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Food Photography in a Working Restaurant

Small restaurants just don’t have the budgets that chains do. Creating a series of photographs for table tents while a restaurant is filed with customers is challenging. It’s also a whole lot of fun.

The job

Mike, the manager of the Brookhaven Lucky’s a local, very dog friendly restaurant asked me if I shot food while I was enjoying dinner at the bar. “Sure,” I said. “What have you got in mind…?” “We need to make table tents.” Mike replied.

It was early April. Summer was on the way. Milkshakes, a desert burger and a breakfast burger featuring Yellow Rose Outlaw Texas Bourbon. The evening before the shoot I packed a portable studio that included a 54″ wide gray roll of background paper, lights, tripod, laptop table, MacBookPro, clamps, camera, soft box, strip bank, reflector kit and so on.

Milkshakes

The shoot started around ten with the milkshakes up first. I placed on of the high top tables in front of the gray background paper. I put a red gel on the background light to compliment the red maraschino cherries that topped the shakes. I put a soft box with a grid aimed at the vanilla shake on the right. A white reflector on the left filled the shadows. The last step was to put shaving cream on top of the drinks and finish them with a cherry. Shaving cream is denser than whipped cream. That helped keep the cherries in place. The medium, three by four feet, soft box in close is really large in comparison to the size of the glasses. The cherry stems have a long, beautiful highlight from the box. The grid keeps the light on the glasses and not on the background. If light from the soft box hit the background the color would be pink instead of red. Here’s the lighting diagram…

Milk shakes LIghting Diagram

Desert burger

A gooey fudge brownie topped with ice cream stands in for the burger patty with an onion. The bun is two warm chocolate chip cookies. A knife through the top cookie holds the confection together. The fries are funnel cake sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. The ketchup is a raspberry dipping sauce. This decadent sweet fest was fun to photograph. I had to hurry because you can’t stop ice cream from melting in a warm room. I changed tables so the surface was different. The lighting was almost the same as with the milkshakes. The only difference? I used a higher camera angle. The table top became most of the background. I did have to fill in the edges at the top with Photoshop.

2016-04-07 11.34.33BTS by Kevin Ames

 

2897-0030-Luckys Desert Burger cropped by Kevin Ames

Mike assured me that in the middle of the week there would be a small lunch crowd. I’m sure that’s true unless photography is going on. By the time the picture above was done, the place was well on its way to filling up.

Breakfast burger

This burger is perfect for “the morning after the night before” so to speak. While one wouldn’t normally suggest bourbon as a morning pick me up, the liquor distributor agreed to have the table tents printed if the restaurant would feature Yellow Rose. Mike, Lucky’s manager wanted this on photographed on the bar. By this time Lucky’s was humming with customers. It was a controlled, jovial amount of chaos.

2897-0050-Luckys Breakfast Burger by Kevin Ames

Bartenders were moving around my lights behind the bar. Customers were sitting just out of the camera view.I photographed this with a Canon 1Dx and a Sigma 24mm – 105mm f/4.0 at 80mm. The exposure is ISO: 100, 1/200 @ f/16. None of the light in the photograph is natural. It’s set with gels to create the feel of an ambient lit tavern. I finished shooting just as lunch was winding down. Mike told me that it was one of the best lunch crowds they’d ever had. I suggested that planning more lunchtime shoots would be good for business. We both laughed. The table tent for this photo is in the header of this article.

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