How to Prepare for a Restaurant Photoshoot

You’ve been commissioned to shoot new images for a restaurant, but there are a lot of rotating plates and moving parts. In this article I share my main steps to prepare and conduct a photo shoot in a restaurant.

As with any type of photo shoot, communication is key to getting results that the client will be happy with.


When you’re on the phone with the person commissioning the shoot, ask yourself the following key questions so you can plan accordingly:

  • How many dishes should be photographed?
  • Will the restaurant arrange the food the way it’s supposed to be shot, or will you need to hire a food stylist?
  • Do you need interior photos as well as food photos?
  • Would you like pictures of the chefs, bartenders or owners?
  • What aesthetics do you want to achieve?
  • Do you need to bring props and surfaces? What is available in the restaurant?
  • Do you want pictures in portrait or landscape format?
  • Do they need one photo per dish or do they need a variety of macro and food portraits?
  • What aspect ratio do the images need to have?
  • Should there be room for text in one of the images?

The shot list

In short, get as much information as you can from the commissioner and send them a blank shot list form to fill out. My shot list is usually an empty spreadsheet with headings for:

  • court
  • orientation
  • Styling Advice
  • Garnishes and pairings
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I fill in the top line as an example for you to follow. While it may seem like a lot of work for the client to do, it’s important that they think about their needs and let you know in advance so the shoot can go smoothly, the chefs know what to prepare and serve , and so on They get the images they need at the end of the day.

There is nothing worse than a poorly completed briefing and then after the event a comment like “would have been great to have shot the burger as a portrait”. Your admissions list is your lifeline to refer to as proof that worst case scenario XYZ was not requested.

Prepare yourself

If the restaurant is near you, ask to stop by before the shoot to tour the location and see the lighting and where you plan to set up for the day. If the venue isn’t nearby, check the website for interior photos. If not, ask the manager to send you some phone pics and explain that this will inform your approach to lighting.

Also, check with where you can park so you know if you need to pull up outside and unload first and then drive to the lot. It’s stressful being late because nobody told you where to park and you’re driving around while minutes tick by.

Decide where to set up best. Also check with the manager especially when the restaurant is open. I like to be relatively close to the kitchen but tucked away in a corner so I’m not visible to most customers.

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Something you can take with you is an extension cord. I often have to plug in my laptop to plug in and charge spare flash batteries while I’m working, and when the outlets are a little too far from your actual location, it can be frustrating.


Some restaurants are beautifully set up for natural-light shots, while others aren’t (it helps to inquire ahead of time). For example, if a restaurant has three walls that are all glass from floor to ceiling, your light will be super flat. Keep in mind you may be shooting at the back of the restaurant where it will be darker, out of the way of customers. Look at the picture references the restaurant gave you and clarify what kind of light they’re looking for and box accordingly.

My typical setup for a portable, lightweight solution is to bring a flash (and extra batteries) with some sort of bullet screen or screen softbox and maybe a bounce card or two, but this depends on the task, the restaurant, and what you’re using feel good

Stay in touch

Establish a good line of communication with your contact for the shoot and/or the chefs who will be dining for you to make the day comfortable and carefree. Depending on how many dishes you need to accommodate, let your contact know when you want the dishes to arrive based on how long you think each dish will take to accommodate. You don’t want the stress of having more and more plates arriving at your table that start to wilt, melt or look soggy. If you get that residue, tell the chefs to pause for 20 minutes. Communication prevents someone from getting nervous or stressed.

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Photographing in a restaurant is so much fun and the day flies by, but there are also many moving parts to consider. It is our job to extract as much information as possible from the client to ensure we deliver a result that they will be genuinely happy with and most of this lies in good communication. I’d love to hear if you have any other restaurant photography tips to make the day go smoothly.

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