I'm reading your blog for almost a week now and I must say that I'm impressed with it. The contents are very informative and the pictures are well composed (especially the food pictures). I also like taking pictures of where I'm going and what I'm doing and I'm currently using a Canon 350D to record these. But I have a few problems, First is that I'm not getting any good food photographs with my on-board flash, everything looks washed out or overexposed. The second one is I often get asked sometimes stopped by managers, store owners, waiters, guards, etc in taking photos which I find very irritating/disappointing. They often ask for some kind of permit or something.(kelangan ba talaga non?)
I would just like to ask, are you using any kind of setup/equipment for this food shots like some backlight, reflector cards, etc or are you just using available light inside the resto? And also, how do you gain access to these restos. I mean, do they really allow you to take pics of their menu, food and interior. Do you have any pre-arrangements with the owners/managers or you just walk-in like any regular customer and take pictures.
For now I'm resorting to landscape and travel photography because of that no-taking-of-picures-unless-you-have-a-permit thing in malls and most establishments in Metro Manila (tourist destinations are easier to photographers)
Thank you for these timely questions and let me answer them point-by-point.
1. Available light vs. Flash
Most of the time, I use available light especially during the daytime. When I enter a restaurant, I make it a point to choose a table that is directly under a light, near the window, or have lots of candles. I use an external flash especially at night but I must admit this is intimidating. So I use it less often and only when I'm lazy to be creative in finding available lighting sources.
Also, one of the reasons your shots are washed out or overexposed is that you maybe using the automatic modes of the camera. I normally use manual settings and set my aperture and speed at the optimum rating. When I use flash, you always need to check the histogram to ensure that the highlights and shadows are not clipped. I know there are lots of technical details and maybe I can just show you one of these days -- this is the best way to learn.
I don't use backlight, or reflector cards. I'm organizing a part 2.0 of our Pampanga culinary tour maybe you can join us so that I can show you.
2. Is Permit really needed to take photos?
In my one and a half years of photo blogging experience, you only need this for established malls especially Ayala malls. I was only accosted three times in my blogging career (if there is such a thing). First, was in Taste of Asia, where SM supermarket management tried to stop me. But when I finally published my blog post on Taste of Asia, Herbert Sy personally thanked me for it. Second, was in Chocolate Kisses where the assistant manager told me to stop with a raised eyebrow. After I published my post, the owner of Chocolate kisses personally apologized and told me that she already reprimanded the manager. Lastly, was in Guava, where they suspected me to copy their concept or menu and they were overly protective. On the last point, I can understand this for the likes of Go Nuts Donuts where the kitchen is exposed, but it should be OK to take shots of the donuts.
Here are some tips:
a. It is better to apologize later than to ask permission to take photos. So I go ahead and take the shots but first taking personal shots with my wife or son in the foreground. Most of the time if you ask permission, the guards would automatically say no and tell you that you need a permit. The best way to counter this is ask why and challenge them.
b. Build a relationship with the owner or manager. I would normally have a chit chat with them and tell them where I will use the photos. They have the right to know. I find that only the insecure restaurants tend to be protective and implement a no-photography-policy. I took pictures in Lemuria without any problems. The restaurants are afraid to be criticized or be copied, so if they are not confident with the quality of their food and service or if they have a concept that can be easily copied, they would tend to implement a non-sense no photography policy.
c. Be responsible with the photos you've taken. The reason that establishments would not allow you to take photos is that they were burned before. In the case of Chocolate Kisses, there was a group of people who published a whole page write-up in print media of how bad the food is and their service. Bloggers need to be responsible also so you don't say the food sucks (even if it is so), or you don't create a negative publicity for the restaurant or food. As for me, I simply don't feature them.
3. Pre-arrangements, Invited or Walk-ins.
I'm proud to say that 100% of my restaurant reviews are walk-ins. Even if I am invited (I'm getting some lately), I make it a point that it is unannounced and only visit if I am in the area. I want all my blog posts to be unbiased, objective, and based on the experience of the walk-ins. The only time I agreed to go on an invite basis, is when I joined Ivan's culinary tour of Binondo, which I already know will be a great experience! I find that the best restaurants in the Philippines provides the best experience even for walk-ins consistently anytime of the day or no matter how old the place is-- that is my benchmark.
Also, my intent is to document my culinary adventures with my family. This is my own biography for my son to read when he grows up. How often did you wonder how your parents lived when you were born? I make sure that every dinner or meal has a purpose and an occasion. It could be a birthday, reunion, get together, EB/ meet up, entertaining visitors or trying out a new place.
At the end of the day, even if I don't have a photo of the place, I can still blog about it. When I looked back at my old articles, I realized I was not as diligent in photographing all the details in the restaurant. Just lately, I really love to take photos of the food and I plan to make a career out of it. That is why, the reason I am pissed when I'm not allowed to take a photo is that I lose that learning opportunity for me to improve my shots. Photography is practice so the more you shoot, the more that you would improve your craft.
I do hope these help. I learned this over 1.5 years of blogging in Our Awesome Planet. By the way, I learned most of my food composition techniques with Lori's dessertcomesfirst.