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How to Get Insta-Worthy Food Photos Every Time

Four people taking pics of their meals with their phones.

When it comes to pretty food, it’s hard to refrain from taking pictures and sharing them online. If you’re looking to get some Insta-worthy shots of that summer cookout spread or decadent restaurant dinner, just follow these tips. You could become a food influencer before you know it!

It’s All About the Lighting

Everything looks better in natural light, including food. No matter the scene or subject, your utmost priority should always be the light. If you’re shooting indoors during the day, move closer to a window. In a restaurant, request a table by a window. It’s a minor detail that can make a huge difference in your photos.

While natural light is always preferable, there’s also such a thing as too much of it. Harsh midday light can wash out your subject and compromise the details that make it appealing. In that case, all you have to do is hang a white curtain in front of the window to soften the light. This will allow the light to “caress” the food you’re shooting.

If you find yourself dealing with really dark shadows due to a lack of enough light indoors, try holding a white poster board, or even a T-shirt opposite from where the light is coming from. This will allow the light to bounce off and dial down the contrast.

You might also want to pick up a clip-on ring light for your phone. It can help you in those situations where you don’t have enough natural lighting.

Avoid Using Flash Whenever Possible

Someone taking a photo with a phone and using the flash.
Avery Del Miller/Shutterstock.com

The same as you would when taking photos of people indoors, your camera or phone’s flash should never be your go-to solution when shooting food. Unless you have experience with external flashes, it’s, once again, best to stick to natural light whenever possible.

If you’re at a restaurant with amber-tinted light, you’ll have to either use the flash and set the white balance to make the food look less like it was made by Charlie at the Chocolate Factory, or find another way to get a more neutral light. This is another situation in which the clip-on light we mentioned previously would come in handy.

The key is preparation; if you’re going to make a unique cake or dish at home, then plan ahead to take your photos during the day near a window so you can utilize the natural light.

Get Creative with the Plates and Background

Two food shots on Meking backgrounds.

When it comes to setting the scene to take beautiful photos of your culinary masterpiece, let your creativity take over. This is the fun part of food photography. You can do lots of different things when styling your setup, although it’s always good to have a bit of balance.

For example, if your creation is simple or more minimalistic, opt for a busier background. On the other hand, if your dish is colorful, choose a neutral color palette for its surroundings.

For the background, you can use a variety of objects as decoration, including raw ingredients, cutlery, flowers, cloths, scarves, or anything else you think would best highlight your creation without distracting from it.

You could even opt to place your plate on a more interesting surface than a table, like a floor with unique tiles, a bed covered in beautiful linens, or on a delicate-looking cloth on the grass. You can also buy backgrounds specifically for food photography, like these sets from Meking.

It’s all about drawing attention to the star of your table, while also entertaining the eye with pleasing secondary visuals.

Try Different Angles and Use a Tripod

Don’t get stuck on shooting your photos from the same angle every time, unless you want to make that your signature. And if you do create a signature angle, that will require some pretty unique creativity in each shot to keep your viewers coming back for more.

Instead, try shooting from overhead, from different sides and angles, from a distance, and even up close. Move around and don’t stop until you get a winning shot.

You also want to hold your camera or phone as steady as possible, as any shaking results in a blurry image. The best way to avoid this is to use a tripod. This selfie stick/tripod combo is perfect for the job, as you can set it right on the table for food shots.

You can also get a tabletop tripod for your camera. The PIXI Mini Tripod from Manfrotto is compact and universal so it works with just about any camera. Plus, the two-section legs can be adjusted in five simple steps so you can always get the perfect shot.

Shoot with a Camera Whenever You Can

A woman taking a picture of a meal with a dSLR camera.
Alliance Images/Shutterstock.com

Your phone is certainly convenient: it’s always with you so you can easily snap a picture of any pretty food you encounter at any point during the day. However, it can only do so much when it comes to working with the available light and focus points.

If you want to photograph a cake, smoothie bowl, or pasta dish you make at home, use an actual dSLR camera and let it do what it does best: take high-quality photos of your favorite meals. This is ideal because when you use a dSLR, you have full control over the settings.

You’ll also have an easier time in postproduction, as it’s far more likely you’ll capture everything in-shot when you use a camera, so your photos will most likely require a lot less editing.

Edit Your Photos

Photo editing can be a little intimidating at first. There are an endless number of editing apps for mobile and desktop, and they all have lots of variables to work with that don’t always make sense. For a beginner, photo-editing software can definitely be a bit overwhelming.

Like anything else, though, if you take the time to practice on a few different pictures, you’ll start to get the hang of it and recognize some key tools you can use to do some basic editing.

From brightness and contrast, to highlights and color tint, there are many different ways you can give your photo the extra bit of oomph it needs. You might even develop a theme for a photo series, blog, or your Instagram.

Of course, while you can get really creative with certain software and apps, it’s usually a good idea to refrain from going overboard. There’s a very fine line between good and over-editing. When that line is crossed, it can deprive a photo of its realistic look and make it less visually appealing.

However, if you’re willing to practice and can remain patient with yourself and the software, you’ll soon discover your go-to photo-editing tools.

Whether you made a meal yourself or not, you don’t have to be a pro photographer to take Insta-worthy photos of food. Armed with these tips, a good camera, and a few accessories, you’ll soon be making everyone on social media hangry with all your succulent food shots.

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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