Can I Photograph Your Meal?

Dreamstime food phtography
“Just give me a moment to take this picture with my zoom lens, then I’ll scoop your dinner off this cloth and back onto your plate.”

Picture this:

You’re sitting at a casual dinner party, relaxing over a good meal and a nice drink. The diffuse evening light coming through the curtains bathes everything in a soft glow. The conversation is low-key but amusing. You could happily sit at that table for the rest of your life.

Then, the host comes up. She’s holding her camera, and you think she might want to take a photo of the guests to remember this time forever. Instead, she asks slightly awkwardly, “I’m a food blogger – can I take a picture of your plate?”

Yikes! Who wants to be that host? Not me, as it turns out.

I recently ran into this problem for the first time when I was mixing work and pleasure by testing a dinner party menu for the blog on a few unsuspecting guests.  We’d issued an invitation to MJ’s aunt and uncle weeks before I found out I needed to write a post on entertaining, but it still seemed crass to try and get those two birds with one dinner party stone.

It left me pondering if there is any polite way to photograph food that you’re about to serve to guests?

Photographing the meal secretly in the kitchen seems like the obvious answer. But it isn’t an option for me. MJ and I live in a farmhouse cottage that has been converted to have a single cooking, dining and living space. While I love being included in the party while I’m cooking, it makes it impossible to snap a sneaky pic of the plates before they go to the table.

This means I need to ask. But asking seems to imply a hidden motivation for the gathering. The last thing I want is for my guests to feel like they’re props, or that the event they viewed as a fun get-together is actually just part of my work.

On reflection,  it seems to boil down to honesty.  Having invited MJ’s family over for dinner,  we were socially and ethically bound to provide hospitality – including a relaxing atmosphere. That wasn’t going to happen if I was fiddling around with the placement of their sticky beef ribs to get the perfect picture.

In the end,  I couldn’t bring myself to ask MJ’s venerable uncle if I could take a few shots of his fried okra. The food went to the table un-photographed. My blog post ended up with just a few pictures of dishes that I’d prepaped earlier.

The only solution seems to be to include the question when I extend the invitation. It would mean coming out of the food blogger closet, but at least my friends and family won’t feel like they’re dining under false pretences.

Would you feel offended if your host whipped out a camera and zoomed in on your plate? If you’re a food blogger, what is your personal code of ethics for taking photos in social gatherings?  

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