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Foodtography: Seattle Is Not Jumping on the NYC Train of Banning Cameras at the Table

Brian Canlis says you don't even need a flash to take a great food photo. (Image courtesy Brian Canlis)

Are you someone who likes to take photos of your food at restaurants? Yeah, me too. Well, some chefs and restaurant owners don’t like it. David Chang, perhaps my favorite celebrity chef, has banned photography at Momofuku Ko in New York, and put the kibosh on flash photography at his Toronto and Sydney restaurants.

“Tiny, intimate restaurants where you are face to face with the chef, I think it could be insulting for a chef,” says Seattle food writer and blogger Naomi Bishop. “If I’m sitting across the table, if I’m four feet from him, as he’s preparing this beautiful, intricate, expensive meal for me, instead of sitting there and eating it and enjoying it, I’m going to bust out a camera?”

Naomi admits she is guilty of taking photos at the table for a piece she’s working on. But she expects others to be polite about it. For example, don’t stand on your chair to get the perfect photo. Yes, that happens.

“When we were at Babbo [one of Mario Batali’s New York restaurants], I actually asked our server if he would ask the couple taking flash photography to stop because it was actually that disruptive to our meal. Our meal, that we were paying more than $100 each for, was being disrupted and it was less fun. My memories of that night weren’t mostly of the great food, but being blinded by flash repeatedly.”

There are no restaurants in Seattle, that I could find, that have bans on food photography. Brian Canlis, owner of Canlis restaurant says he has no problem with it.

“Normally people are taking a photo because they are happy and they want to remember it. So I think it’s great!”

Has he ever told someone to put the camera down?

“Yes, if it intrudes on the table next to them having a good time? Absolutely, I’ll do something! But I’m not going to ban it! I’m gonna look at, how can I find a new way to make this guest really happy? So if their flash is upsetting a table next to them, I’m going to invite them back to the kitchen, invite them to the wine cellar. Do you want to take pictures down there, because it’s bright and beautiful. Offer to send them my photos because I take photos of all our food here, for the website.”

Brian is certain that excellent customer service can solve any problem and he thinks completely banning photography at the table is just lazy.

“It seems like such a short sighted, ego driven, silly thing to do. You’re getting in the way of people having fun. Canlis is an altar to our guests. They’re the whole reason we’re here and the whole restaurant revolves around them. I think restaurants that are doing bans like that are altars to the chef. The guest is asked to come in and revolve around them.”

Naomi says she wouldn’t be upset with a restaurant that banned photography.

“Ninety percent of the people out there that are taking photos are just minding their own business. There’s that other 10 percent who are using flashes. I was at Delancey, up in north Ballard, and there was a girl shooting video on her iPhone. It has this super bright light that comes out of the back of the camera. It was boring into our eyes as we tried to eat our slices of pizza.”

Brian, who is an amazing photographer, has a tip for those who like to shoot their food.

“You can shoot a perfect food photograph on the dark as long as the camera is steady. A $5 miniature tripod can go a long way. You don’t need a lot of light to shoot photos.”

But not all foods yield beautiful photographs.

“Soup. I don’t understand when people take pictures of soup,” says Brian. “Tossed salad.”

“French onion soup,” Naomi adds. “Nobody should ever take a picture of that. It looks like a baby took a poop. Indian food is pretty bad.”

So feel free to politely shoot your food photographs, even at fancy pants Canlis, but there is one thing that Brian just can’t get used to.

“What bothers me most is when people are more concerned about being connected to their online friends than the ones at the table. It’s sad, really, when you have four people all looking down at their phones, checking in, and not being in community with each other. Around the table is where magic happens with community. You’re not going to create magic with your friends online.”


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