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Camera Etiquette for Food Bloggers

Posted by on January 25 2010 in Personal, Rants & Raves, Trends

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We’ve all done it at some point. A dinner plate comes our way and we’re so excited about what has come before us that we whip out the camera and snap a picture. Sometimes we might even take a picture because the food looks terrible. I’m sure many of you foodies have done that too.

For those of us who blog about food it’s a pretty safe bet that we carry around a camera or other mobile device to record a dish that we’ve eaten, either to show it off to friends or for a story.

I’ve been looking for a particular shot of an appetizer for a recent post and I recalled Ulah Bistro on U St serving some tasty apps, including their chicken wings, which was exactly what I was looking for. I was seated at the bar, myself and my other half were the only ones there so I got out my camera and started taking a couple of snaps…Within seconds the bartender shouted across the bar to me: “Why are you taking pictures, is there something wrong with the food?” in a tone that was borderline aggressive.

My response was somewhat mute as I was stunned, I did reply with a “No, the food is good” as it was, but I still felt like I had been reprimanded by my mother. And living in DC we’re all too familiar with photographer rights.

I appreciate that there are instances when one should not take photos in restaurants. If I’m at a business lunch, a particularly high-end restaurant or if my table is in close proximity to another customer, I won’t photograph the food. However, on this occasion I was eating on a somewhat quiet night with little activity in a mid-range bistro.

I wasn’t bothering anyone and the food was actually good, but the response I was given makes me think twice about dining there again and certainly more cautious of where and when I take photos.

What have your reactions been to taking photos?
When is it alright to take photos of food in a restaurant?
Or is this something that is considered inappropriate altogether?

If you are a restaurateur or server what are your thoughts on this? I’d appreciate any education on this matter so please let me know.

(Pic: John Kratz )

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. January 25, 2010

    I usually make sure that my dining companions are fine w/me taking photos. And I tell them that they can eat their own food right away if they don’t want me to take photos of it. I’ve really never had a problem with restaurant employees giving me looks. Once at Zaytinya, my waitress was really concerned when I took a few photos b/c there were a few issues w/the food and she was afraid I would give them a horrible review :) I’ve reassured her that everything was fine. But she still gave me and my friend a large discount and free coffee.

  2. January 25, 2010

    I always feel a little weird taking photos in restaurants, so I try to do it without attracting a lot of attention. I think I’m just terrified the server will yell at me. Which is silly, because I think that photographing food is so common in restaurants now (or maybe I just know too many food bloggers), and it’s not like I feel weird snapping photos of friends when we’re out at a bar for someone’s birthday.

  3. January 25, 2010

    There is one thing I failed to mention in the story and that is ownership, once the food is on a plate sitting in front of me I own it, surely I can do whatever I like with it, and if that is taking a photo then so be it.

  4. January 25, 2010

    Brit,

    This exact topic became a BIG deal for Jason over at DC Foodies a little over four years ago (way back before all the rest of us had even started snapping food photos in restaurants).

    You can read about the chef involved, her cease-and-desist letter and all the other gory details over at the Accidental Hedonist and eGullet from back in the day.

    There are differing schools of thought on your claim of ownership to the food, but I’m with you…take pictures, just don’t be an ass about it.

  5. January 25, 2010

    Brittania – regarding your last comment, I do agree although within reason of course. If you started shoving it down your pants… lol.

    Honestly, living & blogging in NYC, my firm opinion is that ‘if you are not disturbing anyone, then there should not be a problem.’ As you note, the food is now yours, and provided you are not throwing it at people or causing a huge fuss (whipping out a mini-light booth, using a giant-giant camera and elbowing people to get out of your way… I really don’t see a problem.

    I do, however, have a firm policy to never use flash. Even at the darkest of restaurants; my sole purpose in taking pictures of my meal is to remember it and to give readers an idea of what it looked like when I ate it (so I don’t have to describe its appearance too much; I’m verbose enough already and I’m way more concerned with taste, in any case). It doesn’t matter if my photograph comes out super dark, that is my choice to never use flash because 1- Canons have really bright flashes and 2- I think that’s really disturbing if you’re eating in a dark restaurant and you keep seeing flashes from across the room because someone wants to immortalize their meal. It’s selfish.

    I try to take my pictures very quickly so my friends don’t have to wait long to eat. And I also always tell people (with whom I haven’t dined before) that I would like to photograph their food, though no one has ever declined.

    As for reactions, I have gotten curious looks from servers (I have stopped waiting for servers to go away before photographing, to make sure my hungry friends can eat more quickly), and sometimes other diners have asked me why I am photographing my food. I tell them honestly that I’m a food blogger, and if they’re interested, I give them a card. I haven’t had owners, proprietors, anyone yell at me or even approach me to ask me what I was doing or anything. Maybe I’m just THAT ninja ;)

    This is a topic very close to home for me; I wasn’t a big fan of David Chang to begin with, but once he shut down taking pictures within Ko, I made it a point to not try for reservations there. I don’t think it’s fair or right that I could spend $300 on a meal that I would love to immortalize, but he won’t let me because he finds it distracting.

    My 2c. Sorry it’s so long :)

  6. dad gansie permalink
    January 25, 2010

    Agree…. as long as pics are done discretely not bothering anyone , hell and owner should like free adv
    last time I remember doing it at this unbelievable wedding coctail reception
    and the our friends the birde’s parents, bride and groom enjoyed them especially they were off in a different hidden room. Video and pics. Love my iPhone Ask gansie

  7. January 25, 2010

    I agree – photos at a restaurant of just the food are fine. If you’re hesitant, it may be worth mentioning or asking the waiter. In my experience, they take it as the compliment it is and mention that they told the chef his work is being shared on Twitter or the like. Only exceptions: if there is a sign clearly saying no photos (rare), if you are including random people in the shot (should ask consent) or if it will directly invade the privacy/experience of your fellow diners.

    Also, limit yourself. Take one shot per course/dish, unless it turns out poorly and you really wanted to share. And limit the use of flash.

  8. January 25, 2010

    I think it’s completely within a bar or restaurant’s rights to ask you not to take photos — but if that’s their decision then they should simply tell you it’s their policy, nicely.

    It doesn’t speak highly of Ulah that the bartender would immediately assume you were taking the photos because their food was BAD. If you serve food that you think is good, wouldn’t you assume people are taking pictures of it because it’s good?? That’s kind of hilarious actually. You were going to write about how good the food was there, and instead you ended up writing about how obnoxious the staff is. Nice move, Ulah bartender.

  9. January 29, 2010

    if they get antsy at a restaurant where i’m snapping pictures of food, i just tell them why i’m doing it and then then they’re suddenly cool with the publicity.

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