In the comments section of my Marque review, reader Ecumer asked me the following question:
I have an etiquette question about restaurant photography. Do you ask permission before shooting or is it just assumed? I have conniptions every time I pull out the humble Olympus at someone else's table and often can't even bring myself to do so at high end places.
I responded in the comments section and had some interesting subsequent replies. I decided I'd prefer to devote a separate post to the topic of food blogging camera etiquette. Here's my take (edited to include a few more thoughts):
In terms of camera etiquette, I can only speak for myself. The only place I've ever asked the staff permission to photograph was at Le Bernardin, more out of deference to the VIPs who were taking me out to lunch than anything. Permission was of course granted with a warm smile.
But otherwise, I normally just take the photos without asking. In the 2.5 years since I've been blogging I like to think I've become rather adept at taking photos quickly and discreetly: I never use flash; I don't huddle over the camera but rather hold it up to the food and look in the camera screen; I wait until the waiter/waitress has left the table (but if they return to the table I'll keep the camera out and won't hide it away guiltily); and I use a camera that's small enough to fit into my jeans pocket (a Panasonic DMC-FX38, which I always have stashed in my handbag).
In fact, I think I'd feel a little silly asking for permission to photograph - like I was making a big deal out of it on purpose, to seem important.
Out of all the places I've visited, not once have I been told off or asked to put the camera away: I think (particularly with high end restaurants) food photography is becoming so mainstream these days that it doesn't seem worth making a fuss over, provided the photographer is discreet enough to not bother other customers. If any restaurant did want to ban my little camera I'd probably suspect they knew their food wasn't up to scratch and deserved a bad review!
All that said, however, I may revise my camera policy if I do end up getting a big chunky camera. They're a lot more anti-social (for my dining companions as well as for other customers), and I imagine I'd only feel comfortable using it in circumstances where the lighting is too dim for my pocket camera, or where I'm with a bunch of food bloggers and so feel less self-conscious.
What's your take on it?
After I wrote this on the Marque post, Adski from the blog Totally Addicted to Taste subsequently commented:
Nice to hear your view on cameras in restaurants. I'm always keen to hear what equipment other people use for their blogs and how they feel about taking the actual photos.
Back in the day when i first started blogging, I didn't mind pulling the camera out so much because not many people knew about blogging or bloggers. But these days, it seems everyone in Melbourne is a food blogger of sorts. So these days, I feel a little bit more apprehensive about taking photos in a restaurant.
I use one of 3 different cameras when I'm out.
Iphone: My absolute last resort. The photos are crap and I hate posting them to my blog, but sometimes I've either just forgotten to bring another camera or went out for an impromptu meal.
Canon Digital Ixus 65: This camera is ok, but I don't love it. The main reason I'd use this is to be inconspicuous, probably at a restaurant where I'd feel slightly embarrassed taking photos. Maybe somewhere dark and formal like Ezard.
Canon 40D: This camera is my baby. If I could, I'd take every single photograph with this camera. I have 2 lenses which I love and are perfect for food photography. One is the 24-70mm, which is about $1800 new. This is one big lens and to take this out, you might as well set up a photography studio at your table. It takes amazing photos (IMO) if you check out my blog, it's quite obvious which lens took the nice looking pics. The other lens I use is the 50mm 1.8. This lens will only set you back about $100, but for it's price is an amazing lens and works pretty well in low lighting. However you usually need to up the ISO a bit. This lens is tiny, unassuming and fits in the palm of your hand. A lot less embarrassing to take out with you.
When I'm taking my pics at restaurants I ALWAYS wait until the wait staff have left and are preferably not watching me. I get a bit self conscious when taking restaurant pics. Usually my little trick is to have the camera out before I've even ordered and will flick through the photos on the camera with my dining partner and maybe even take a few snaps of each other. The reason I do that is, I like to give the wait staff the impression that I didn't get the camera out just for the purpose of taking photos of their food, more just to record the night. Do I sound paranoid? Or do other bloggers think the same way?
The only time I've ever been asked about my camera or more specifically asked NOT to take photos, was at Jacques Reymond. Apparently there are these people out there called 'bloggers' and they take terrible photos and post them on the internet. Well, that's what the waiter told me anyway. You can read more about that in my review.
If you're looking at getting your first food photography lens, I'd highly recommend the 50mm f1.8. It's cheap, has amazing DOF and works great in low light situations. Fit that onto something like a canon 400D and you have a great little reasonably inconspicuous restaurant setup.
Twitterer fennb then weighed in on the discussion:
On the topic of camera policies and food bloggers, I've been musing about "The perfect food blogger's camera".
Obviously, you could rock up with a Canon 5D mk II with a 17mm tilt-shift lens, but that's likely heading towards the point where the restaurant (or for that matter, other punters) my start caring - it would be big and somewhat loud (and inconvenient). It would also cost $6500.
So, what small, compact camera would be perfect for food?
Basically, the features you want are good macro/wide angle and excellent low light performance.
Two cameras instantly spring to mind:
1) The new Canon G11. It has less megapixels than it's older sibling, which was purposefully done to provide extended ISO (12800) low-light performance that canon has until now restricted to DSLRs.
2) The Ricoh GR Digital 3. This camera has a fixed length lens (so no zoom) BUT is 28mm (perfect for food/restaurant interiors) and can go as fast as f/1.9 (that's fast). This should make it great for low light/closeups, which is perfect for food.
Both cameras can shoot RAW (afaik) which is hugely helpful for low-light situations and both cost $500-$600.
I have no personal experience with either of these, but interested in people's experiences/opinions as it might help other keen food bloggers make a decision :)
And here's Ed's take:
Fennb, I've got the GR Digital 2 which is pretty amazing especially it's macro with a tiny focal length which is ideal for close up restaurant shooting. I wish for the GR3 because of the f.1.9.
The Ricoh's also have a great build quality too.
Thanks, fellas. Very useful camera information to know, particularly as my 30th is coming up and I'd reeeeally love a sexy camera for my birthday (nudge nudge). :)
Does anyone else care to add your nomination for the food blogger's perfect camera, or your thoughts on food blogging camera etiquette in general (whether you're a food blogger, a food blog reader or working in restaurants)?