Camera Etiquette in Restaurants

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Silver Dollar Pancakes, Happy Days Diner

It’s a Sunday morning, as 1:00 PM constitutes morning on the weekend in NYC, and I’m in no particular rush and out for no particular reason but brunch. Every weekend I pass Happy Days Diner in Brooklyn Heights on my way to Smorgasburg and want silver dollar pancakes, but talk myself out of going in an effort to save room for Gooey Butter Cakes. Finally, after many summer weeks away working in the Hamptons, and many weekends away traveling for weddings, I’ve made a point of visiting Happy Days for some quality Brooklyn diner food. It just so happens that my first visit is coinciding with my long anticipated, recent purchase of a DSLR camera. Naturally, with a new blog, a new camera, and a free weekend, I’m inclined to take some photos. Unfortunately my brunch companion is my boyfriend, who never fails to call me out for taking pictures of my food. When I first bring my camera out to take pictures of the retro menu, he laughs and suggests that I should instead be deciding what to order. A few minutes later, I attempt to capture an image of my pre-breakfast chicken soup (strange choice, I’m aware), when our waiter swings by our table to check on our food, and remarks, “You really like your camera!” Yes, yes I do.

I’d like to seize the moment to discuss the nuances of camera etiquette. I’ll be the first to give someone a hard time for ignoring me in favor of a phone, and I do everything I can to keep my cell phone out of social situations (particularly meals). However, when I first bought my big shiny new camera I didn’t think twice about using it in restaurants. I figured that, because I’d be taking pictures for myself, and not immediately texting them to others or sharing them on Instagram, the picture taking process wouldn’t be a source of grief. What I’ve come to learn is that apparently, the conspicuous nature of the camera makes it a big production when I take it out during a meal. As a result, I’ve developed a contingency plan for camera use in restaurants to put my mind at ease.

Using a DSLR Camera in a Restaurant

In general:

1) Keep the time with which you interact with the camera itself to a minimum

2) Trying for a second or third shot is fine, but if that’s what you’re doing, explain why the first shot was insufficient to the person you’re with so that they don’t feel ignored

3) If your camera seems to bother the person/people you’re with, and you’re not a professional photographer:

a) apologize and take very few photos

b) depending on the level of upset, potentially discontinue taking photos altogether

c) find new friends

If human beings are the subjects of your photos:

1) Before you take a picture of another person, particularly in an intimate environment such as a restaurant, it’s smart to notify and/or ask a person if it’s ok to take their picture, however dazzling their uniform

If you’re at a formal restaurant:

1) Refrain from using flash photography… One advantage to having a good quality camera is that it is possible to get a good shot in a low-light setting without a flash

2) Ask a waiter before using flash photography

3) Only take a few photos at a time before getting back to your food or conversation. Unless you’re alone, or photography is the purpose of your meal, chances are your company matters more than the quality of your photos

When you’re out for a meal to discuss something serious:

1) Unless you’ve staged a proposal, or something wildly unusual happens, or you need to document what’s transpired, it’s probably not appropriate to take pictures

2) Serious instances in which meal photography may be frowned upon: job interviews, school interviews, discussions involving the status of your romantic relationships, whether positive or negative, funeral reception meals, etc.

This plan is based solely on my own common sense, and its primary purpose is to help me sleep better at night. I am by no means a camera expert, as mine is only a few weeks old. More likely than not, if you’re concerned about whether or not you’re bothering others with your camera, you probably aren’t. At least that’s what I tell myself.

My Camera

21 thoughts on “Camera Etiquette in Restaurants

  1. Orion T says:

    Funny thing about cameras at restaurants…I remember back many years ago taking a picture at a restaurant back porch on a pier in Monteray, CA..then writing notes for an upcoming unrelated assignment for a magazine. Suddenly, the manager comes by and asks me to take all the pics I want of the food, as he thought I was there to review the place. He comps me a drink and gives the craziest history lesson about the clam chowder rivalry between restaurants on that pier. He was cool when I told him I wasn’t a restaurant critic (he seemed relieved and comped me another drink).

    Liked by 1 person

    • sadiecathcart says:

      That’s amazing! It may bother other patrons, but restaurants probably appreciate when people document their experiences! I have yet to have this happen, but I certainly hope it will. Great story, thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ditajessica says:

    I have no qualms with taking photos in restaurants but apparently some people find it really awkward? Unless youre spending 10 minutes trying to get a pic of your very average ramen I don’t see the problem haha x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sofia B. says:

    Such a great article about a topic that’s surprisingly quite sensitive. I love taking photos (although I don’t have an amazing camera like yours, slightly jealous!!), but doing so in shops, restaurants or caffes always feels a bit awkward for me. This piece of etiquette advice really helps, though. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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