For my husband and I’s 5th anniversary we celebrated at the newly opened Stack and Still restaurant in Edinburgh. Stack and Still is essentially pancake heaven, boasting nearly 12 million combinations of pancakes using the options on their menu! We had visited Stack and Still at their Glasgow branch several times, so we were excited to try out their new Edinburgh location and I was excited to practice some restaurant photography.
Admittedly I was only a recent convert to pancakes after meeting my husband (our wedding reception was at a pancake place!), and we love going to try different pancakes wherever we go both locally and when we travel.
As a newbie to restaurant photography, I’ve set myself a challenge to shoot whenever and wherever we eat out to practice problem-solving in different and fast paced settings. In this post I talk about how I shot inside Stack and Still.
- Fujifilm XT-4
- Fujinon XF 35mm F2
Lighting and space
Located at the former Jamie Oliver’s Italian, the restaurant maintained the classical grandeur of the building interior with its high ceilings and Georgian architectural features. Stacks & Still added their brand’s signature chalk drawings to several wall panels that added just the right amount of urban to the space.
After initially admiring the beautiful space, I noticed the lack of windows… and therefore, natural light. Hmm…
I thought the overhead indoor lights didn’t look too dark, so perhaps I’d be ok. So I did a quick test with my camera to check what settings would be best.
Damn, it was dark.
I’ll do the best I can, I thought. No matter what happens it’ll be a learning experience, right?
To compensate for the lack of light, I needed to increase my ISO (which terrifies me) and/or decrease my aperture. I’ve noticed that when I am shooting indoors but out-with my own studio, I tend to keep the aperture wide because of this very reason. Because I’m limited as to how low I can set the shutter speed to to prevent blurry photos and so the aperture is the first to be compromised.
Tip: Ask if you can do some test shots in the space before the day of a shoot. This helps you get a feel for what equipment you need to bring (i.e. lenses, bounce boards etc.)
Capturing the restaurant interior
A big part of restaurant photography is capturing the wider context of the venue because it enhances the visual story around the food itself.
Photographing the interior of the restaurant was a little easier in terms of light because it was more evenly distributed. Having said that, I still needed to keep my ISO quite high and my aperture low. Too low for my liking, for a wide scene like this.
I had my 35mm lens with me (on the Fujifilm XT-4 cropped sensor body) which meant I needed to go as far back as I could to capture a decent amount of the space in a single frame.
In this image, I needed to compromise between seeing the entire doorway without the Stack & Still sign or the sign but with the doorway cut. Instead, the main focal point was the central bar and the beautiful chandelier hanging directly above it.
A challenge with this shot was trying to keep out of the way of the staff serving the customers!
Tip: When doing a commissioned shoot, to think about peak times and schedule the shoot time accordingly.
Shooting kitchen shots
This was probably my favourite area to shoot, because it was full of energy, action and constantly changing. Have to admit that I also liked seeing all the different orders come out!
When the orders were placed on the bar I had a window of time before the server would come and pick it up. Within this window, I needed to quickly decide what camera settings and angle to use depending on:
- The type of dish – was it tall? Short? Dark or bright?
- What was behind the dish – most of the kitchen staff were wearing black, which meant I needed to compensate for the lack of light that was being absorbed
- Whether there was a spotlight above the dish
My favourite shots were the ones where you get an idea of what’s going on behind the dish, in addition to the dish itself. Whether the chef was plating, or another was flipping pancakes – it all helped to give context and atmosphere to the shot.
Tip: Kitchen shots are great at adding context and capturing the atmosphere of the restaurant. If your photoshoot is scheduled outwith opening hours, ask if you can arrive a bit earlier to do some shots of the chef preparing the meals you’re going to shoot.
Shooting the main dishes
Time for the hero shots!
Capturing the main dishes is the closest to my existing work so I thought, how hard can it be? I soon learnt that it’s definitely not like the studio shots I’m used to taking.
Like I mentioned before, the lighting was challenging being in an enclosed, windowless space. But it was even more challenging because being quite close to the food meant there was even less available light.
I tackled this by widening the aperture as much as possible (this worked well with capturing single subjects) and lowering the shutter speed to get a decent exposure. How did I lower the shutter speed without compromising image sharpness?
- Steadied the camera on the table
- Used my husband’s shoulder as a tripod. True!
Another way I tried to lighten the scene was to remove dark objects that were casting more shadows onto my subject. The cutlery pot and the Stack and Still standing menu were both black, so removing these helped a little bit. In future I may even consider wearing a light colour!
My favourite shots from the main dishes was the ones that had a human element in them. It makes sense when in a restaurant to have people!
Tip: Bring a tripod! Or at least be prepared to be creative with solving technical issues on the fly with the equipment you have. Whether it’s leaning on your partner/friend’s shoulder (see what I did there?) or propping your camera on the table to stabilise it.
Tip: Be mindful of how surrounding objects can influence how the light hits your subject. This could also be the clothes you’re wearing, whether there are mirrors or other reflective surfaces
Tip: Incorporating a human element, whether it’s the staff walking around or a diner eating, makes everything come to life. Try to ask the staff if they wouldn’t mind posing for you, or if you could bring a friend to be your model for the day (free food is always a good incentive!)
My restaurant photography tips for beginners
It was such a fun experience shooting at Stack and Still, even more so because of the delicious food! So in summary here are my tips for starting out in restaurant photography:
- Ask if you can do some test shots in the space before the day of a shoot.
This helps you get a feel for what equipment you need to bring (i.e. lenses, bounce boards etc.).
- Consider the restaurant’s peak times
This allows you schedule the shoot time accordingly to get the most out of your shoot but also not disrupt the restaurant staff.
- Take some kitchen shots!
They’re great at adding context and capturing the atmosphere of the restaurant. If your photoshoot is scheduled out-with opening hours, ask if you can arrive a bit earlier to do some shots of the chef preparing the meals you’re going to shoot.
- Bring a tripod!
Often in restaurant environments there might not be enough light. So being able to lower your shutter speed and stabilise your camera on a tripod is useful.
- Consider surrounding objects
These can influence how the light hits (or doesn’t hit) your subject. This could also be the clothes you’re wearing, whether there are mirrors or other reflective surfaces
- Incorporate a human element
Whether it’s the staff walking around or a diner eating, human elements bring the photo to life. And it’s a restaurant after all, you’d expect to see people! Try to ask the staff if they wouldn’t mind posing for you, or if you could bring a friend to be your model for the day (free food is always a good incentive!)
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