RESTAURANT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING TIPS – behind the scenes with Paul Lindqvist and Marisa Alvarsson

It is said that we eat with our eyes first, but what exactly makes a restaurant dish visually appealing? The plating and general presentation do, of course. However the dining experience, the ambience and atmosphere of the restaurant cannot be underestimated. Beautiful lighting sets the mood, guides the eye and complements the restaurant theme. But if you have ever tried to capture images within a restaurant setting and noted that, disappointingly, they do not do justice to the food or the experience you had, there are some reasons for this.

Whether you photograph food in a professional capacity, or like to capture your restaurant dining experiences for visual mementos to be shared on social media, shooting in a restaurant can pose challenges.

The sad irony is that the very thing that helps create restaurant ambience, sets a mood and makes the food arriving at your table extra appealing, can be a hindrance when it comes to your camera or camera phone. Multiple light sources, downlights, spotlights, reflections, the temperature differences between natural and ambient lighting, and even not enough light can all be issues for a would-be restaurant food photographer.

Recently myself and one of my favourite colleagues and collaborators, Paul Lindqvist, were asked by Fagerhults Belysning AB to share our experiences shooting and styling food in a restaurant environment. One of Paul’s client’s, The Market, was happy to allow us to capture some of our experiences of a day on the job, shooting food in their gorgeous venue at the Scandic Continental in central Stockholm.



Here are some snippets from that discussion…

Today photographer, Paul Lindqvist, and food content creator and stylist, Marisa Alvarsson, share some thoughts about their work processes, plus a few tips for capturing images that faithfully illustrate the appeal of restaurant food.



“Working on location in restaurants here in Sweden does not spoil you in terms of bountiful natural light all day, and even if it did, nothing guarantees you a big window in the right place. Which is the reason I shoot with artificial strobe lights from Elinchrom for all my work. My approach to lighting food on location is very much based on creating light for the set and using light to bring out texture and colour. So first I decide the space, the angle and how tight/wide the shot should be, and what kind of background and surface, etc., should be used.

After that, I start to set the light, usually with a plate or a mockup dish as a stand-in. I always start with one light and work from there. This way I can see clearly how each light contributes to the scene.”

A new dish from the autumn menu as shot in available ambient restaurant light only.


The dish as shot with the key light.


The dish as shot with the first kicker light.


The dish as shot with the second kicker/back light.


The dish as shot with the flash and all lights in the set-up.
“My lighting often consist of two or more lights, usually a larger softer light as main light and a harder smaller light as accent light to add some highlights and sparkle. Depending on the output and the style the clients wants, the lighting changes of course, but in general my style is more commercial than, say, editorial. I like food to be bold and really stand out.

This way of working enables me to work regardless of the weather or if there are any windows in the right place in the location I’m shooting.”

A delicious dish of celeriac and green peas, topped with red carrot and chilli, captured in natural daylight.


The same dish, as captured in a restaurant area with ambient lighting, using artificial strobe lights.


A tasty dish of aubergine and chickpeas, topped with zucchini, peppers and grilled vegetables, captured in natural daylight.


The same dish, as captured in a restaurant area with ambient lighting, using artificial strobe lights.




“I have created, styled and shot numerous homemade dishes as a cookbook author, food blogger, content creator for social media and editorial publications. My own personal style of food presentation is fairly minimalistic yet inviting. There is almost always a human element in my shots; be it a prop that suggests food preparation, or a small amount of natural “mess” such as a drip, some sprinkled food elements or a hand holding/ reaching for something. If I shoot my own food, I tend to steer away from styling a finished dish in a way that is too “precious” or too perfect, as I want my homemade food to have a homemade quality visually. My personal style, as a result of my background, is more editorial than commercial (thus when I work with Paul there is a good balance of different perspectives and ideas).

However, when I am representing the work of someone else (e.g., a chef or restaurant), I may want to capture what is offered in an “authentic” way, i.e., as it it presented to me, in the setting where it would naturally be served. And in many cases, a venue will also have a clear idea of how they want their food to be represented. Thus simple staging that suggests an organic dining experience, such as having a hand on a filled glass to the side of a dish, tableware to suggest dining companions in the background, etc., can be a preferable way to introduce a human aspect without adding artificial, unwanted “messiness”.

When I shoot in restaurants myself, it is often while traveling. In these situations I may be trying to capture the experience of dining from my own perspective, organically and as it is happening (for the purposes of social media). And as a result, I tend to use the light available to me within the restaurant space rather than a professional set-up such as Paul uses. I colour correct as needed in post, editing using Lightroom.”





If shooting professionally, try to arrange a time to shoot at the venue not only when the kitchen/staff will be available to assist, but patrons will not be disrupted… and your equipment/set-up will not be potentially accidentally disturbed.

If you are shooting on a DSLR, shoot in RAW format. A RAW file is essentially a digital negative and contains all the information of your image without compression. When working in a restaurant with ambient/night time/lower light conditions, your captures are dependant upon the colours and intensity of the light available to you, unless you use your own light set-up/flash. When colours need to be corrected, RAW format is your friend.

If you are working with available light, try to find a location within the restaurant where the lighting is even and you don’t have to work with intense spotlights/downlights.

Shooting tethered helps immensely when you are working with a group of any size, so that everyone can see what the camera is “seeing” and relevant feedback can be given.

Using a tripod can be necessary for shooting food in low light situations, enabling you to decrease your shutter speed and utilise a longer exposure.





In the case of shooting someone else’s food, you may not be required to “style” as you would if you were preparing every element of the dish yourself, but even a simple styling kit containing a few key items can be useful.

These can include:

  • Toothpicks or pins for holding individual ingredients in place
  • A fine mist water spray bottle for adding water droplets or making things look “fresh”
  • A paint brush plus glazing agent/vegetable oil for brushing on glossy highlights
  • Tweezers to help carefully move or place elements


If you are not provided access to the restaurant kitchen (which is very normal!), you can either 1) ask for a sample of the finished dish and then the individual components to “build” your own or 2) notify the kitchen when you are ready to shoot and ask for extra elements on the side in case you need to add little flourishes or background details (these could include extra micro-greens, French fries, bread, olive oil, etc.).


Thank you to the staff at The Market for allowing us to capture our work processes behind the scenes, and thank you to Fagerhults Belysning AB, 
for inviting us to take part in this project and sponsoring the venture. We were proud to collaborate on such a project with the knowledge leader within lighting!

This blog is in no way sponsored by/affiliated with other brands/businesses mentioned.

Images in post copyright/courtesy of Paul Lindqvist,, Marisa Alvarsson.


3 thoughts on “RESTAURANT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING TIPS – behind the scenes with Paul Lindqvist and Marisa Alvarsson

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