Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Business and Operations Marketing
Best photo forward


April 5, 2011
By Julie Fitz-Gerald

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An image is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. With just a glance, photographs displaying your top-selling dishes can conjure up intense feelings in customers, making their mouths water as they rush to grab a seat or causing them to head for the exit. With images holding prominent positions on menu boards, flyers and websites, it’s crucial to ensure they’re sending out the right message.

An image is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. With just a glance, photographs displaying your top-selling dishes can conjure up intense feelings in customers, making their mouths water as they rush to grab a seat or causing them to head for the exit. With images holding prominent positions on menu boards, flyers and websites, it’s crucial to ensure they’re sending out the right message.

Many in the foodservice industry share a common belief that a bad photo is worse than no photo at all. Geoff Wilson, president of the foodservice consulting firm fsSTRATEGY, notes, “Poor picture quality implies that the restaurant is not committed to quality. If you’re not going to do them right, don’t do them at all.”

By ensuring the photos representing your menu items are of professional quality, you can take comfort in knowing that your customers’ taste buds will be teased and pleased even before the dish has arrived at their table. Anita Whyte, a food stylist based in Toronto, says, “A photo certainly whets the customer’s appetite. It makes them curious about the product.”

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With images influencing customer decisions, it’s important to remember that high-quality photos are an investment and, if done properly, they can increase your sales. For an independent restaurant, a food photographer can cost between $3,000 and $6,000 for five to six photos, which would translate into a full-day shoot. This price would typically include a food stylist, basic props and a meeting prior to the shoot to discuss the vision and layout. It’s of the utmost importance that the food photographer understands your menu and the actual product that is served to customers. “The better the image, the more you sell, but you have to make sure that you don’t over-amp promise,” explains Michael Kohn, a food photographer based in Toronto. “You have to deliver what you’re showing.”

Wilson agrees, emphasizing, “Whatever pictures an operator has taken of their food should represent the way the food actually looks when it is served. If it looks better than or different than what ends up being served, the consumer is left scratching their head. It’s important for the operator to have a heavy play in deciding how things are going to be done.”

Achieving tantalizing food imagery while staying true to the appearance of an item, as the customer will see it, can be tricky. The expertise of a food stylist can help make this complicated task a little less complicated. “A food stylist enhances the food to give it appetite appeal in a credible context and makes the food and the product look to its best possible potential,” says Whyte. “As a food stylist, even though [the client] would normally put a half cup of sauce over a dish, I would use a bit less and paint it on to give the idea of sauce, but I also want to see the protein, let’s say it’s shrimp or chicken . . . you don’t want to drown it.”

Food stylists are often hired by the photographer but can also be hired directly by the client. Their rates can range from $500 to $800 per day, which includes a short consultation prior to the shoot to ensure a good grasp of the concept and layout. The food stylist will arrive at the photo shoot armed with various tools to primp the food of choice, including items like food colouring, dried herbs and condiments. The result is a set of photos that will have tongues wagging and customers ordering. “I would say a superior photo would drive sales far more than a photo that doesn’t quite grab me or falls short. It really is a small investment in the whole scheme of things,” Whyte adds.

As a photographer, Kohn highlights the logistical importance of having a food stylist on set. “Anytime I’m handling food I [use one] because I shouldn’t be doing both. I have my own worries on the set with lighting and making sure everything works.”

Hiring a professional food photographer and a food stylist to capture the essence of your best-selling dishes ensures that your photos receive the level of expertise they deserve. While it may be tempting to try your hand at food photography, the impact a photo can have raises the stakes. In Whyte’s experience, there are elements to a photo shoot, such as lighting, that undoubtedly require an expert. “Lighting is very important and. as an amateur. you don’t necessarily understand good lighting,” she explains. “That’s where a photographer really comes in with their expertise . . . when you get the right light on [a product] it’s like wow, it looks fantastic.”

Even the professionals find certain food images challenging to capture, particularly the famous cheese pull. Gooey cheese stretching from a piping hot pie to the slice being torn away is sure to have customers salivating and eager to order. “It’s what every food stylist worries about,” says Whyte. “The cheese pull is always something, because you get one good shot at it and it’s really hard to place it back . . . there’s a subtlety to it, I would say.”

Food photography is a unique form of art with many variables to consider. While great photos can have a positive effect on customers, the opposite is true of bad ones, proving that using experts in this field is a wise decision. Kohn sums it up nicely, saying, “It’s just a part of putting your best face out there all the time, that’s what it’s about. Your images are your face.”


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