Dining Review: Bocca Lupo – Port Charlotte, Florida

Usually on a monthly basis, I’m contracted to do a dining review at one of our area restaurants. I’m the photographer and there is another person that tastes the food and writes the actual review. In the August 2012 issue of Harbor Style, the dining review is on Bocca Lupo in Port Charlotte, Florida. The same folks that own this restaurant own Donato’s. When I’m contracted to do a dining review, you never know what is going to happen. This makes some photographers happy and others nervous. I agree it’s always good to go in with a plan, but one has to be ready to make changes at the last second.

For these shoots, I like to arrive an hour before the reviewer to get some interior photographs of the restaurant and get an idea of the space. More importantly, this is the time that you are going to build a rapport with the owner or who will be serving you. Being a photographer is more than taking photos or learning how to color correct the final product. I find that being a PEOPLE PERSON is the KEY to creating some amazing photographs. If you are a stick in the mud, your photos are going to show it. As I’m setting up for my interiors, I like to ask the person who I will be working with general questions like how long have they been in business and how business is going. This warms me and the other person up so all will go as smoothly as possible. Like an athlete, it takes me a little time to get into the groove and feel that the pixels that are going into the camera are the best that I can capture.

When the interiors are finished, I ask where they would like me to set up so I will be out of the way from their CLIENTELE. This is big. I’m notorious for dragging in a suitcase, light stands and other equipment for the shoot. This shows the owner that I’m not trying to be a pain to their regular income. Once I have the strobe and camera set up, I like to find a salt shaker. If I can get a good exposure on a salt shaker since that it’s white, this means that I won’t blow any highlights in the final photographs. Every client is different. This particular one, they like jpgs so this means that my exposures have to be right on the money from the start, as I won’t have as much leeway as I would with a RAW file. My solution to this is that I shoot RAW + JPG in the camera. They get the JPGs and I have a RAW copy for my archive. Usually in photojournalism, they want ALL the shots. Including the one of your foot while you were carrying the camera to the job! Luckily, Harbor Style isn’t that strict so those go in the trash (including the salt shaker shots!).

Once the reviewer gets there, the clock starts running. When the food and drinks come out, I get them first. I have about one minute to get what I need and then I get the food the reviewer. If the food is supposed to be hot, it needs to be hot so she can write an accurate review. Yes, we could have the restaurant create two of everything, but I have gotten pretty good at this so I don’t need much time and I don’t eat while I’m working so that would be a waste of product. Also, this way we can also say what was in the magazine is actually what the reviewer tasted. There are a couple of foods that are more difficult to photograph than others. Pizza is one of those foods that can be challenging. It’s two-dimensional and just lies there. So how to do you make this look appealing? I like to try and do a “pizza pull”. If the photographer gods are on your side, the pizza will come out before the cheese starts to solidify again and when you pull a slice from the pizza, you want strings of cheese to stretch. Most of the time, just bringing the pizza to the table is enough to cool it so that the cheese breaks instead of stretching. When that happens, I have to go to plan B, tilt the slice.

 Pizza at Bocca Lupo in Port Charlotte, FloridaThe “Pizza Tilt” – Spencer Pullen © 2012

This is the actual pizza that the reviewer ate. I didn’t spray anything on it or paint it with oil like some do to get that extra shine. After we photographed all of the food, the owner wanted me to photograph one of his staff holding pizzas. Hey, no problem, mon! The subject was the bartender and wasn’t afraid to have her photo taken. This presents a couple of new issues to deal with. First, I have to make my 43” umbrella light this whole person. I backed the light up to help throw the light over a bigger distance. I would have rather used a bigger umbrella or ganged up a couple to more evenly light her, but there wasn’t any time. She had clients at the bar that needed drinks so I had to get this done so she could go back to work. I had two minutes of her time total from start to finish. The other issue was that she was wearing glasses. If I were to have used on-camera flash, it would have bounced off her lenses and there would be two white spots where her eyes should be. By playing the billiard shot angle I was able to throw that reflection off into the distance and not into the camera lens. This is where you really need to know your gear and how to light. There isn’t any time to be futzing around with the back of the camera or flash, it has to be done NOW!

 Server at Bocca Lupo in Port Charlotte, FloridaOne Pizza or Two? – Spencer Pullen © 2012

As I was getting ready to pack up my gear, the owner came over and asked if I would take a photo of the 1,000 degree coal fired oven as this is one of their selling points. Hummm, I know Nikon is made well, but I’m not sure how well. I was about to find out. I was getting my gear set up and the owner said, “One sec, let me get it going full blast.” It was then I had visions of my eyebrows smoldering as I now know what it’s like to be standing at the gates of hell. This is one of those times that I would recommend throwing your primes out and putting on a tele. To capture fire you have to give it a chance to burn on the sensor (pun intended). This means a slower shutter speed. But, the other parts of the oven are going to be dark. This is where the flash is going to have to take over. I have my camera set to “rear sync” (this is “second curtain” for you Canon folks) all the time. This means that the flash goes off at the END of the exposure instead of at the beginning. This allows the glow of the fire to register on the sensor and then the flash comes and lights the other side of the oven to help even out the exposure. Here you can see the chef getting ready to pull the pizza out with his pizza peel.

 Coal fired oven at Bocca Lupo in Port Charlotte, FloridaCoal Fired Pizza – Spencer Pullen © 2012

There you have it. Another successful dining review photo shoot. It’s never a dull moment, even when you are standing at the hottest place on earth and watching your camera turn into play dough! Keep learning and trying new things, you just never know what you are going to come home with.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Just LOOOOOOOOOOOVE that oven shot!!!

  2. Very cool……………for a hot shot. Actually made me hungry. So my compliments, as I believe that’s what you intend to do.

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