Can I Use My iPhone? Why You Need Professional Food Photography

September 3, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


We eat with our eyes, so professional food photography can mean the difference between driving customers to your door or steering them to your competition. If you choose to shoot your product, do it right. There is no point in spending the money if the images won’t sell your product. You want the consumer to crave the product in your images.

Even Martha Stewart’s food photos have made people lose their appetites.

The Right Photographer for the Job

There are many professional photographers to choose from, but you have to pick the best one for the job.

Check out the photographer’s portfolio to ensure they have food photography experience before hiring them for your restaurant photo shoot. Food photography is a specialized skill and you want someone with the proper expertise.

Check the photographer’s style. Do they use selective focus to make specific objects in the photo stand out? Are their shots dappled with natural light, sexy and make you just want to jump into the image? Well, if you are doing a menu, that’s not the guy you need. Hire a photographer who can show you samples so you know what to expect.

What Do You Want?

It’s important to decide what you’re looking for before hiring a food photographer. Do you need art for advertising, menus, or signage? Or are you building a library of images to use for all of these things?

It’s helpful to make a shot list of all the photos you want: interiors and exteriors (list various angles and whether you want them at night or in daylight), and list every food shot you’d like and whether you want photos of your staff. While you’re making this list, think about your brand and imagine the fingerprint of that brand being imprinted on each shot through the attitude of the people, the way the food is presented, and the lighting and angle of each shot.

Talk with the photographer about your target consumers and about the culture you’re creating at your restaurant when you discuss this shot list.  You want to ensure your photographer “gets it” before the shoot ever begins. After all, if you’re a casual dining restaurant that’s establishing a socially conscious, Millennial-targeted brand, you don’t want your photographer to shoot your food on fine China atop linen tablecloths.

Photographer is only as good as The Stylist

You will get your best images for your restaurant if you build the right team. Make sure you research the food stylists your photographer recommends. I prefer my images to not be over-styled. Find out who is your photographer’s favorite stylist and ask to see samples. You may want to go with someone else.

Back in the day, you could not eat anything on a food set because stylists used things like motor oil in place of syrup and all sorts of non-edible things. I want my food to be natural, so the team I work with uses only edible ingredients. The stylist and photographer discuss light setup, so that the stylist will build the plate under the lights.

I also prefer shooting food in the photographer’s studio. This keeps a controlled environment. I have a group of photographers I like to use for different jobs. We can create natural light and can control it throughout the day, if needed. We can make it look like we are actually in the restaurant by bringing in a table or chair or some iconic items from the store.

LOOMIS Texas DQ Video Case Study

Is It Worth the Money?

Is it worth spending the kind of money it takes to hire a professional food photographer and food stylist? For Challenger Brands, this is an investment and one that should be tied to your branding.

Your result should be professional food photography suitable for menus, signage, social media, advertising and any other promotion that comes to mind for the next 12 to 18 months. Photography of your signature dishes that you’ll advertise and promote continually may have a longer shelf life, but you will need to refresh advertising photos along the way as seasonal events or promotions present themselves.

Bottom line: Investing in a professional food photographer is a key way for you as a Challenger Brand to reinforce your restaurant’s identity and build enthusiasm for your products. And, no, you can’t do that with your iPhone.



Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.