up if it is not visually appealing. That’s where professional photography comes in.
Studies show that appetizing images of food can create cravings even if the viewer is not hungry at the time. Showing a beautiful image of your signature dish goes right to the brain without the need of processing it if someone merely reads a description of the dish.
Don’t Take Our Word For It
When we first start with a client, we try to get an idea of what inspires them and what aesthetic they like. We ask them to look around on the web and send us links to several of their favorite websites to serve as inspiration with a short explanation of what they like about them.
Every single example is a website with great photography, without fail. Even if the client doesn’t consciously identify the images as something they like about the site, the quality photos are still there.
In essence, the website is just a frame. You can have the nicest frame ever but, if the art in the frame is unappealing, no one will give it a second look.
Does It Have to Be a ‘Professional’ Photographer?
I’m always baffled when I get this question. I usually answer with this question: “Would you hire a home cook to run your kitchen?”
Just to be clear, the goal is quality photography. That doesn’t mean you have to hire a full-time professional photographer. You will be more sure of the results if you do, but there are areas in between.
To use the home cook analogy again, if you hired a really good home cook and gave them the best case scenario with plenty of time, they could probably cook you a very nice meal. But, put them on the line during the dinner rush when everything is chaotic in the kitchen, chances are they won’t be able to deliver.
Photographers are the same way. You may find a hobbyist who has a great Instagram feed but those might just be the photographs that were taken under perfect conditions. A professional photographer knows how to make imperfect conditions look perfect.
It is far more cost-effective to hire a professional photographer to do it right the first time then hire one to retake bad photos you’ve already paid for.
What is quality photography?
This is a little harder to really narrow down and define since quality is subjective. From a purely technical aspect, we can start with the following to help decided if it is quality photography:
- The subject is bright and clear (proper exposure)
- The important things are in sharp focus and less important things are falling out of focus (shallow depth-of-field)
- Colors are vibrant and realistic–lettuce looks green, milk looks white (proper color balance)
- Food is arranged to look fresh and appetizing (food styling)
There are very few things that are less appetizing than dark and muddy-looking food. Not only will a professional photographer make sure the food (or your restaurant) is properly lit, they also have the experience to know which direction the light should come from for the most pleasing effect.
With today’s technology, it’s very hard to take a photo that’s not in focus. But, a hallmark of quality photography, especially food photography, is the ability to select the items in focus and then allow the background to blur in an appealing manner to give the scene depth.
With so much bad food photography on Instagram, people are getting used to the yellow cast of interior lighting. If the image of your burger is not properly color-corrected, it cannot be considered quality photography. The yellow cast makes fresh food look dingy and unappetizing.
It matters how you arrange food on the plate. Arranging things on the plate and even on the table is an art. It is especially important in food photography because the camera ‘sees’ things differently than our eyes do. When we are served a plate, we have the ability to move the plate around and look from different angles. A photograph is captured from one specific angle so everything needs to be arranged to appear at its best from that one angle.
Can I afford professional photography?
I’ll be honest, quality photography is not cheap. It sometimes takes a whole team (photographer, assistants, food stylist, prop stylist, etc.). I can’t even give a valid price range because it varies so much based on the circumstances. But, it doesn’t have to break the bank or be unattainable, either.
We believe so much in quality photography that we offer it in a package deal with our websites to greatly reduce the costs. We can do this because we do not have to hire an outside photographer at an added cost.
There are a lot of places you can cut corners in marketing your restaurant, but professional photography is not one of them. Those images are the foundation of your marketing. It’s an investment, but one that will be useful throughout your marketing efforts from your website and social media to any advertising you may do. Nothing will elevate your brand image like quality photography.