Why it’s good to photograph your food

Did you know you might require a chef’s permission before you take a photograph of their food in a restaurant?

I didn’t. This was one of the 5 legal tips for taking holiday photographs included in an email we received from a PR company.

Creative dessert, La Palma
Such an artistic dessert the chef signed it.

The reason you need permission, according to advice from Copytrack, is that as chefs create ‘artwork’ (i.e. the dish in front of you), they’re technically holders of the copyright of said dish. It seemed a bit nonsensical to me. If I buy a painting I can do what the hell I like with it – take photos, throw it on the barbecue. If I pay for a meal in a restaurant then surely the same should apply?

Big burger, Calvi, Corsica
A burger such as this deserves to be shared with the world.

A quick check of copyright laws came up with this from copyrightlaws.com: “…you do not need permission from a chef or restauranteur or food stylist for photographing prepared dishes.”

Apart from the fact they spelled restaurateur wrong, it makes far more sense.

Some restaurants now prohibit diners from photographing food. Personally I’d say “sayonara” to any restaurant which tried to pull that one on me.

People taking photos of food are providing a public service.

Home made guacamole
Holy moly, staged guacamole.

True reflections
I enjoy looking at food photography, but the best is staged; it is basically still art. Sexily lit and beautifully constructed dishes may make a restaurant’s website look mouthwatering, but how do I, the customer, know dishes which turn up on my plate are going to look the same as the ‘models’ on the website? I don’t, just like I don’t know if the hotel room I book is going to end up looking anything like the showcase rooms hotels post on websites.

‘Real’ photos are one of the reason social media is so popular and why UGC websites (user generated content) like Tripadvisor have risen to the social media stratosphere. People know, within reason, they’re looking at the real deal when they see food photos taken by paying customers.

Some of the photography is shocking
Yes, it is. Photos can be blurred, poorly constructed, badly lit and so on. Some chefs say unflattering images is one of the reasons they don’t want punters taking photos of their food. I don’t buy it. Whenever I see bad photos on Tripadvisor, Twitter or Facebook I don’t think ‘I ain’t eating there, the food looks bobbins’. I just think ‘what a crap photograph’.

However, even if the photo is shocking, it still serves a purpose. It tells me what I want to know.

blurred, dark food photo
The photo is dull and blurred, but the food was good.

I don’t trust UGC reviews
What constitutes good food can be seriously objective, this colours how useful a review is to anyone reading it. If the person who wrote the review has similar tastes to the reader then it might be useful. But in most cases you have no idea what the culinary preferences of reviewers are. Additionally the majority of reviews on Tripadvisor aren’t in the slightest bit enlightening.

“Good local food in a nice terrace.” – The latest review of a restaurant we at at in Cáceres recently, a restaurant whose food was in reality creative cuisine. You’d never know that from the review.

Creative gazpacho, Cáceres
A bit more than just ‘good local food’.

“We had an evening meal it was excellent the service was spot on every thing was hot and lovely presented not too expensive.” – A review of another restaurant we ate at recently. It tells other people absolutely nothing about the food, apart from the fact the reviewer enjoyed their meal.

However, the photos which accompanied reviews of both restaurants told me all I wanted to know. I booked the first because I wanted a dining experience which wasn’t standard local fare, and I knew that’s what I’d get because photos showed the food was different from the norm.

Traditional food, Marvao, Alentejo
I’m not so sure about the ‘lovely presented’ part.

With the second, I wanted to eat in the location and choice of restaurants was limited. Looking at other people’s food photos first meant I knew what was on offer – nicely cooked, basic local fare. I wasn’t disappointed when the ‘lovely presented’ food was not ‘lovely presented’ at all.

Basically, photos tell you what reviews often don’t.

Standard tapas, Tenerife
Decent enough tapas, but nothing different from any other standard tapas joint.

This is particularly useful when trying to choose a restaurant in popular resort areas where people’s judgement can be seriously suspect and skewed by limited experiences. Traditional Canarian restaurants or authentic places to eat tapas are few and far between in Costa Adeje on Tenerife. When a holidaymaker finds one amongst a sea of mediocre restaurants serving international food, they can be guilty of going overboard in reviews.

“This is one of the best Tapas restaurant we have eaten in…” – a review of a restaurant serving bog standard tapas in a not in the slightest bit traditional setting.

Imaginative tapas, Tenerife
This, on the other hand, tells you you’re going to get something that’s not the norm.

It’s a place which wouldn’t stand up well when compared with many tapas restaurants serving similar authentic cuisine outside of the purpose-built resort areas. But gushing reviewers who have never experienced the gastronomic scene in traditional areas wouldn’t know that.

Photos, on the other hand, don’t exaggerate. A quick check of the photo gallery reveals the reality… and helps avoid disappointment.

Some chefs may frown and other diners may smirk, let them. Keep photographing that food. The culinary truth is out there, and your pics show exactly what it is.

Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+




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