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Old 10-21-2012   #1
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Default Never ceases to amaze me

Many on this sub-forum know that I have plans to dramatically change my business, transition into studio work and go after commercial, product and food photography. To that end, I've taken up the study of food photography and I find it interests me greatly. I want to gain some experience beyond taking pictures of tonight's spaghetti at the house. This is one of those situations where I find, trade-in-kind to be appropriate. I've been looking for a single owned restaurant that leans to the up-scale but is on the same experience level as me. You know, that restaurant that was opened by college grad who had previously worked in or owned some cafe or diner and was moving up the cuisine ladder. I may have found just the ticket.

So this upscale American casual restaurant opened about a year ago in the historic downtown of a nearby city. The downtown is attempting a retail and nightlife revival, having been abandoned for the strip centers and shopping malls. The restaurant can afford TV advertising and survive better than a year and recently opened a lounge with a piano bar. I've become quite interested in going after this place for both the short-term and future endeavors. The story gets strangely interesting now.

The restaurant had a booth at my little hometown festival they were peddling a couple of their menu items to promote the restaurant. The booth was well done with a vinyl banner table skirt with their logo and full color photos of tasty looking dishes. The owner just happened to be working the booth and I made the opportunity to talk to her. I found she's pretty plain spoken and quite personable, not quite the kind of person I'd expect her customers are. I briefly told her my interest in photographing her food and perhaps some atmosphere shots.

The first thing she wanted to make clear was that she was using a local photographer and not looking to change but she was also interested in seeing what else might be available and was interested in helping local business people the way the locals had helped her. She told me the name of the photographer she's using and that new photos had been added to the restaurant's web site and Facebook fan page. It was then that I pointed to the very commercial looking pictures on their banner and asked if those were the work of the photographer. I'm not aware of a food photographer in the town of 40,000 who produces that kind of work. No, the work isn't the local photographer's.

Here's the kicker: Not only are the photographs not the work of the local photographer, the food in them isn't the restaurant's either. The images were, "taken off the internet". I don't know if that means they are stock images and appropriately licensed or if they were just clipped off someone's website. I tried to hide my shock and amazement. When I got home, I checked out both the restaurant's web site and Facebook fan page. There are two distinctively different kinds of pictures in the galleries or albums. There are the quite obvious commercial, professionally produced images and the obviously not. I take it the obviously not are the work of the local professional. It's not my place to critique but I can describe a couple of techniques frontal small source on-axis lighting and multi-temperature white balances.

I don't know why the restaurant owner used stock photos (I'll give the benefit of the doubt about the source) as illustrations of their presentations. I don't know if the chef isn't able to create these dishes as presented or if there was some sense of urgency to get photo illustrations and no time or budget to have "real" ones made. I don't know if it's false advertising, especially when I consider the picture of the sandwich or hamburger I see at a fast food outlet looks nothing like the product I'm served.

So I've followed-up as promised in our initial greeting with an email. I communicated my experience to indicate that while I'm no seasoned veteran at food and commercial photography, I am not some guy with a camera and a hot shoe flash looking to strike it rich. I also mentioned a part of my long-term goal is to give them a sense of accomplishment in having pictures of their food, prepared by their chef in their kitchen in their advertising, not stock images of someone else's products.

So any opinion here? If you were in my shoes, would you try to cultivate a relationship and try to convert a potential into a future client? Or does anything about this stand out as a red flag to wish it could have been different and move on?

As a side note and without creating a whole new thread, does anyone know where one learns the craft of food styling? My partner thinks she may want to learn those skills so we can keep things consolidated should we find some success in this line of work.

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Old 10-21-2012   #2
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Steve, I wish I could offer some advice, but I don't know. Your gut is probably absolutely correct. Proceed with caution.

Maybe we need to add: "The client is a restaurant owner using stock photos of food to advertise" to the "Client Red Flags" thread opcorn:

As for where to learn food styling, that is something I'm also curious about, as I've done quite a bit of (bad) food shooting for a friend who is passionate about cooking, and also the extended family's restaurant, more for fun than anything. Some of my buddies keep nudging me to learn to shoot food and make some more money, but I've always put it on the backburner.
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Old 10-21-2012   #3
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Thanks Michael, always a pleasure to have you participate on my threads.

Do we reckon that "Restaurant owner using stock photos" thing is a red flag? Or should it be red if other things go along with it? Here are some of the "maybes":

Maybe the owner is without ethics and would violate contract agreements and license agreements.

Maybe the owner has no budget, will have no budget, for paid photography.

Maybe photography isn't important to the owner.

Maybe the owner wishes she could have the kind of photography in the stock work but doesn't know it's available to her.

Maybe the need for something immediate was greater than the desire to have something custom.

Now about that food styling thing. It's been made clear to me that the styling is really the bigger portion of this kind of photography. The lighting is fairly straightforward and doesn't have to be elaborate to be effective. But, even a highly complicated lighting scheme won't salvage a poorly styled dish. I find schools for hair styling, and make-up application, there are schools of fashion and apparel design but I've never seen a school of food styling.
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Old 10-21-2012   #4
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Steve,

This client might be troublesome but if you can get paid in advance or before releasing any photos you could learn from the experience.

While it is true that styling is often more important than the photography, it most certainly is more dificult. The photography and especially the lighting is still very important. You need all three, styling, photography and lighting.

There are several reasons for the use of very shallow DOF in a lot of the food photography today. Two of those are that some bad styling, or rather lack of styling, can be hidden from view if it is extremely out of focus. Another is that many photographers don't have the proper amount of lighting equipment and therefore shoot available light, even hand-held with high ISOs, fast shutter speeds and wide open apertures.

Go to Amazon.com and search for food-styling books and buy the first 5 books. Study these before you go to shoot with this client.

In the meantime, here are a several tips for photographing tonights spaghetti dinner.

Use olive oil in the water when you boil your spaghetti so it doesn't stick to itself and when you arrange the noodles make sure that no 2 strands are stuck to each other ie: no suspension bridge noodle cables, and hide any noodle ends that show. Drain thoroughly so there is no water transfered to the plate.

Make your sauce then line a bowl with several layers of paper towels. Pour the sauce into the bowl and let it sit for 15 minutes to drain any excess water from the sauce. Add the sauce at the very last minute to the carefully arranged noodles. Shoot immediately before the sauce comes apart. Consider that a practice round.

Use that first attempt to get the placement of your lighting and camera POV.

Now do it again more carefully.
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Old 10-21-2012   #5
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brooks View Post
Steve,

This client might be troublesome but if you can get paid in advance or before releasing any photos you could learn from the experience.

While it is true that styling is often more important than the photography, it most certainly is more dificult. The photography and especially the lighting is still very important. You need all three, styling, photography and lighting.

There are several reasons for the use of very shallow DOF in a lot of the food photography today. Two of those are that some bad styling, or rather lack of styling, can be hidden from view if it is extremely out of focus. Another is that many photographers don't have the proper amount of lighting equipment and therefore shoot available light, even hand-held with high ISOs, fast shutter speeds and wide open apertures.

Go to Amazon.com and search for food-styling books and buy the first 5 books. Study these before you go to shoot with this client.

In the meantime, here are a several tips for photographing tonights spaghetti dinner.

Use olive oil in the water when you boil your spaghetti so it doesn't stick to itself and when you arrange the noodles make sure that no 2 strands are stuck to each other ie: no suspension bridge noodle cables, and hide any noodle ends that show. Drain thoroughly so there is no water transfered to the plate.

Make your sauce then line a bowl with several layers of paper towels. Pour the sauce into the bowl and let it sit for 15 minutes to drain any excess water from the sauce. Add the sauce at the very last minute to the carefully arranged noodles. Shoot immediately before the sauce comes apart. Consider that a practice round.

Use that first attempt to get the placement of your lighting and camera POV.

Now do it again more carefully.
Thanks Brooks, you are always a source for valuable information. I appreciate your sharing your real world experience. I will look into those books.

I figure this restaurant owner could be troublesome or challenging. Forewarned is forearmed and expecting the potential for troubles is good reinforcement. They have something I want and I believe they have a need that I can fulfill, if not in the immediate for sure in the future. Because I want the experience I'm willing to put up with a bit of troublesome.

I'm not really having spaghetti for dinner tonight, it was an example. I do like spaghetti and cook it frequently. Thanks for the tips on shooting it. All of your instructions make sense and at face value I can see how they fit and the purpose. Not everyone would have thought to remove the liquid from the sauce and especially not soaking it into a towel. Keeping the pasta separated and not seeing a "end" would be easy to miss too.

Heck, all this talk makes me want to make a plate after dinner and have a go at it. Thanks for the charge.
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Old 10-21-2012   #6
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Quote:
Originally Posted by Songman45 View Post
Do we reckon that "Restaurant owner using stock photos" thing is a red flag? Or should it be red if other things go along with it? Here are some of the "maybes":

Maybe the owner is without ethics and would violate contract agreements and license agreements.

Maybe the owner has no budget, will have no budget, for paid photography.

Maybe photography isn't important to the owner.

Maybe the owner wishes she could have the kind of photography in the stock work but doesn't know it's available to her.

Maybe the need for something immediate was greater than the desire to have something custom.
When you can quickly churn out that many possibilities, I prefer to leave them in the realm of imagination.

Why put yourself through the stress of a troublesome client?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brooks View Post
Go to Amazon.com and search for food-styling books and buy the first 5 books. Study these before you go to shoot with this client.
I just put those books in my Amazon shopping cart.

Thanks for offering incredible advice, as always.
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Old 10-21-2012   #7
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

I know nothing about food photography Steve so can't help you there but I think you are doing the right thing with the potential client. She may or not be throwing up "red flags" but I wouldn't write her off yet.

I think most people have attempted to take pictures of food or other kinds of still photography and realized how much their results vary from the magazine. They tend to think that producing those magazine results are only done by expensive magazine photographers or someone in Hollywood.
One thing that you will run up against as you try to sell to her will be the easy availablility of stock images. Somehow you will have to sell her on the idea that having pictures of her actual product is something that will help her sales and bring more people into her restaurant. I'm not saying it can't be done but her bottom line will be "How do your photos bring me more customers thhan the photos I am using?"
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Old 10-21-2012   #8
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Quote:
Originally Posted by keithdewey3 View Post
I know nothing about food photography Steve so can't help you there but I think you are doing the right thing with the potential client. She may or not be throwing up "red flags" but I wouldn't write her off yet.

I think most people have attempted to take pictures of food or other kinds of still photography and realized how much their results vary from the magazine. They tend to think that producing those magazine results are only done by expensive magazine photographers or someone in Hollywood.
One thing that you will run up against as you try to sell to her will be the easy availablility of stock images. Somehow you will have to sell her on the idea that having pictures of her actual product is something that will help her sales and bring more people into her restaurant. I'm not saying it can't be done but her bottom line will be "How do your photos bring me more customers thhan the photos I am using?"
Points all well taken. One of the reasons I want to delve into product photography and especially food is because I have identified it as a genre of photography that cannot be faked. OK, it can be but not so easily. Some people are okay with poor photographic techniques in portraiture; they'll accept blown out highlights and white skies or posing and camera angles that produce unflattering results. People will pay for substandard wedding photography, when they are told what is substandard is what makes it art and cutting edge. With food, it's less easy to please a client with a shot lit with an on-camera hot shoe mounted flash. Not that there isn't much of that being done, just a larger pool of more discriminating clients than retail shooting offers.

I don't know that I'll ever turn this restaurant into a paying client. I do know that the atmosphere of the place and maybe the food offerings have potential to fit very nicely into a portfolio. At this stage in the game I'm in need of practical experience and this place looks to fill that. So far as turning the owner into a paying client goes, best I can hope is that I can show her that professional results are within her reach and that photos of their products are a much better idea than stock photos of someone else's.

So far as Michael's question about why bother with a troublesome client is concerned, there is a price to pay for everything we want. I'm willing to put up with a little bit of troublesome for the privilege of setting up and getting my hands on a few plates of food. If things don't go well I won't put my self in a situation to continue having woes. Unless, of course the money offsets it.
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Old 10-21-2012   #9
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Quote:
Originally Posted by Songman45 View Post
So far as Michael's question about why bother with a troublesome client is concerned, there is a price to pay for everything we want. I'm willing to put up with a little bit of troublesome for the privilege of setting up and getting my hands on a few plates of food. If things don't go well I won't put my self in a situation to continue having woes. Unless, of course the money offsets it.
Well, there you go. Best of luck in this endeavor.

I'm lucky that I have access to a restaurant that either (1) reluctantly allows me to mess around and photograph their food/etc. or (2) wants me to make magic out of something brown that is barely recognizable as food in a plastic container, but they're close family, which means I'm stuck with them no matter what.

They can be troublesome, but normally I can handle it without my blood pressure going through the roof.
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Old 10-22-2012   #10
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Default Re: Never ceases to amaze me

Red flags are abound on this one Steve. Sounds like she has a photographer but, like most businesses they are always out for a good deal.

If you are looking into getting into food photography restaurants are actually the wrong customers. Restaurants mostly use text in their advertising. Photos are mostly left to wide shots of the dining room. If you are looking into food photography then there are plenty of blogs and magazines to target.


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