photo courtesy of Brannon Conza Photography
It is a well-known fact that one of the most effective ways to increase engagement on social media platforms is through the use of quality photographs. And what better way for a restaurant to show off its offerings than through the use of photography?
We’re seeing a surge in the number of Westchester restaurants participating in social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and events such as Hudson Valley Restaurant Week and the Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Weekend has only fueled the interest. Westchester Tourism and Film has been actively promoting Westchester restaurants across multiple online platforms as well.
Why, then, are so few Westchester restaurants taking advantage of photography to promote their business? Our non-scientific research suggests there many reasons, including the following:
- Restaurant owners perceive the cost of professional photography as being too high, and they don’t think they can obtain good results on their own.
- Restaurant management is too busy with the day-to-day operation of their business to devote time each week to activities such as social media, photography and marketing.
- Lack of awareness of the benefits photography can provide when combined with a good social media plan.
Westchester Social Media spoke recently with photographer Brannon Conza in an attempt to learn more about how restaurant owners might overcome some of these issues. Conza is the proprietor of Brannon Conza Photgraphy, and food is one of the areas in which she specializes. Brannon Conza Photography is also known for its outstanding portrait work.
Conza makes suggestions about how a restaurant owner can get the photographs they need — whether from a professional or on their own. Conza offered up some great tips, and had plenty more to say, so don’t be surprised if we ask her back for a follow-up Q&A. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section and we’ll try to get you the answers as soon as possible.
photo courtesy of Brannon Conza Photography
WSM: How is food photography different from other types of photography?
Brannon Conza: Food photography is unique because you are dealing with how to make a thing look its best, as opposed to a person. Ideally you should be highlighting the features of that food/dish while at the same time making it appetizing.
WSM: What are the most common mistakes photographers make when photographing food?
Brannon Conza: I would say using a flash is the mistake that most readily comes to mind. I find that all of the characteristics of food that make it visually appealing (color, texture, etc.) get quite washed out with a flash. By using natural light where possible you get to maintain all the inherent qualities of the food visually.
WSM: Have you seen any mistakes made by professional photographers?
Brannon Conza: I can’t really say that I have, aside from maybe some mishaps with brown food. Brown food is notoriously hard to photograph – you really need the right angle, plating, lighting to capture it and make it look appealing. Something else I see a lot of is putting too much in a shot. Personally, I’d rather not be overwhelmed by seeing handfuls of a dish’s ingredients alongside the finished plate. I understand the intent, but for me, it not only doesn’t enhance the photo but distracts and detracts from the final dish, which is ultimately what you’re trying to sell. I try to shoot food the same way I shoot people, namely, highlighting the beauty that comes through simple observation and not forcing an unnatural scenario.
WSM: Can a business owner get acceptable shots with a point and shoot camera?
Brannon Conza: Absolutely. My best advice is to read the manual that came with your camera. Just by switching it to something like portrait mode or macro mode – or even just turning off the flash and finding good natural lighting, you can take a great photo with a point and shoot. And I always say, the best camera is the one you have with you. If being able to bring along a point and shoot means that you’ll be able to take a shot of the meal you’re about to eat at a restaurant, then it’s extremely valuable to have one.
WSM: Do you have any tips that non-professionals can use to get the best food photography results?
Brannon Conza: Use natural light where possible, and don’t overcrowd over over-complicate the shot. Keep the focus on the food. And don’t be afraid to photograph the dish in various stages of being eaten.
WSM: How important is food styling (and what is food styling)?
Brannon Conza: Food styling is the process of aesthetically preparing the food to be photographed. It is everything from selecting the plate the food will be presented on, to actually placing the food, and then arranging garnishes, etc. to make it visually appealing. It can even involve using specific techniques to keep food looking fresh and vibrant – or even using special substances and chemicals to mimic certain foods (although personally, I stick to all actual food.) Food styling is extremely important because it is the foundation of what you see on the plate. You eat with your eyes first, so making sure that what your eyes see is appealing is key.
photo courtesy of Brannon Conza Photography
WSM: Any tricks to preparing food to look better, more appetizing?
Brannon Conza: Anything you can do to highlight color and texture is great. Use fresh ingredients, cooked properly according to the recipe. Basically, isolate what about that food you’re trying to convey. Say it’s a pie. The best parts of pie are flaky crust and sumptuous filling. That can be highlighted through something like small pieces of crust flaked off on the plate, and a cross section of the pie that catches the light in such a way that it glistens. Eating is a sensual experience, and understanding food is important. I feel that my strong background with food (a lifelong cook, at one point nearly studying at the Culinary Institute of America) definitely gives me an edge when it comes to shooting it. I pay attention to what each particular food has to offer and run with that.
WSM: When booking a shoot with a professional photographer, are there any tips you have for a business owner to get the most bang for their buck?
Brannon Conza: Shop around for photographers, really peruse each one’s portfolio. When you find one whose style matches your vision, that’s a good sign. It means the best chance of getting the shots you’re looking for and not having to spend money on yet another shoot to create the look you’re going for. And have as much prepared in advance so that you’ll cut down on actual shooting time.
WSM: How important do you think photos are for a restaurant on the social media platforms?
Brannon Conza: I think they are of the utmost importance. Photographs online offer a vital chance to make a great first impression. You don’t want to squander that chance by 1) having no photos of your food, or 2) having bad photos of your food. Ideally, a few interior and exterior shots of your venue will be included with your online media, as well as a shot or two of the chef/staff. My main message for restaurant food photography, however, is simple. NO stock photography. Stock food photography on a restaurant website is pretty much false advertising. Restaurant/food business owners, please make sure that the photos on your site are of food that you yourself prepared. Potential customers deserve to know exactly what food they can expect to be served at your establishment.
WSM: Any thoughts on Pinterest?
Brannon Conza: Unfortunately I have somewhat limited experience with Pinterest. But the experience I do have is positive, and I can sense that Pinterest will be around for a while to come. Additionally, much of what I see shared on Pinterest is food related – recipe inspirations, entertaining ideas, and such.
WSM: Any other ideas, suggestions etc. that would help business owners put photography to work for their business?
Brannon Conza: Basically just keep your photos current, accurate, and of good quality. When in doubt, don’t share that picture. It’s not necessary to have every dish you offer photographed, but highlighting a few of your best dishes across several categories is ideal. Know when to invest in professional photography, and think of it as just that – an investment. You only have one chance to make a great first impression and the food photography on your site can make or break that chance.
You can see the Brannon Conza’s photo galleries on the Brannon Conza Photography website, or call (845) 418-2528 for more information. You can also follow Brannon Photography on Twitter and Facebook.
Chris S. Cornell is the Director of Social Media at Thompson & Bender — a Westchester-based PR, advertising and marketing firm. Thompson & Bender works for a wide range of Westchester businesses, including several hospitality businesses. Thompson & Bender also provides consulting services to Westchester Tourism & Film. Cornell manages several online communities, including the Westchester Food Facebook page and the Westchester Social Media Facebook page. Cornell also consults, speaks and writes about social media. You can follow Chris on Twitter at Cornell140.