You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:
- How to edit those phone food photos in my favourite free app VSCO
- How you can even take better food photos in winter (when there's barely any light)
- Which food photography books are worth the investment
- How to improve productivity by batch-shooting your food photography
First up: I know that this is a departure from my usual posts. I’ve been blogging about the food I love for a few months now, and I’m really really really enjoying the whole process – I love having a creative outlet, and the feeling of accomplishment as I watch my blog get prettier, and my numbers go up. I’m also really enjoying learning again – I’ve been out of university for two years now and I think I secretly missed learning new things – the web design, the marketing and the photography involved in food blogging have all been huge learning curves for me.
So recently I’ve had a few compliments on my Instagram feed, and I’m not going to lie, its something that I’m pretty proud of. Without a doubt, I get the most engagement on Instagram compared with other social media channels, and though I only have a tiny, baby following so far, I absolutely love it – both as a way to share my posts and as a source of foodie inspiration.
I’ve been really keen to get out of my food-blog comfort zone recently, so I thought I’d write my top tips on how to instagram your food, without spending any money on equipment or software. I probably take about 80% of the images on my Instagram directly on my phone: that is how the platform was designed, it is the most convenient (and least obtrusive) method of photography, and most smartphones produced in the last few years have fairly decent cameras built-in, (at least, decent enough to take good Instagram pictures).
The rest I take using either my trusty Canon PowerShot S90 (unfortunately now out of production – the newest model is the [affiliate link] Canon Powershot G9), which takes beautiful pictures for it’s size, and is small enough to take out everywhere I go; or my [affiliate link] Canon EOS 1300D, which is on a whole different level of gorgeous photography, and deserves a ‘how to’ post all of its’ own.
Eat Pretty Food
Or, more accurately, only post your pretty meals to Instagram. There is no getting away from the fact that Instagram is a visual platform, and if your food looks like a pile of slop, you will struggle to make it look appetising. Colourful food tends to be the most beautiful. Also consider the way your food is arranged on the plate: think of creating stripes, or concentric circles, or observing the rule of thirds. Play around and make it beautiful!
Move Towards The Light
Lighting is essential for any photography, and especially so if you are taking pictures on a phone. Try to capture most of the images destined for Instagram in natural light, outside or by a window (this is why I can be found wandering about outside my office with my food most lunchtimes…) Second to natural light is a strong overhead light, or a big lamp – whatever the light-source you can gravitate towards it like a moth. I’d recommend using flash basically never, the light source is way too harsh, which will make the image look very washed out, with deep, unnatural shadows.
Open up your phone’s camera app to take photos, not Instagram
There are two reasons for this, firstly, your phone’s camera app will have much better capability to capture higher resolution, higher quality images, meaning that the picture will come out much more clearly. Secondly, capturing images in your phone’s camera app gives you much greater flexibility in terms of editing – more on this later.
Composition takes the entire layout and setup of the picture into account, as a whole image, not just looking at the main subject (your food, probably). Composition is super important: You have one little square, and everything in that square is part of the picture (on which note, it can be really useful to set your phone’s camera to capture a square (1:1 ratio) image, instead of having to crop later). The next couple of points will go into a little more detail on composition elements.
Get the Angles Right
Even though food photos taken directly overhead are on-trend, this isn’t always the most flattering angle to use. Sometimes, when the entire dish doesn’t look perfect, finding a ‘good side’ and a photographing from a 45-degree angle (slightly from above, and to one side) is the best, easiest and simplest way to hide it. Some things also look most impressive directly side-on (I’m thinking anything with layers like cake, or drinks in bottles, which can look beautiful from directly in front), so play around!
Frame and Background
Now, just pause and look at the edges of the picture. Think about how your image will look as a whole: what do you want in the frame (nice cups and cutlery, clean tea towels or napkins (in a pinch, I’ve used an actual scarf to liven up an image), small houseplants or pretty notebooks, or anything else that can pretty-up the picture, without detracting from the food) and what do you want to remove? (does that crumpled tissue/ sock with a hole in one toe/ busy main road really portray the atmosphere you’re aiming for?) Find the prettiest, least cluttered space you can to take your foodstagrams.
Make sure to tap the area of your screen that should be in focus (generally whatever food you’re photographing) right before you take the photo, then check and go again if it isn’t in focus. This can be much harder in low light. Hold your phone as still as possible to help it keep focus: one way to do this is by bracing your elbows against the table or a chair back, to limit the natural movement of your hands. Protip: If you have a very lovely and helpful person nearby (hello, Instagram husbands!) ask them to tap the screen, if both of your hands are full.
Use the Free Tools at Your Disposal
Now that you’ve taken an image that you’ve happy with (and it may take a few goes to get that perfect picture) it is time to fine-tune it. There are a few free photo-editing apps out there, but my favourite by far is VSCO – I find that the controls are much more finely-tuned than editing directly in Instagram, so the images come out looking distinctly prettier, but not over-edited. I have a whole post about using VSCO to edit your phone-based food photography.
Have no shame
If you are serious about taking more beautiful foodstagrams, you are occasionally going to have to look like a fool. Sometimes, you need to pick up your dinner plate and take it over to the window to get the light just right, or stand in the most awkward positions in order to get the side shot of your favourite beer against a clean wall. This isn’t to say that you’ll have to mess about every time you take a picture, and you certainly shouldn’t do anything that makes you feel really uncomfortable, but yes, to get the most out of every foodstagram opportunity, you will more than likely find yourself at some time or other, doing something that could be seen as embarrassing (shout out to my very own Instagram husband for putting up with all my embarrassing sh*t).
Know When to Give Up
No matter how delicious or pretty your food is, no matter how proud you are of your latest bake, or how excited you are to be visiting a new restaurant, sometimes you just have to give your foodstagram endeavour up. If the room is just too dark, or the food is just not photographing well (or even if you’re just too hungry to mess about taking pictures) it is better to just give it up as a bad job, and take a different awesome picture tomorrow. Don’t overthink this – it is easy to get obsessed, but it is only social media: you don’t want your food to be cold, or your entire evening to be spent staring at your phone (and ignoring the actual real people who you might be eating with). You will end up with a much more beautiful feed if you slowly and carefully curate the pictures you are really proud of, than if you post every rushed, dark, blurry image you take.
So there you have it, my ten tips for making your your foodstagrams even more beautiful. Make sure to tag me @zpickburn in your best foodstagrams