Don’t Eat Yet!

I have to say this when initiating new dining companions. My friends, however, already know the drill.

I have to say this when initiating new dining companions. My friends, however, already know the drill.

No meal, no matter how beautifully plated (especially if it’s beautifully plated), is complete without an extensive photo shoot. I’ve been known to sharply reprimand errant dining partners who ruin the perfect photo of a chocolate-chip-heaped cannoli.

No, seriously—this is a sacred and inviolable ritual. First, I hold my iPhone to my forehead for the extra glow it imparts in a dimly lit dining room. Never mind that I look like a tech-brainwashed spelunker. Then I squint through the viewfinder on my DSLR camera and fiddle with the ISO and exposure settings. Then, and only then, I snap at least two or three photos, check, recalibrate, and give the plate a twirl to see if I can find a more flattering angle.

Uncooperative dining partners get axed from the rotation.

Since I began blogging nearly two years ago, no dinner goes by without this meticulously documented sequence of photos. Even the breadbasket (if it’s artful) gets a moment in the sun.

In the early days, I shot everything with a Nikon point-and-shoot. Then I got into a New York City taxicab over the summer and we parted ways. Mourning the loss of my most reliable dining companion (the only one who doesn’t flake, or balk at ordering intestines), I decided to bring out the big guns on the rebound.

I upgraded to a Canon Digital Rebel XS. Still entry-level, but now I had a real lens. In doing so, I realized that bringing an imposing camera to dinner confers a new level of geekiness. Waiters are more likely to ask you what you’re doing. People assume you’re either an overzealous tourist or a photojournalist.

And you can also reach a whole new level of annoying. When I discovered continuous shooting mode, my trigger-happy finger captured my sleep-deprived boss in a sequence of eating lunch: a spoon piercing the cheesy crust of French onion soup, scooping in, coming out again triumphant.

After all, I was determined to capture nothing less than the foodtography equivalent of an elusive pregnant Beyoncé photo: the ultimate paparazzi shot.

All this obsessive behavior has resulted in some basic rules of thumb in restaurant food photography. If you, too, would like to annoy the hell out of your friends at dinner, take my advice to heart:

1. Avoid flash if you can. It makes your lemon tart look like a washed-out heroin addict.

2. Set your camera on “macro” for a romantic blurred background when you’re focusing up close. Aww.

3. Try a variety of angles. Low, close angles are generally flattering. Don’t do the same to your BFF.

4. Ask to sit near a light or by a window, or just try going earlier in the day.

5. Fake it! Fix white balance by shooting in raw mode if possible, and then fix the colors in Photoshop.

6. Set your ISO to as high a setting as possible without getting graininess or “noise” in the image. Too low, and your image will be blurred.

7. When photographing dark-hued dishes like meat, focus on capturing a bright spray of color—like the parsley garnish.

8. Forbid your friends from eating anything while you snap away, cackling like a maniac.