Take pictures of your food without being a jerk about it
January 28th, 2013
07:15 PM ET
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Editor's Note: Mark Hill is Director of Photography for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. He's very worth following on Instagram @photomark16

I read an article in the New York Times Dining section last week that filled me with dismay. Helene Stapinski wrote an intriguing piece discussing restaurants that ban photography because it’s a disruption of the dining experience.

But wait, am I really a bummer just because I love shooting my beautifully prepared food before digging in?

There are great traditions of cooking and photography in this country and it feels natural to combine these passions. It makes perfect sense to me that while sitting at the bar at Holman and Finch in Atlanta to photograph the bucatini carbonara (shown above) for the sole purpose of causing my Facebook friends to lust after my good fortune.

But many chefs feel otherwise, so I turned to the person closest to me for his opinion, my brother, David Hill. His restaurant, The Chef’s Table in Rocklin, California (no relation to the restaurant of the same name in the New York Times article) serves wonderful food, but his place is small. So small, in fact, that any rude person could affect everyone’s dining experience.

David agreed with the premise of the article, but has not banned photography. “To me, any rude behavior from flash photography, loud drunken parties, to taking phone calls at the table should end," he said. " All hurt everyone’s ability to enjoy the food that I have prepared.”

In the spirit of harmony, I feel it necessary to draw up a few guidelines to help keep the peace. Most chefs will tolerate your desire to record the plate that is set in front of you. With some restraint, these tips can help you avoid the icy glares from the kitchen and perhaps a well-placed fork in your viewfinder.

1. Please, no flash! Nothing will ruin the intimate mood of a restaurant or a photograph for that matter, like a bright on-camera flash. If it can’t be done with the existing lighting, put your camera away.

2. Respect the rules. If they ask you not to take pictures, don’t. It’s their establishment after all.

3. Make it fast. One or two frames should do. No one wants to see you make a production of the photography.

4. Most importantly, don’t impact other diners’ enjoyment of their meal. Don’t ask others to wait so you can shoot their plate. Don’t stand on your chair (really?). Remember you are there to eat and enjoy the company of your tablemates, not expand your photography portfolio.

Are you a restaurant picture taker or are you actively opposed? Get snapping in the comments below.

Previously - Make your pictures worth a thousand yums

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Filed under: Etiquette • Photography • Restaurants

soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. celine bag trapeze

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    June 30, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  2. Rachael

    It is extremely silly to outright ban photos, on the chef's part. When I take pics of my food (which I do discreetly since I am shy and do not want to draw attention to myself) it is to post it on Foodspotting with a description and a vote. Since I share these photos with everybody on Foodspotting, Twitter, and Facebook, it can provide some amazing word of mouth for the restaurant. Unless the food is awful, which I would spread to friends anyway, with or without a picture,

    April 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  3. GiGi Eats Celebrities

    I am sorry but I am a food photographer... Well I am not a PRO – lol, but I do use the flash, I need to get my food in the best light! I want all my YELP followers to see the deliciousness on my plate! ;)

    February 24, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  4. Shauna

    As an ex-culinary professional I would be honored that a person would want to photograph the meal I prepared for them if they found it to be extraordinarily appealing to the eye. In culinary school we were taught that food should be presented so that it is appealing to the eyes as well as the palate. I do however think it is highly unnecessary to photograph every single meal you eat, at home or when dining out. Personally I think I have done this twice in my entire 33 years of life. Once for a dessert on my birthday as the presentation was out of this world, and the other was at a Vietnamese restaurant that had an amazing presentation. We were also there on a cultural outing that we would be sharing with others so pictures were kind of necessary. These examples make sense. To photograph your food every time your at a chain restaurant though – time to assess your life.

    February 15, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Shauna

      I will also note my cousin does photograph food quite often as he runs a food and micro-brew review blog. Another time that I feel that photographing food is OK as these are not chain establishments but independents who I'm sure wouldn't mind as it get's there name out there. Personally I like to see what the food looks like for real as opposed to just a description. Chains do it with commercials to get you in the place, and half the time the food is sub-par and looks far from what the commercial had shown.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  5. MJ

    I think the bigger picture is people's obsession with their smartphones and being consumed by social networking.

    It's a wonderful compliment to the chef and establishment to want to take a picture to share with others, BUT I can't help but laugh at the table full of 10 women in their horrendous glittery dresses frantically snapping multiple pictures of their food when it arrives.

    I can handel it if I'm out with a friend and they do it once in a while for a great drink or a beautiful plate, but I could never go out to eat with a friend who does this every time. First of all, it's annoying as heck. Second, you look tacky and desperate (Quick, facebook/instagram/foursquare/twitter LOOK AT WHAT I'M EATING!) Nobody actually cares. For all of the people that "follow" or "friend" you, how many of those people would take the time to pick up the phone to call you and ask "Hey, how was your meal? How is your vacation? etc." Probably slim to none. So ease up off your phones and focus on what's real and in front of you.

    It's funny that people can snap a million pictures of a meal but have lost the ability to put that energy into a stimulating conversation or saying grace before their meal...just saying

    February 1, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • br1mston3

      Well said

      February 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  6. Moreluv2013

    I think there isnt a thing wrong with following those rules. Most people wouldnt be bothered with someone taking a photo of their food, I wouldnt, so long as you remain respectful of the people around you. It's simple as that.

    January 31, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  7. T Diemer

    Besides Mardi Gras, Superbowl 2013 and some of the worlds best restaurants, NewOrleans has several annual happenings that include tastey but also photogenic food:
    St Joseph's Day – March 19 – beautifully decorated altars thatare literally mountains of specialty Italian foods that are not seen – or rather eated – anywhere else, at least by non-Italians. AND you get your very own plate!!!!!
    Asian Pacific American Festival – food, entertainemnt and ethnic cosumes from all over Asia
    Greek Festival – You not only have the tastey and photogenic Greek dinners, but also the ethnically costumed Hellenic dancers!!!!!!

    January 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  8. Jeann

    Typical American boorish behaviour. In Europe we teach our children FAR better than this.

    January 30, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Archibald

      Nonsense. I've spent a lot of time in Europe and as a general rule behavior there is no better than in the U.S.

      January 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Trololol

      Typical European behavior, you feel the need to let everyone know how much better you are than them.

      February 3, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  9. what

    dont take pictures of food? what kind of insane rule is that? Must be the worst establishment in the world.

    I am shocked that this is considered a "problem." Odds are that it is not actually a problem and they found the one chef that is still part of the nazi movement.

    January 30, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • bluegillonthefly

      I never understood the desire to photograph food. I have never once, in my over 50 years of life, taken a picture of my food, or wanted to. Not in a restaurant, or even at home, where my wife is a good enough cook that she could open a restaurant if she wanted to, but it's just a hobby to her.

      Plus, unless you're a really skilled photographer, you're probably not going to do the food justice, anyway – and if you are, doing it justice would likely also be disturbing to other diners (I'm a good enough photographer to know that, and I'm sure my friends who are professionals would agree).

      January 30, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • wc

        you just answered the question for us, it's because you're 50.

        younger people, who've grown up with cell phone cameras, take pictures and document everything.

        January 30, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
      • randoid1234

        I can't imagine taking picures of your food really requires a professional like you say. It's not like I'm going to get glamour shots of my sandwich. You sound like a photo snob. Do you take pictures with your pinky not touching the camera?

        January 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  10. Archibald

    Honest question. If you aren't taking pictures to post to Yelp as part of a review or aren't otherwise involved in rating/reviewing a restaurant....why are you taking pictures? I could understand a decorated birthday cake at a party or something like that...but a picture of spaghetti? Why?

    January 30, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Deb

      Because some people are so addicted to facebook they can't pass gas without letting everyone know about it. Why would I think someone was the least bit interested in my meal? i'm not interested in anyone else's meal, no matter how interesting they might think it is.

      January 30, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • randoid1234

      Maybe food is a passion or hobby and they want to document whether they enjoyed the dish or not. Just a thought.

      January 30, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  11. Fairy

    Are you kidding? People are kvetching about people taking photos of their food? GET A GRIP. Who cares?!

    January 30, 2013 at 11:48 am |
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