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Crash Course: 7 Tips for Mobile Food Photography

by 12. January 2017 05:16

Hi Food Truck Friends! Today we wanted to chat about one of our favorite subjects – food photography. Everyone loves to share drool-inducing photos, and these images are one of your best assets when it comes to successfully marketing what your truck has to offer. The photos you take can be used on your website, on social media, and on your menus so they’re well worth a little time and effort. The greatest news regarding these photos is that you don’t need fancy equipment to get the job done. The following tips are designed for our do-it-yourself partners, and can be applied whether you’re using a professional camera or just your phone.

1) Choosing the right subject
Not all food photographs equally. To start, choose menu items that have more dimension. Dishes that are liquid or gooey such as soup or lasagna are very challenging to capture in an appealing way, which means your best-selling menu item may not be the item you want to start with. Evaluate your menu for dishes that are pretty on a plate, and work upward from there. The pizza below with added basil is a great example of how to make a gooey, cheesy dish “pop” on camera.

Fried Chicken Dish Margarita Pizza


2) Setting aside time to photograph
Some truckers can take a quick snap as they dish up food on the truck in the middle of service and it looks great (!), but carefully plating a dish and setting up in good lighting is better accomplished when you have some extra time. We recommend setting aside a couple hours to make and photograph different dishes in a clean, spacious, well-lit area, and keeping these images on file to share when you’re about to head to a shift, or for use in advertising later.

And don’t forget to take photos of your truck itself so your prospective customers can connect the food they’ve been seeing with you at an event!

Chicken from Food Trailer in Tampa Florida


3) Thinking through your assembly
The way you assemble a dish to be photographed will likely be a little different than a dish you are putting together to serve. For example, when serving beef stew with mashed potatoes you might just add the potatoes to a bowl, then ladle the stew on top. However, for greater appeal in photographs, it makes more sense to put the potatoes in a bowl, use a slotted spoon to drain the stew adding only the meat and vegetables stacked carefully on top of the potatoes, and then sparingly drizzle the liquid portion of the stew over top. You can also deliberately place any herbs or a sprinkle of pepper on top with greater care than you would normally. The difference in the way you assemble in this example will allow you to control the ratios of meat/veggies to liquid, and ensure the parts of the meal you want to stand out in the photograph, will. Yes, of course it’s delicious either way – but we want to capture the most scrumptious looking version of your menu items.

You can also photograph dishes that are a little messy or crowded in stages – taking an “in progress” shot to show how you assemble a rice bowl, for example, and what is in it or even shots of all the ingredients laid out but not yet assembled. This helps customers to get an idea of what all is in that bowl in a more comprehensive way than a simple completed top-down view. For these types of photos you can add a caption explaining the choices a customer can make on protein and veggies, or even saying “our bowl just before we add our special sauce!” or something similar to indicate the meal isn’t quite completed.

Also be cognizant of placing items such as butter (butter-based sauces) and cheese. If you add a pat of butter to a hot potato, or sprinkle cheese over steaming chili, what happens? It melts. If you want a crisper photo with a little more dimension, be set up and ready to snap as soon as you place that butter or cheese on top before it disintegrates into the dish too much (unless your intention is to show the butter happily melting!) To make this easier you can also let the item cool significantly before topping with butter or cheese, as no one will be able to tell if your dish cold in the photo. Also, be somewhat quick with items such as avocados, apples and bananas, which turn some unappetizing colors if left out in open air too long.

4) Lighting, Lighting, Lighting!
You know how they say you can’t out-train a bad diet? It’s equally difficult to out-edit a poorly lit photo.  Proper lighting is essential for great food photos, ideally indoors next to a big window with natural light, that is oriented on a side of the dish or outdoors not in direct sunlight (cloudy or partially cloudy days are wonderful for this!) Direct sunlight is usually harsh, and can cast shadows if not photographed from a flattering angle, whereas fluorescent lighting can result in haze and distorted colors. Also be careful of shooting indoors with other light sources in a room (ex. you may be next to a window with lots of natural light, but also have artificial overhead lighting turned on. If so, try a couple shots with the lights on, and then try a few with it off to see which looks better.)

Here are a couple examples as to the differences lighting can make in your photos:

Grilled Cheese and French Fries


The sandwich and muffins above were taken indoors on a sunny day, next to a large window providing natural light with little to no interference from any artificial light inside. 

Cookie Photography

Cupcake Photography

The cookies and cupcakes above were both taken indoors on a cloudy day, with no artificial lighting. You'll notice the "temperature" of these photos is cooler than would be on a sunny day. The lighitng is a little moodier.  

Sandwich Photography 

The shot above of the sliders was taken outdoors in direct sunlight on a very sunny day - when shooting in these conditions you will need to play with the angles to avoid casting any extra shadows on the food.  

Chips and Guacamole Photography
The chips and guac above were shot on a patio in daytime on a sunny day (indirect natural sunlight.) 

Taco Photography

The tacos above were shot at night, outside on a patio under artificial lighting.  

All of the shots above work depending on the look you're going for (although I really don't recommend trying to shoot at night!) The first thing to do when you begin to shoot is to find a place where the lighting is good, and will give you the effect you want. Take a couple test shots with everyday items before you start preparing, and remember the lighting in naturally lit areas will change depending on time of day. I knew a blogger who would photograph everything (dinners included!) in her kitchen at 10:30am, when she felt the lighting was at it's best.

Now here are a couple examples of lighting to try and avoid:

Pasta Photography
Coffee Photography
The pictures of the pasta and coffee above were taken in restaurants in the daytime with some natural light, but primarily under artificial lighting. You can see there are some awkward shadows and reflections being cast, a warm orangey glow on the pasta, and actually the reflection of the overhead lighting on the pasta.

Bodega Restaurant
The photo above is staged fine, but was taken in a restaurant at night with low artificial lighting and edited to add some brightness. You can see the end result is really hazy.

Fried Chicken Photography Example

The lighting on the fried chicken above is fine (natural light from a window, with some artificial lighting interferring) but the angle from which the photo is taken cast unwanted shadows.

5) Staging
As was briefly explained in the assembly tip – staging your plate for maximum appeal before you start snapping away is of the utmost importance. Plate carefully, and use a paper towel or Q-tips to clean up extra sauce, crumbs, and any wayward ingredients, spills or splashes. You want your completed plate/bowl/basket/container to look tight and neat.

Also don’t forget what is around the plate. Ensure your dish is appearing on a clean surface, and that there is nothing too distracting in the background (or foreground) of the photo. The main focus should be your dish, and anything that is in the background or around your plate should lend some context that makes sense. For example, in the ice cream photo below, the cups were purchased while out shopping. The background is slightly blurred to show that the ice cream is the focus of this image, but the background adds context in a natural way that doesn’t look overly staged. If someone’s hand is holding your food, please make sure it’s clean and that there is no chipped nail polish.  Consider leaving your truck, a menu with your logo, customers, your chefs, etc. in the background of some pictures.

You can get creative with staging if you’d like, not just photographing cleaned, completed dishes but parts of menu items coming together, or in progress. And you don’t have to be totally retentive, sometimes showing some of the ingredients used to make the dish, or a smear of sauce or spices on the side can lend a more organic, honest, I-just-made-this feel to your picture. These are all things to consider depending on the look you’re going for.

Also be sure to try taking your photos from several different angles so you have a selection when you go in to edit. Typically it can take anywhere from 5 to 20 shots to get the perfect “one” to post. When shooting, try out slightly different angles, lighting, backgrounds, props, etc. 

Photography Example
Chicken and Waffles Photography

Chicken and Waffles Photography Angle

The chicken and waffles from two different angles - gives you a pretty different photo. Also note, these photos were taken at the same restaurant, in the same area of the restaurant as the "Bodega" photo above. The daytime lighting makes a huge difference!

Taco Photography

The taco above staged showing ingredients for assembly.

Brisket Sandwich Photography
The brisket above shown more organically (sauce is naturally splashed) - about to be eaten.

Quesadilla Close Up

Eating-in-progress showing what's inside the quesadilla.

6) Editing
To add that perfect finishing touch to your photos, consider doing some minor editing. This can fix slightly-too-dark or bright lighting and add a little dimension to really make your photo look perfect. For your phone, we like Afterlight as an editing app, and Instagram also offers some great basic options. If using Instagram, you can also simultaneously share your image on Facebook and other platforms.

For more natural looking edited photos, avoid filters and instead play manually with brightness and exposure, contrast, shadows/highlights and sharpness. It’s not difficult, take some photos and just play with each one to discover what they do. Be careful and use a light hand with saturation, a great way to make your photos look over-processed or fake are colors that are just a little too bright. You’ll get a feel for the style of images you like as you experiment.

7) Continuity
This is optional, and slightly more advanced for consideration once you get the hang of things – but you’ll notice the best brands have some continuity to their images. Whether it’s the same style of lighting, repeated colors, or a similar setup/background, the images posted are all different, yet look like they belong to the same series. This is something to work toward once you find the style that best fits your truck.

Thanks for reading, and we hope this crash course in basic food photography helps with your everyday marketing!


Worried about food lines at your wedding?

by 23. September 2016 09:56

When selecting a food service for your wedding, an important consideration for most couples is the experience that will be delivered to their guests. One of the most common questions we receive during the planning process  is “how long will my guests wait for their food?” To answer, we would first like to explain that food truck service at a private wedding, is very different from the food truck experience you will receive at a lunch location or a rally. Why? There are a couple factors that weigh into the time it takes to place an order and receive your food from a truck: namely, menu selection and the exchange of money.

At a public event, customers approach a truck, order their food from a large menu, pay for their meal, and then wait for it to be made. However at a private catered event, the food truck is not taking money from each attendee, thus significantly cutting down on the time each person spends at the window. Another factor to consider is that catered events such as weddings usually have a pared down menu of several entrees. Since the food truck knows what will be served, and for the approximate number of people, they can prep in advance to expedite their service. When your guest approaches the truck, all they need to do is ask for their meal, it will be completed quickly, plated and handed over - ensuring your guests only wait for about 3-5 minutes. The wait is similar to what you would experience at a buffet style service.

Speaking of, Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally also offers other methods of service from the food trucks. For example, the meal can be set up buffet style in chafing dishes inside or in front of the food truck, instead of serving from the window of the truck itself. Or, we can set up hors d'oeuvres or a salad station inside your venue for guests to start at, before directing them outside to the truck to pick up their entrees.

We also have the experience and knowledge to advise you in situations where your event may benefit from multiple trucks, rather than a singular truck, which will also speed up the rate of service. To make the experience even smoother, we recommend sending your guests in groups to the trucks or buffet, rather than all at once to ensure no one is kept waiting. To assist with this, we offer an expo service of employees who can help direct your guests, similar to wait staff at your venue.

Food truck service is even quicker for late night reception snacks of singular items such as donuts, tacos, churros, burgers, or slices of pizza. And don’t forget about dessert! We offer trucks that can scoop ice cream, pass out hand packaged dessert samplers, or even create a tower of wedding cupcakes for your guests! Contact us today to see how we can help you plan a memorable and delicious event!

Stop back and check out our next post "Why a flat rate with a food truck is a no go"

Food Truck Not At A Location?

by Michael 1. August 2016 10:22

What!?! Why? Where's the food truck I was looking for?

It's not easy running a food truck, and many things can (and sometimes do!) go awry. There are a number of issues that can cause a food truck to cease operation, prevent them from remaining operating safely or even from arriving to their destination in the first place. In the event of one of these unfortunate occurences, what's a food truck to do?

The first step is to make the best possible attempt at communicating the issues being experienced, especially if you may not make it to your committed event or shift. If a booking agency is responsible for the job (like Tampa Bay Food Trucks!), the truck should call us immediately so that we can make the client aware, as well as update any and all promotional information we have live for that scheduled shift. The sooner we are made aware of a problem, the better! In some cases we will be able to supply the venue with a replacement truck. Second, any efforts the truck has made on Facebook, Twitter etc. should be updated and apologies made to their fans. Citing a reason often helps put disappointed customers at ease. An example of what NOT to say would be "Sorry, I'm at the beach" whereas a more reasonable explanation would be: " We are not available at XYZ location as our generator will not start, leaving us unable to serve you! We are taking the truck in for service now, we are so sorry we had to leave our shift early. Looking forward to getting back up and running, and seeing you all again soon."  

As a fan, there is nothing worse than driving 25 minutes to get to a food truck before the end of their shift and then when you roll truck. As food truck enthusiasts, I think we can all imagine the disappointment! One of our employees recently had this frustrating experience while traveling. After taking 30 minutes, a 10 month old baby (and all that jazzy stuff that rides along with him) they left their vacation rental with the intent of eating at a specific food truck. Despite arriving before their shift was over, when they arrived the truck was nowhere to be found. They called to see if perhaps they had the location wrong? Not only did the truck not answer, but a voicemail received no return phone call. 

It looks as though the truck in question hadn't updated their schedule online. In this particular scenario, if a food truck broker is looking for you, it's in the best interest of your business to be available as promised. We have the capability to book them for thousands and thousands of dollars in work. However after this experience, if we need a food truck in that city, they won't be at the top of our list.  Reliabiilty is an important trait for a food truck to have, and one that we take into consideration when recommending trucks to our clients.
 You've Been Erased Meme

To food trucks: people do follow you around like excited children! In some instances only to find that you've left them hanging out to dry. Don't do that! Life happens, we totally understand, but don't close your window 30 minutes early because you are slow. You just never know who is planning on stopping by, regardless of whether it's a one time retail customer or the catering opportunity of a lifetime. Take pride in what you do and do it well. That all starts with being where you said you would be and if you can't be, at least communicate that to the best of your ability. It shows your fans and clients that you value them and their patronage.

For anyone who has dealt with this, please keep on chasing the trucks, and if you notice it's slow, thank them for sticking it out to the end of their shift so you could catch them! 

Onsite Kitchen Wedding Catering For Fresh Dishes

by 28. July 2016 06:03

One of the many perks of hiring a food truck for your wedding is the option to build a custom menu with the trucks. You are afforded the opportunity to create a totally unique experience for yourselves and your guests, rather than picking standard catering package A, B or C from a venue.

Wedding Catering Food TrucksBut the very best part of this arrangement? Your custom menu will be made fresh specifically for your event, in some cases even to order on site. Have you ever been to a venue where they are serving the same desiccated chicken breasts and tough prime rib throughout all the ballrooms...all weekend? When you hire a food truck, there’s no need to wonder when your food was prepped, or if it was even intended for your event.

We accomplish this by working with each client to custom select the trucks you would like to use, and what they will be serving. No two food truck weddings are exactly alike, which means no leftover or reheated plates circulating here! Your wedding will be replete with only the freshest possible ingredients for the freshest meals.

Because your kitchen is present and preparing meals at your wedding anywhere whether a popular well known venue or the middle of a field in central Florida miles from the nearest street light. (yes we mean the ones that light the streets not a stop light) Whether the truck is seen or unseen, the quality and difference of food is unmistakeable.

So please don’t settle for subpar, mass-produced meals for one of the best parties you’ll ever throw. Call Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally to see how we can make your food something you and your guests will remember for years to come!


Stop back and check out our next post "Worried about food lines at your wedding"?

Be sure to contact us today to discuss your options!

Thinking About Building A Custom Food Truck?

by Michael 26. July 2016 04:37

You may want to think again. 

**5/25/18 Update, we couldn't watch more people go through the painful process, we now build trucks and our main three tenants in how we go about it are listed below.

We're not going to go into excrutiating detail on this matter since it's a pretty straight forward issue. We've been rennovating and assisting food trucks for five years now, and we have yet to find a builder that has accomplished the following three key items on ANY custom project: 

Three Essentials to a Successful Custom Built Project

1. Adhere to a timeline, and complete the job on time

2. Adhere to a reasonable budget and meet (not exceed!) it

3. Do quality work, the way it was actually requested

It's possible this unicorn is out there somewhere, but we have yet to find it. At least not at a reasonable price. You might say "well, why are you against building custom?" Our knee jerk reaction to that question is that it's almost impossible to reasonably pay back, so it doesn't make financial sense. By the time you've made your two or three thousand dollar truck payment, dealt with the wonky issues surrounding any equipment, and the used truck itself (which, by the way the builder probably bought for less than $10,000), plus the builder's custom project fees, you're pretty deep underwater. Not to mention, any issues that occur under warranty will be fixed, but you will be out of work during that time. At the end of the day, custom or not, you are still buying a flipped, used truck. 

But it's under Warranty...

Nothing is free about it, as most custom builders are charging $70,000 to start a build, despite the fact that can buy a fully outfitted trailer for $35,000. "Wait, what?" Are you asking yourself: "Didn't he say above that builders buy 10k step vans and convert them?"

That's correct. The actual contents of a food truck costs around $25,000 (placed into a $10,000 used step van.) Most builders are sourcing the same water tanks, prefab windows, three compartment sinks, water heaters, vinyl etc. This stuff definitely adds up, but if you're good at math, you've got to be asking, "where is the other $35,000 that consists of the $70,000 custom build?" Well, that's labor, overhead and profit. Most builds can be done in a few weeks provided the right crews are in place. Part of the reason you can finance these trucks and get warranties when you build custom is the enormous margin on building them.  

Our takeaway is that used is used, and a custom job does not make the truck any more reliable than any other used truck on the road. If you stay on top of things and do regular maintenance, it's very feasible to run a used truck with minimal down time. Some might say "but if you lose your engine, you could be down for three weeks." That's true. However it's also true with that $70,000 custom build, guessed it, it's still a used truck. If you want a new step van to be built out, you're looking at $100,000 easy. 

So when questioning, "Can I be down for a few weeks if something goes wrong with my engine?" Just ask yourself if a few weeks is worth $50,000? Let's say it costs $10,000 to repair your truck, and three weeks of down time. The average food truck grosses around $5,000 a week, and actual profit from that well run business is approximately $3,000. Adding up those costs, would you rather be out $19,000 or $50,000? Instead of a custom job, we recommend the purchase of a used truck for $40,000-$60,000, which gives you a reasonable investment that's been in use for a few years. We have helped several owners purchase quality used trucks, and not once have they said, "Man! I wish I would have spent another $50,000 and built one for myself." 

Some might wonder why is this being written on an event companies blog? The answer is simple, we're tired of seeing local, small businesses being taken for a ride. Our hope is to find builders who will start treating customers right, who will fulfill the food trucker's requests, and who won't ship trucks with the wrong windows, no propane tanks, unfinished electrical and other items that are not up to code. If you are going to charge people an arm and a leg, then don't just give them the arm and wait to see if they come back and ask for the leg. 

No, we don't build trucks, and why? It's not what we do, and there are enough companies out there doing it unsuccessfully. Our goal is to guide you through the process with our industry knowledge, without contributing further to a problem that is already in place. 

**Update 5/25/18 - we couldn't ignore the demand being created by trucks being let down. It has started to impact us as a company that supports food trucks in business development efforts by trucks not being reliable enough. We now do build trucks. 

Have questions? Feel free to reach out to us today!

Are you thinking about getting into the Food Truck Business? Check out our seminar that occurs every six weeks.


Wedding catering and expectations with food trucks - practical setup for weddings.

by 14. July 2016 09:56

We all know that when it comes to wedding catering, great food will make or break your big day. We’ve already established that food trucks offer customizable catering almost anywhere,  which can make them the perfect choice for your wedding festivities. Whether you need your rehearsal dinner, cocktail hour or reception catered, a late night snack of tacos or donuts, brunch the following morning, or all of the above, Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally can make it happen!

Today, we’d like to talk a little more Wedding Cateringabout the logistics of incorporating a food truck (or trucks) into your Wedding. First off, the sooner you contact us with your date and cuisine requests, the better chance we will have of securing your first choice truck(s) and can begin the process of building and finalizing your menu. At least six months notice is ideal so we can secure your truck and get your program built while we button up the fun stuff like the deposit and contract.

Second, we’ll figure out where the trucks will be parked and when. In the simplest scenario, on the day of your wedding the trucks will arrive a reasonable amount of time before service start. For example, catering your reception cocktail hour and dinner changes arrival and prep times. Not to mention the style of food you have selected heavily impacts how much time will be needed to setup. So in a utopian world your dinner is at 7:00pm, the trucks will be on site to set up no later than say 5:30pm. However, the food truck catering arrival is subject to adjustment depending on your event’s location and itinerary.  For example, if your ceremony is outdoors at 5:00pm, with a cocktail hour nearby, and your reception in the same location (all outdoors) we will schedule the trucks to arrive prior to 5:00pm, even if they are not serving until 7:00pm, so as not to disrupt your ceremony and subsequent events.

The setup time and arrival  is also dictated by the type of service you have selected. If the trucks are serving out of their windows, their setup time is less than if they are arranging a buffet service (indoors or out) for your guests. No matter the style of service and activities you have planned, we work to ensure the trucks will arrive with enough time and be ready to serve in a way that best complements your wedding and guests.

Stop back and check out our next post for "Onsite Kitchen for Fresh Dishes"

Be sure to contact us today to discuss your options!