How to Take Better Food Photos for Instagram — According to the Pros
Like it or not, taking photos of food has become a collective artistic pursuit. Having a delectable meal is no longer reason enough to be satisfied — the world has to see it and double-tap it, too. Food Instagrammers are no longer avid fans blogging about their favourite hobby: they are bonafide entrepreneurs making hundreds, if not thousands, from one single snap.
With marketing dollars and the psychological satisfaction of getting likes involved, it’s no surprise that everyone is so snap-happy when dining out. However, simply hunching over your omelettes does not a viral image make. To help you perfect your craft on future brunch outings, we’ve tapped 7 professionals of the dining business — chefs, PR gurus, bloggers — on their takes on creating photos that result in likes and engagement. Click on and prepare to jot down some notes, and see how we’ve put these lessons to use on @hktatlerdining’s Instagram feed.
“I like to keep my captions simple, so most of the time, it will just be the name of the dessert. The hashtags are very helpful — they really help get my photos seen by more people. When I am choosing hashtags, I usually take the composition of the dish into consideration. So I’ll use words such as ‘ice cream’, ‘apple’, ‘coffee’ as the hashtags. That way, people will also see what the dessert is made of.
The focus of an image is super important. I cannot believe how a simple tap on the phone screen can improve the quality of a photo so vastly.”
Gloria Chung (@foodandtravelhk), Food and Travel Writer
“Instagram is like a mood board: When I’m creating a shot, I like to put things that are similar together to showcase one concept. Filling up the frame with objects in different shapes — like pepper, flowers, or curious objects on the table — will enrich an image.
I feature many hands in my photos because they create a sense of involvement. When it comes to shooting a whole table of food, action shots are more appealing than still ones. I love photographing my friends when they cut their steak, or when they use chopsticks to pick up a vegetable. It's more lively. Another tip I have would be using another table to shoot your plate because in the middle of eating, your own table is always a mess. Just be mindful of not disturbing the other customers and restaurant staff.”
“As a professional stylist, I’m all about creating symmetry in a photo. When I style a tabletop, I always make sure the platters, stemware and flatware are all in harmony. Is it too much? Remove an item. Is it too bare? Add some new textiles. It's just about trial and error until you reach that balance.
I usually just give up entirely if I dine at a restaurant that’s dimly lit. Unless you're working with a professional photographer (or a wizard) who has special lights with them, you'll never do the food justice with a smartphone snap if the lighting is bad. So my advice is simple: just put down your phone down, order another gin and tonic and enjoy the meal!”
“You’ll be surprised by how different the same dish can look just by changing the angle. So I’m always trying to nail down the best perspective – rotate the plate, move around with your camera and find out the most photogenic side of my food, instead of just sit and snap.
I always try to get the window table. Natural light just makes such a difference to the image in terms of sharpness and vividness, as supposed harsh spotlights from the ceiling. I use free apps like VSCO and Snapseed for simple retouching and achieving appealing color tones. If I need to fix the perspective of a shot, I use a paid app called SKRWT.”
“There are a few like-baits that get tons of engagement on Instagram: burgers, doughnuts, soft-serves — lots of junk food and unhealthy things! But açai bowls with lots of coloured fruits have also become popular recently. I personally wouldn’t post too many shots of the same dish in a row. It has more to do with the nature of Instagram, but there's no duller feed than one with five shots of a single tater tot.
Keep an eye on the white balance, which is the tone or warmth of the photo. Cameras are generally quite good at this on their own, but if it doesn't work, don't hesitate to edit it later. My personal rule is getting the shot within 15 seconds from the plate landing on my table. I aim for speed rather than perfection, because ultimately, I just want to tuck in. Taking so long that your food goes cold or soggy is a faux pas in my book.”
Samantha Wong (@samishome) Prop Stylist and Social Media Content Creator
“I’ve found that photos of Asian food do very well – but that's probably because my followers are already overexposed to pictures of eggs benedicts. For meals like dim sum, where there are many components coming out at varying times, I usually wait until the table is full of baskets. That may mean half-eaten dishes, but that's okay since the cuisine is best enjoyed piping hot.
For breakfast food, I'll wait until all the mains are served to shoot altogether — if my friends are okay with that. If the barista permits, I'll ask for the coffee to arrive with the food. Don’t immediately start selecting and editing photos during the meal. At the end of the day, people should always take precedence over social media. Even if my friends don't mind the editing, food is valued only when being physically present and enjoying it together.”
“As a hotel pastry chef, I am involved in everything related with sweets — pastries, cakes, desserts, afternoon tea, chocolate, the list goes on. However, photos of cakes usually get the most likes. I usually schedule time for photographing my work in the morning or late afternoon, when the light is softer.
I prefer a plain, muted background and keep the table clean so the there won’t be any distraction from my work. Sometimes, I use dark backgrounds if the product is light in colour to show better contrast. I like to shoot a bit diagonally and under a 45-degree angle. Videos have also been trending lately: my videos have been getting at least 200% more likes compared to photos.”