Help Me Photograph a Friends Cafe [dPS Community Workshop]

Help Me Photograph a Friends Cafe [dPS Community Workshop]

Image by Sary García

Today I’d like to invite you to participate in a dPS reader workshop. We’ve done a few of these in the past and they’ve always been fun. In short we take a reader submitted question and throw it open for some discussion in the comments below.

Todays question is from one of our regular readers – Gary and he’d love your advice on photographing a friends cafe (coffee house). Here is his question:

Dear Darren – I’ve been asked to photograph my friends cafe (a quaint little coffee house) which is opening later in the week. They want some good shots of the cafe and some dishes that they can use in promotional materials, their Facebook page and for press releases. I’m experienced at taking portraits – but interiors and food photography are a little out of my comfort zone. I wonder if you or your readers might have any suggested starting tips for me?

OK – what advice would you give Gary? Your tips on both photographing the cafe itself as well and/or some food photography tips would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to suggest the type of shots that might work, lighting tips, composition tips, mistakes the avoid etc.

Over to you!

Read more from our category

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Paul March 3, 2012 03:21 am

    Some good advice here, where can we see the finished results?

  • ccting November 15, 2011 03:46 pm

    I just bought this ebook
    "A guide to creating your own appetizing art food styling for photographers" by Linda Bellingham and Jean Ann Bybee

  • ccting November 14, 2011 01:43 pm

    If can, setup lighting etc that user friendly to cameras.. people will take photo and it helps promote the cafe ;D

  • ccting November 14, 2011 01:41 pm

    I wish to see
    a) Holistic view of the restaurant
    b) Environment
    c) Cleanliness of the restaurant / kitchen
    d) food - how delicious they are
    e) Pricing!
    f) service related..
    g) parking


  • Shailesh November 13, 2011 02:41 pm

    Thats an awesome lot of tips, so not sure if this has been mentioned already. Just thought a few photographs of the cafe with respect to the surroundings would be useful...

  • Kathy November 12, 2011 02:12 pm

    Although I'm no expert on food photography, here are some tips I've learned:
    1. Use natural light, and reflectors.
    2. Use a white plate. A white plate makes the food hold center stage.
    3. Never use flash when photographing food.
    4. Create "moods" with props, lighting, tablecloths, etc. (red/orange maple leaves, cinnamon thrown here and there, a pumpkin latte, etc. for an 'autumn' mood, along those lines) or with colors. White for clean work, or brown for warm tones, etc.
    5. Try photographing at different angles. Overhead, close into the food, or just an overview of it.
    6. Use a tripod if you have one, or invest in one.
    That's all about I know >.<

  • Cheryl November 12, 2011 08:11 am

    Pick authentic /honest shots of the interesting and captivating views of the cafe and food that will perk attention and cause the viewer to want to go there, but also that the viewer will actually see when they approach, enter and experience. There is nothing that I hate more than deceptive photos that present a false illusion of the place. Be honest and capture the true personality of the cafe and the owners. Tell their story. So angle, flash, natural light, filters etc are the tools that can be used to fit the particular place and story to keep it authentic – and in the best light.

  • Kerry November 11, 2011 12:37 pm

    Photographing the cafe's exterior and interior....
    1. Use a tripod and level the camera. You need to make sure that your verticals are vertical. You don't want the place look like it is leaning forwards or backwards. Correcting verticals in post is possible some software such as Photoshop.
    2. Exterior photos can benefit being taken from an elevated position. Get a 6' or 8' stepladder and take the shot from that elevation. You can even mount the camera on a tripod and hold the tripod above your head to get the shot. Just use the 10 second timer to release the shutter.
    3. Do not go too wide with the interior photos. Try to stay at or above 20mm (full frame sensor). Going much wider creates unrealistic perspectives and potential for barrel distortion. My camera has an APS-C size sensor with a crop factor of 1.6. Thus, I try not to go wider than 13mm (13mm X 1.6 =20.8mm).
    4. If you us flash, get it off the camera.
    5. If you don't have a flash(s), do a series of bracketed shots and merge them using exposure fusion, not HDR. Exposure fusion results are more natural looking.
    6. Use your circular polorizer to help tame reflections on tables and floors.

    Hope this helps. Good Luck!

  • Scottc November 11, 2011 10:35 am

    Plenty of advice posted already. Here's a few photos of Cafes and food (with a few Bars included) that may give you an idea or two.

  • Nicki November 11, 2011 07:39 am

    Even though food may not look reflective, you'd be surprised what the light will do. My best suggestion is to experiment with the natural light direction, and add bounced fill light where needed, and if need be, reposition the object.

  • Lorri A November 11, 2011 07:32 am

    @ Simon November 10th, 2011 at 8:05 am
    OMG, I'm never going to look at a photo of hot steamy food in the same light again. I would never have though of something that simple to recreate the hot and steamy effect, perfect.

  • Spencer November 11, 2011 06:45 am

    Once a month I have to do a dining review for our local magazine. The magazine requires that I photograph the inside of the restaurant as well as the food.

    As far as the food goes, there seems to be two popular ways to do this. First, is natural light. This is great if you can plan how the light will be at the window where you will be photographing. Also, there is the varying weather. With that being said, I find myself having to create my own light. The atmosphere in most of the restaurants that I photograph have limited windows or the shoot is at night. This is why I use off camera flash. You mentioned that you are familiar with taking portraits, consider the food a face. I use either softboxes or shoot through umbrellas. These are fast to set up and don't get in peoples way. I like to prop the back of the dish up if I can (this doesn't work well with soups or sauces) as this will help show what is inside the dish. Lastly, move the camera down to where a person would be sitting, looking at the dish.

    I have a lighting diagram on my blog where I show how to do this. Here is the link:

    For the interiors, there are two ways as well. There is the strobe method where you light the inside of the space to match the outside so the windows aren't blown out or the windows look good and the space is dark. If you have some high watt second strobes, you could probably bounce them off the ceiling and use some smaller flashes for accent lights. Here's what I have ran into with this, restaurants don't like all of that gear spread all over. What I have been doing is shooting HDR. I'm not talking about the cartoon like images that you see coming out of Photomatix. There are plenty of great programs other than Photomatix that will give you "realistic" results. I recently just used this technique last week on a restaurant that was only lit with LED lights in the ceiling and light posts. The restaurant was recently remodeled to look like a NYC street. Here is the link where I show the photos:

    I hope this information helps you. I had to struggle through all of this myself as I didn't have a great resource such as this at the time. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thanks....


  • randiemac November 11, 2011 06:34 am

    I recently photographed a restaurant in NYC and had a great time and great results! I would recommend making sure you have more than enough time to get your shots. If you think two hours will do plan for four. I took a tripod on my shoot just because I wanted to be able to shoot as low an ISO as possible without camera shake. If you are going to be shooting food you probably want to use one. However, I did find my favorite shots from my shoot were those I took free hand. The best advise I can give you is while you need to shoot everything on your shot list be sure to take a walk and take some detail shots or things that weren't on your list. This approach won me the homepage of this particular restaurant! Good luck and have fun be loose and engage the staff they can usually help you in ways you may not have imagined.

  • Arturo Godoy November 11, 2011 05:50 am


    In terms of food photography, there are several tendencies or schools (so to "speak"). A friend suggested to me that plates and food should be photographed as they are served, to keep it real and avoid customers to have the wrong expectations.

    I'd go for a sort of photojournalistic/photodocumentary tendency combined with your creativity, instead of the settting up things to get the "right" photographs. Consider that you are trying to portray sets of images of a regular day that simply invite people to be curious about what's happening in the cafe, making the photographs warm, cozy, and so on.

    In the end, it's how you give it your own personal touch to the photographs ;)


  • Maximo Almonte November 11, 2011 12:17 am

    Hey Gary I know you will do just great with your shots. Some tips that I would give you would be:
    1. Begin with the outside, A representable shot of what the place looks from the outside, you can incorporate people walking by and blurring them with slow shutter speed. A shot of the canopy or any signs that reflect on the name or logo.
    2. If there are plenty of windows in the cafe, try to use that light as primary and fill with a secondary flash. I would incorporate people just sitting down, looking natural, others posing. Your trade is portraits so do what best suits your taste.
    3. DOF on food, drinks, decorations. always go up close for food shots nice DOF, avoiding shadows and harsh light from surfaces.
    4. Shot strong images of the owners, the workers.
    5. A well assemble shot from the inside, go creative here by setting up lights to fill the darker spots. Good luck.

  • gregor November 10, 2011 11:18 pm

    Don't forget to get a shot of what the cafe is known for/good at.
    I took this for a cafe a few months back. Natural light, mixed with flash bounced off a reflector

    It was for a local magazine, but they ended up using it on their menu.

  • Flexigav November 10, 2011 08:17 pm

    If you have to use flash lights, put tracing paper from any office supplier in front of the flashes to create a makeshift lightbox diffuser. You might want to check the colour balance against any bright daylight coming into the scene. You will have to decide which light source is your primary one...usually the dominant one and set your white balance to it. Having a laptop with you to check test results always helps.

  • Hiten November 10, 2011 07:48 pm

    man just chill your self check this wbsite and take idea from net thats it go for photography with confidance best of luck

  • Jim McGregor November 10, 2011 07:46 pm

    What a coincidence, I just shot a place today for the first time. I got there early to photograph everything I thought may be useful for the web page. Then I went for a stroll and waited for the lunchtime rush. Got some great shots of the place in full flight.
    I think food should have a shallow depth of field to draw the eye on the subject. I used natural light to capture some of the atmosphere. and a flash was used for wide open shots to get rid of nasty shadows. Macro is also great when Photographing food. Then just use your portrait skills to get a shot of the staff.

  • SM November 10, 2011 05:09 pm

    @ Brayan

    "1. Models. Models are not friends of the owner that don’t show up, or even friends that do show up and then later tell the owner that they don’t like the photo and insist that he not use it.. Or even employees, who will get fired a day later, making the photos useless. You need disinterested, third-party models willing to show up on time, do what they’re told and sit around when they’re not needed without complaining."

    This is an awesome advise mate. I usually get bugged by known models oh I hate this image, don't like it, please don't post it..

    You are THE MAN for today..


  • ccting November 10, 2011 03:10 pm


  • yooza November 10, 2011 11:24 am

    i'm not a professional but I love taking pictures of cafes and food, and here are some of the things I love to do:

    1. for the interior of the cafe, food and basically all, use natural available light. It gives more life
    2. Food : make sure that the table is not too crowded, use simple plates that will not overpower the food, try different angles (from the top - it can be rather flat looking but if the decoration on top of the food is gorgeous then why not?, from the side - for more dimension of course ;) . While photographing food super close can be intriguing, I rather take pictures that will show the whole food (or something that shows most part of the food, not a macro shot) , so people will know what the food is
    3. I love photographing people too. Candid pictures will look awesome, but make sure you have their permission first. Use long exposures to get the "busy feeling" of the entire cafe atmosphere, or focus on some of the cafe workers

    have fun ! :D

  • Neel | Learn Food Photography November 10, 2011 10:17 am

    Photographing restaurant and cafes is an interesting aspect of photography. Scott Suchman, who is a restaurant photographer for Washington Post, Washingtonian gave some great suggestions on how to shoot in a restaurants and cafe.

    This is one situation where you cannot take a lot of gear, specially if you are planning to shoot when its open for public. Also, often this means that you have work in low light and tripod may not be a good idea as space may be constrained. Scott gave some great story in the interview I did with him on this... it's available here...

  • Bryan November 10, 2011 09:28 am

    If you want guaranteed good shots with time to set them up and arrange props and get everything just right, you need:

    1. Models. Models are not friends of the owner that don't show up, or even friends that do show up and then later tell the owner that they don't like the photo and insist that he not use it.. Or even employees, who will get fired a day later, making the photos useless. You need disinterested, third-party models willing to show up on time, do what they're told and sit around when they're not needed without complaining.

    2. Time/light. You need to work on the light's schedule, if there are large windows, it's going to be a very short window (no pun intended) of time to shoot with existing light, and it might take a few different days to get good light, depending on what you need (golden hour, direct sunlight, overcast, etc). Combine this with the fact that it's unlikely you can be unobtrusive during working hours, and scheduling becomes very difficult.

    3. A food stylist. A good photographer can get a respectable shot of a cooked plate of food, but if he wants real professional work, the food should be styled (and shot, for that matter) by a pro. If you're looking to get into that, then by all means give it a shot, but build in time (and food) for re-dos, and remember, for food, the stylist is probably more important than the photographer.

    If you're looking for more candid shots during open hours, it's doable, but very tricky. It's like street photography, but indoors (harder) and you need releases to use them commercially (awkward to have customers sign a waiver). If you can do it at a 'soft-open' or private party where everyone's invited and can sign a waiver for their free or discounted food/drink that allows them to be photographed, that's probably the way to do it. I did do one restaurant shoot once where I just used a tripod and very long exposures to blur out customer's facial features and just catch the 'bustle.' It worked pretty well artistically, but the client didn't like them, despite their refusal to ask customers for waivers or allow me to use lights or flash or really do anything to help me out. They went out of business a few weeks later, so they probably didn't pay me either, ha.

  • Daisaku November 10, 2011 09:21 am

    This is all superb advice and I'm not professional by far. My simple minded, yet highly critical judgement of good/bad reviews of any place serving food/drinks/social setting is something I always base some initial opinion on says: Use the most natural colors of the cafe as you possibly can. Most places that look warm appeal to possess a certain "comfort" and "welcome". I think you're going to do great simply following a close approach to what everyone has said, alone.
    Beautifully lit photo attached to this post as well. I wish you the best of luck and I think you'll do well.

  • Zack November 10, 2011 08:21 am

    For shooting the interior use a lens with a wide focal length, I prefer my Tokina 11-17. You'll want to capture as much of the space as possible, but be careful not to make it look unrealistic. If it's a smaller quaint space you'll want to preserve that aspect of it. Use a tripod as much as possible and lower it to around 4 feet. Shooting too high makes the pictures look too much like unplanned snapshots.
    don't be afraid to leave the shutter open a little longer than usual, it will bring a bit of warmth to the photos. Shoot at a low ISO to prevent noise, and start with the aperture somewhere between 7 and 11. HDR is a huge help if there are a lot of windows. Even if there aren't you should try a few like this.

  • Simon November 10, 2011 08:15 am

    Enlist a food blogger that is good with photography and then focus on interior shots. One less problem to worry about. If you're lucky, they'll happily do it for free food and for the opportunity to be the first if not one of the first to blog about it.

    As for interior, while I make no claims of expertise in that area, the way I would approach it is to get a sense of the vibe of the place and use people in key interior areas to communicate that vibe. Have the interior be more a set than the focus of the image.

    However you approach this, good luck with the work.

  • Stephen Siteman November 10, 2011 08:06 am


    Along the lines of the previous posts, a good atmosphere feel seems to work for a lot of the interiors that I have taken. Like Doug said, "close shots and shots of people enjoying the food." Also you may want to do a couple of group shots of people really enjoying themselves at the cafe. Do they plan on doing live music or open mics, perhaps poetry readings? Really try to get an idea of the personality they are trying to create for the place and get some shots which focus on what they are trying to create with their business.

    Is it artsy? Is it more of a starbucks "professional" coffee shop? Find out who your friend wants the clientele to be, and really work that aspect when creating the scene. I know of a few coffee shops near Boston that have open mic/ live performance nights. It makes for great opportunities to create "lifestyle" images.

    Good luck with it, and I would love to see the work when it is done.


  • Loonytick November 10, 2011 08:05 am

    You're most comfortable photographing people, so work in plenty of shots with people! Baristas at work, people relaxing with a cup of joe, etc. it will put you into a comfort zone and add life to the finished product. Even if they haven't had a soft open yet, some of your mutual friends could surely " model," or perhaps the cafe owners themselves.

  • Simon November 10, 2011 08:05 am

    Here's a tip from a Pro friend of mine, food won't stay hot when photographing it, so take some tampons with you soak them in water and then microwave them hid the steaming tampon out of shot both were the steam from it can be photographed to give the impression of piping hot food !

  • Peter Krahulik November 10, 2011 07:24 am

    I am just a beginner, so my tips are probably obvious, but anyway

    1. I assume you have already read these, but just not to miss

    2. Look through the websites of restaurants like this
    Just quickly skim. What catches your eyes is worth analyzing. Skip this step, if you already developed clear aims for your future images.

    3. Pick the pieces of technical advice above (both in the thread and the links) according to your aims and style. I have found out that knowing what you want before you start are the corner pieces of any puzzle. The rest just fits.

    As I have understood you are experienced with your equipment, so take some test shots for to collect confidence and you are good to go.

    Good luck!


  • Maarten Westmas November 10, 2011 06:50 am

    Hi there, some tips from Holland. For the interior use a tripod, mirror lock-up and cable release and consider hdr merging techniques if ther are any windows (and you shoot at daytime). Shoot at 100 Iso. On the other hand you do want to show people having a good time there and then these long exposures don't work. Then you should use some flash techniques (bouncing etc). Beatifull waitresses at work will also lure people in to the cafe.

    I haven't done much food photography, but I like it when you show some plates where you can recognize the surrounding where it is presented. Close wide-angle shots with open aperture will show a hint of the real cafe in the background. The chef must be at its best with the styling of the food.

    Good luck Gary!

    Maarten Westmaas (Holland)

  • Doug Pruden November 10, 2011 06:45 am

    For food I would get your friend to carefully style the food selection. Use a smaller plate and don't go overboard on the amount of food. Before the food shows up, set up your lighting and test it on some stand in objects. Get close shots and shots of people enjoying the food and the cafe.

  • Annilina November 10, 2011 06:42 am

    Here I go with some tips on food photography:

    1. Try to take the shot from the same point of view as if you were going to eat the food; it makes it more appetizing.

    2. Always use natural light coming from a lateral side, and use a reflector on the other side (if you don't have one, use some white flat surface to reflect the light).

    3. Try to use different plates and cloths for each dish, and make the set look impeccable. Avoid reflections on the plate and work with natural surfaces if possible (wood always works).

    4. Before shooting, at the very last moment, try to spray some olive oil if you are taking pictures of salads and some kind of meat dishes. They shine and look great!

    Good luck! Feel free to share the final results ;-)