It seems that everywhere you look in restaurants and cafes in cities across the world, everyone is whipping out their camera phones and snapping dozens of pictures before actually tasting their food. Does this sound like you? But maybe the results aren’t always exactly what you want.
The photos of the person sitting next to you are a rainbow of perfect colours. Their flatlay is a treat to the eyes, and the natural lighting they use is a delight. Whereas yours is dark, grainy and a little blurry. You’re left feeling envious and a little hungry wondering “how did they do it?” We’re here to teach you.
Use natural light
It may be tempting to use flash, but natural light is the best and only way forwards. If you know that you’re going to be Instagramming your food in a restaurant, think ahead and select a table near the biggest window you can spot. Even if you’re not seated there but spot an empty one, scoot over for a quick picture – it’s our little secret.
Natural light is the environment that flash and post-editing tries to emulate, and this first simple step can reduce the latter drastically.
Find your best angle
We all have our good and bad angles, and food is exactly the same. Get on your feet for an overhead shot, or crouch down for a 45 degree angle close to the table. Snap around, take a few different pictures and choose your favourite from there.
Focus completely on the food
We don’t mean you – of course you should be focusing on the food – but we’re also talking about your camera. And we mean it literally. You may think that we’re teaching you to make sure your thumb isn’t covering the lens, but fuzzy and blurry photos will have you kicking yourself. And those kinds don’t get likes on Instagram.
If you’ve got a little more time and equipment on your hands, you can set up a tripod, but there’s nothing wrong with steadying your elbows on the table. Do this to avoid even the slightest tremor in your fingers, and focus on a point in your dish that’s directly in the centre. Or, instead opt for its best and most enticing detail. For example, the interior of a sliced layer cake or the shiny cherry perched on your dessert.
Create the photo off camera
Luckily for creators everywhere, Instagram now supports the uploading of both vertical and horizontal photos. But the shape of those images once they’re on the platform is very much square. So take a moment off camera to make sure that your picture is framed exactly how you want it.
Put yourself in the mindset of a food stylist. What’s going to make the image different to all the others out there? Is the ice cream about to drip? Would that apple pie look more enticing with a forkful scooped out so we can see the insides? Add a utensil or two into the frame or ruffle the napkin in the background. These little touches can make the image all the more interesting.
But don’t rely on it too heavily. People on Instagram can spot a heavily doctored photo a mile off, all you really need is a tweak here and there to bring out the best parts of your picture. Snapseed, Afterlight or VSCO are all great apps to have installed on your phone ready and waiting; there’s even a Photoshop mobile app available.
In here you can adjust the brightness, exposure, warm, colour saturation and pretty much every other factor you can think of. Don’t go overboard – if you’ve done your job earlier it won’t need much tweaking – you should adjust just enough to make the main parts of your image pop. It should look real, edible and delicious enough to make anyone’s mouth water.