Food and lifestyle photography. Group of young people enjoying a table full of food on the rooftop at Cowford Chophouse. Dishes include oysters, hamburger sliders, a cocktail, and crab legs. Photography by Michael Glass at Cowford Chophouse in Jacksonville, FL.

5 Tips to Get Started as a Jacksonville Food Photographer

As a life-long resident and decade-long food photographer in Jacksonville, I like to think that I’ve got a good idea of what restaurant goers and local foodies love to see when it comes to food photography for Jacksonville restaurants. Whether you’re a restaurateur that is seeking food photography for your new or existing restaurant, a budding chef that wants to show the world your masterful culinary creations, or a content creator looking for some ideas to “wow” audiences in the Jacksonville food photography social media scene, this article can help.

Join me as I walk you through some key creative and technical knowledge that I’ve gathered over the years being a photographer in Jacksonville over the years.

1. Know your brand.

Before you break out the camera to take your first photo, it’s important to have a good idea of your brand – whether that’s been established by a marketing team or just a vision you have for your food or restaurant.

How can I figure out my restaurant’s brand? While it’s possible to go deep into branding strategy, we’ll keep things a bit more efficient here. Pick two to three good adjectives or descriptors that encapsulate your restaurant’s vibe and menu. For example, if you own a high-end steakhouse your brand descriptors might be “luxurious, traditional, and refined.” On the other hand, if you run a Korean fusion food truck descriptors like “quirky, adventurous, and innovative” might more closely match your style.

Each word you’ve used to define your restaurant’s brand, at least to some degree, have a generally-accepted visual style. For example, the word refined might invoke the idea of a monochrome palette with some accents of rich colors. Homey might be a more muted color palette with a focus on warm greens and faded plums with a bit of sun flare and rustic charm in the images. Quirky may be vibrant, punchy colors with an interesting or unorthodox use of patterns and texture.

Take your group of descriptors and try to amalgamate them into one idea that meshes well visually. Think of this as a big picture of your restaurant’s brand. With this in hand, you can begin to apply it to your food photography.

2. Know your menu.

One thing that never gets old being a food photographer in Jacksonville is that there is no shortage of diverse restaurants opening every day – many with beautiful menus that I am ever eager for an opportunity to photograph. With so much diversity in Jacksonville’s restaurant scene, it’s important to know the menu you’ll be working with.

What kind of items are on the menu? If you’re taking photos for a sushi house, for example, you may consider photographing low and close to the food so your viewers can take in all of the various colors and textures from a fresh new perspective to command intrigue for the dish. Say your restaurant client’s menu focuses heavily on soups and salads – chances are you are going to take your hero shots from above to be able to show off all the ingredients and maximize the appeal of each dish.

Knowing the menu you will be photographing is crucial when it comes to food photography because you need to be able to identify what lighting and setting will really make your viewers eat with their eyes.

3. Know your lighting.

Photography is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (such as film or an optical sensor).” Look at any photo and realize that what separates a great photo from a junk photo is almost always lighting. Good lighting can make even the most bland subject visually interesting, bad lighting can make an amazing subject look subpar.

Without going crazy into detail – I could rattle on all day about this stuff – there are generally two optimal lighting positions in food photography that rarely let you down and that I use all the time when I’m photographing for restaurants in Jacksonville. Light from the side or light from behind. It’s that simple. An easy 80% of food photography can be beautifully lit with light coming from the side or from behind the dish.

Whether you’re shooting with window light or a softbox, or going a little avant-garde with bare-bulb flash, these two lighting positions should serve you well. Most of my shots are taken with a large softbox or diffuser placed very close to the dish or drink. I love working with a large, soft light source and flash because it allows me create intimate shots of food and control just how much the viewer can see of the dish and the setting it’s in.

4. Know your style.

Wait, isn’t this the same thing as knowing my brand? Not necessarily. If you are a restaurant owner or a chef trying to create a portfolio of images for your dishes, your style and your brand may be one in the same. However, many Jacksonville food photographers have signature styles that still prevail, even when working to a brief, making them instantly recognizable if you’re attuned to the Jacksonville food photography scene.

Creating a strong visual style can really help “sell” your images to different restaurants. For example, my style tends to lean heavy into moody and contrasty values and vibrant tones. This could pair well with restaurants that have a similar atmosphere. Other photographers might crush their blacks (making them closer to a gray) and really raise the shadows in their images to create an almost flat, filmic look which might perfectly suit the brand of say an indie coffee shop.

While I’m not an advocate of being entirely a one-trick pony, I think that having a consistent visual style can really help you when making a name for yourself and your food photography. Picasso was known for co-founding the Cubist movement, so it would be a little out of character for him to be painting Impressionist vistas – he knew his style and his patrons cherished him for it.

5. Know your gear.

Lastly, I will say that it’s important to know your gear. Whether you’re shooting with an iPhone or you have a whole full-frame camera and flash kit with half a dozen modifiers at your disposal, it’s important to know your gear and know your abilities and limitations to get the most out of your food photography.

Know that in many instances an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy are capable of taking beautiful food shots if you follow some of the advice above. They have built-in algorithms and integrated AI systems that pick the ideal camera settings for your shot. However, they have small sensors that really start to suffer in low light. Moreover, they may look fantastic on a phone screen, but a typical printed photo has 3x more pixel density than a photo used on the web. You may see quality suffer if you intend to take pictures for a printed menu.

Shooting with a modern DSLR or Mirrorless camera could enable you to capture more color depth, allowing you to go a little wild with post-processing – more so than a phone photo. You have the ability to drastically change lighting and colors with programs like Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, Lightroom, and beyond. It’s important to remember though that you are in control of more settings and have many more opportunities to botch a shot than you might while using a phone. Your fancy lenses and light modifiers can only help if you use them with purpose and take into consideration the brand, menu, style, and available lighting when photographing food for a client.

Know your photo gear. Know how, when, and why it works. Mastery of your tools is a crucial step in crafting beautiful food photos.

Closing Thoughts.

I hope you find the advice in this article valuable. Capturing photos aligned with your restaurant’s brand and menu is achievable with thoughtful consideration and technical expertise. If you’re still unsure about capturing your own photos, numerous skilled food and restaurant photographers in Jacksonville, myself included, are available to help.

For further insights into Jacksonville food photography or specific questions for budding food photographers, feel free to contact me. I’m always eager to offer advice to help you embark on your food photography journey.