Quick Tip: Shooting Photos for a Holiday Restaurant Layout


The briefing was a ten minute conversation over the phone: we need a photo to promote Christmas events catering at our place. We do not have any specific idea, but don't want those same tables everybody uses. Can you do it?

The chosen image has the minimalist look the client wanted and can be used in the layout chosen.

Yes, I can! Christmas is a time when you're asked to do some last minute photographs for those clients who always think things are done "in a few minutes." Sometimes I feel a chill down my spine answering this way when I get this kind of commission. Working as a solo photographer you have to be the think tank, the action man, the janitor when the photo session ends and everything in between. And Christmas is just round the corner so... hurry up. Will the client like it?

So the brief is simple: no table decorations, no sweets in the bowl on the table, no nice turkey or whatever with some dashes of red in the background. In brief, no tables like the others do. And no table to photograph anyway. Not even one that I could shoot in segments to frame a final image for the client to use. Now that I think about it, I could have done a nice triptych with that, maybe another year, let me write this idea down.

Through different trials with the elements, the final idea begins to take shape.

1. Planning for a Specific Size

This is my flow of thoughts after hanging up the phone. I do not know about you, but my mind starts to race and imagine the possibilities. And remember the limitations too. The image to be used in a small article, but also in a banner on the top of their website and on the Facebook page. It will be horizontal, with a longer size that is almost three times its height. That will limit the number of elements that can be placed there. And yes, it as has to have space for words, and be simple, and communicate two things: Christmas and the joyous act of eating.

Just to make things clear, I am shooting for a layout. I have a specific place to fill, and I have to fit all the elements within that area, and still leave space for copy. This means I cannot do a full rectangular shot, I need to crop and I have to choose what will be in and out of the picture. Even if I could photograph a whole table it would be rather small in the final image. So I have to go for a few elements that will scream CHRISTMAS!

For the final picture, I decided to crop out part of the fork and knife and create a leading diagonal from the right.

2. Getting Down to the Shoot

I love white. I simply love white. So there I am picking my way to photograph animals with white backgrounds and adapting it to a Christmas shoot. After all, Christmas is white (not everywhere, but we like to think it is white, with snow) so it makes sense. Maybe the client will believe me, I say to myself. And I start to shoot.

I go for the traditional setup: a dish, a nice wine glass, a fork and knife, and a red Christmas ball. Minimalist and simple in terms of color: red and white say it all. It's Christmas! I arrange the different elements, take some test shots, position my lights, one under the translucent base the other beside the table top setup, with a reflector on the other side. Efficient, clean light with two flashes. But I am not happy. There goes the glass.

3. Working through the Challenges

The landscape format of the website and Facebook banners define the constraints of the image

I keep shooting, placing the dish so only part of it is seen in the area that will be my final image. Some minutes shooting and chimping at my LCD and I am not getting anywhere. It's a normal process. I consider this to be the warm up. Sometimes I can spend hours exploring things and nothing seems to fit, and then, suddenly, you feel like you're holding the Ariadne thread and getting out of the labyrinth. It can be a painful process sometimes, it is true, but I guess all creative processes happen the same way. It's 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

Excluding elements from the original setup left me with a fork and knife and a red Christmas ball. And the final image came from that trio, exploring the reflection of the ball on the knife and the positioning of elements in relation to each other. I shot various images, but ended using one that works perfectly for the client needs and fits within the constraints of the design.

I opted to cut part of the fork and knife, as that gave me more visibility on the Christmas ball reflection, what made sense to me. The suggestion of Christmas and food is fully present in the photograph, and on the right side, just above the diagonal created by the knife, there's space for the client's message.

4. Delivering Your Images

The banner for the top of the Facebook page and the website article illustration use the same photograph in a slightly different way.

Why did I choose white, and why did the client like it? Well, there are multiple reasons for that but let me state here what I think. In the end it was easy and the answer resides in three points. First, I like to shoot with white backgrounds, especially with lighting going through a translucent base, so I try to pass this on to clients. Second, white is somehow a color that is back. People, at least over here, are choosing white cars (don't ask me why, but they do) so it seems to be something viral. And third, white is Christmas, so add a touch of red and you cannot go wrong.

Let me add one more thing: the client wanted something different from the usual Christmas table, and the minimalist look of this photograph gives their message the strength they want. So, that's how I did it.

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