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Food, Photography & Phone Lighting

As part of my current job I’ve somehow wound up attending numerous restaurant reviews, armed with my SLR, that get published on local London-based online community hub This is Our Town. I’m by no means a professional photographer, journalist or food blogger – I actually work full time as a graphic designer – but it results in free dinners, drinks and some pretty fun evenings, so I’m certainly not complaining.

I therefore thought I would write a blog about my somewhat accidental foray into food photography to share some of my photos. After all, it combines two of my favourite hobbies – eating and photographing.

Flaming Cocktail

Roz Ana was one of my first reviews (view it here), and where I first realised the struggle of evening interior lighting. It was extremely difficult to capture shots in focus without using flash, which I think makes images look too stark, or a tripod, which I don’t think the restaurant would approve of. In came the use of the iPhone torch to cast our own light – although with this comes the risk of creating unwanted shadows or shiny patches.

Prawn MalaiDessertPrawn Malai Curry and Chocolate Samosas at Roz Ana, Indian restaurant in Kingston

Looking back, these perhaps are a little too yellow in appearance. More recently I’ve noticed how in a lot of restaurants, particularly in the evening, photos can appear to have a yellowy or red tinge. To counteract this, I often Colour Balance as part of my editing regime, increasing the blue and cyan hues of the image to level it out yet also create a more dramatic finish. This may technically be considered wrong, but I think on the whole it improves a lot of images.

Grey Horse Burger UneditedGH_Burger 2

This (incredible) Beef Royale burger from the Grey Horse pub in Kingston, for example, was placed under the hot light as it was waiting to be served, casting an orangey glow. The end result with enhanced blue tones I think gives it more of a ‘mood’. See the full review here.

GH_BBQ Platter

Smoked Chicken, Hot Gut Sausage & Rib BBQ Combo from the Grey Horse

Another trick I now like to use whilst editing is adding lightness for that soft ‘instagram-style’ effect. I simply up the lightness value under Hue/Saturation, or occasionally play around with Exposure – Offset and Gamma Correction, to give that subtle overcast fade.  I feel it works well in making them seem more like lifestyle imagery, something you’d see in a magazine – but you have to be careful not to take away from the rich tones of the food.

Cafe Menta UneditedBishop editCurry Muriels Kitchen
Goats Cheese SaladBishop_Starters MK_Chicken & Peach Curry
Before and after with ‘lightening’ – Goats Cheese Salad at Cafe Menta, Starters at The Bishop, and Chicken & Peach Curry at Muriel’s Kitchen

The more reviews I do, the more of a ‘system’ I’ve built up – which, other than the techniques I’ve mentioned already, usually consists of adjusting the levels or curves, sharpening the image, increasing saturation or vibrance a touch and adding a little brightness and contrast if necessary. Sometimes this can be relatively straightforward, whereas other times it can be particularly testing and timely to make them look appetising – not because they aren’t, but because of factors on the night such as poor lighting. This steak at Muriel’s Kitchen in Richmond (view it here), was a particular struggle (which wasn’t helped by the guy who complained about our innovative phone lighting…) that required some lengthy editing.

Mk Steak UneditedMK_SteakBefore and after editing – Flattened British Sirloin Steak at Muriel’s Kitchen, Richmond

As for the actual production process, it’s all about the art of being subtle to capture professional looking shots without disturbing people’s romantic mealtimes. All of the photos are taken within the restaurants whilst it’s open to the public – sadly no fancy studio and special equipment so you have to make do with what you have and accept the occasional odd stare.

Here’s a few of my favourite shots so far, while I hope to keep developing! Click on the images to view the full review online.

MK_Scotch Egg

Clarence Court Scotch Egg from Muriel’s Kitchen

Buttermilk Chicken Burger with SP Fries

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Burger from Sugar Dumplin, Kingston

Mojito and Porn Star Martini on Bar

Mojitos & Porn Star Martinis from Sugar Dumplin

GH_Maccettes open

‘Maccettes’ breaded mac & cheese from the Grey Horse

Oreo Craze Sundae

Oreo Craze Sundae from Wafflemeister, Kingston

Bishop_Fish & Chips

Classic Fish & Chips from The Bishop, Kingston

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Lamb Shish at Turkish restaurant; Cappadocia, Kingston

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Also Cappadocia, Kingston

Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate from Cafe Menta; independent cafe in Esher

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