In the past three years since joining Instagram, I’ve seen the photography of some of my favorite food bloggers evolve from playful, indulgent, experimental, and amateurish to sharp, sophisticated work.
Instagram is no longer the new kid on the block — it’s a social media powerhouse with more than 300 million active users. Early adopters to the platform — notably food and lifestyle bloggers, artists, and creatives — had the luxury of playing around with the space in its early stages and having a long lead time to establish their voice and focus and build relationships with other influencers across Instagram.
Today, many of these users have attracted thousands of followers and built careers off the exposure that Instagram provided. The truth is, whether you want to write your own cookbook someday or simply share your best-ever loaf of challah with the world, there’s never been a better time to step up your Instagram game. The newest smartphones have incredible cameras, and there is a wide range of photo editing apps to make viewers wonder if you actually shot that photo with your camera after all. There is also endless inspiration across the platform from cooks, farmers and artists across the globe who are using the platform to share their work in an open, honest way, unlike any other social media platform out there.
Whether you’re already sharing your photos on Instagram or are new to the platform, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your experience.
1. Pay attention to light.
In most circumstances, food (among other things) looks best when shot in diffused, natural daylight. Depending on the mood and tone you want to strike with your photography, you could gravitate towards warm, bright light for a positive, fresh feel or cool light with a darker exposure for food that’s more heavy and rich.
The exception to the daylight rule is when a bright flash, fluorescence, or other indoor lighting directly serve to achieve the mood and and presentation of the food you’re shooting. I’ve seen this done most effectively with food from a diner or greasy spoon.
To achieve the best natural light for your photos, always shoot near a window but out of direct light. Pay attention to which way the sun is facing and how the light is coming in so the food isn’t backlit. Play around, place the food in different parts of your kitchen or living room, experiment with different set-ups, and see what works in your space.
2. Set the scene.
If you’re shooting a photo of a dish you prepared at home, use your counters, table tops, walls, kitchen towels, utensils and more in your composition. Professionals might call this “styling,” but I like to think of it as humanizing your meal. Your food doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is very much a part of your life and daily experience. Weave those elements into your photography and it will become that much more compelling to the viewer.
Pay close attention to the way you’re framing your dish. Is it a top-down shot, or are you shooting it straight on against a solid white or brick wall? How come? If the surface is drawing your attention away from the meal, can you frame your food somewhere else or cover the surface with a neutral fabric? Does the addition of a spoon or knife beside the plate distract from the food or add to it? How about the stray fronds of the plant that have crept into the corner of the frame, or the folded up newspaper beneath the cup of coffee? Be intentional about your use of space, objects and props, and always let your food shine first.
3. Use a photo editing app.
While Instagram’s filters are fun, they don’t do many favors for food photography. The best iPhone food photography looks natural and not overly processed. My favorite app is VSCO Cam, which has some great pre-set filters that give the effect of film photography, but also has a variety of settings so you can control the exposure, contrast, saturation and more.
4. Join the community.
The food community on Instagram is huge, and there are cooks, bakers, writers, photographers, farmers, reporters and more chronicling nearly every aspect of our food system. Find out which elements interest you, and follow the people doing that work for inspiration. Also look to who they are following for more ideas of whom to follow. Own your voice and be proud of your work, chime in to conversations when relevant, and contribute to the larger Instagram community in an honest, authentic way. If you’re producing unique, beautiful, weird, or otherwise compelling photos, people will find you and follow you.
5. Be mindful.
You don’t need to take photos of everything that comes across your plate, at home or when eating out. Be considerate of your fellow diners and only take photos of your food when it’s not disruptive to the space and the meal. Your ground rules will be your own, but remember that enjoying a meal is first and foremost about experiencing pleasure in the present moment with your most intimate community — your partner, family and closest friends — and a photo can’t ever capture that.
Photo credit: Jess Schreibstein