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Style & Living Food and Drinks

5 Tips for Taking Amazing Food Photos Even If You're Not an Instagram Pro

Here's how to improve your basic food shots. 

By Hilary Sheinbaum

You snap a photo of that over-the-top sundae or your amazing lunchtime spread, but it just doesn't come out looking right. The colors are off, or it's too dark, or somehow it just doesn't look appetizing. You've seen so many gorgeous food photos on Instagram—how do they do it? Special lighting? Props? Secret filters? A legit camera?

It's true—hardcore food Instagrammers have perfected their shots and simultaneously attracted hundreds of thousands of followers in the process. They’re not afraid of participating in unkosher dinner table etiquette, i.e. taking dishes outside the restaurant for the best lighting, or standing on tables for the paramount angles. “Abandon all dignity,” advises Rayna Greenberg of @onehungryjew. “This isn't the time to be shy.”

But for the rest of us, family and friends typically don’t understand (literally) climbing to great heights for that perfect food porn shot. Instead of swinging from chandeliers with a professional camera to find the perfect angle, here are some tips and tricks for snapping beautiful photos simply and discreetly, with your trusty cell phone.

1. Pick a Pretty Menu Item

It’s no doubt that a beautifully laid out steak or a cake with hot pink icing and rainbow sprinkles will be a lot more enticing than Mom’s rendition of a plain bologna sandwich on white bread. “Order dishes that are photogenic,” says Alexandra Machover of @alexandramachover. “For example, avocado toast topped with a sunny side up egg is a much more photogenic option than a hash, since it has more vibrant pops of color and looks less sloppy."

When it doubt, opt for dessert. “Sweets are always a hit. I've never found a sweet dish that doesn't photograph well," she adds.

But, regardless of breakfast, lunch or dinner, planning in advance is definitely important. “Decide what you're going to photograph before you start the meal,” says Alexa Mehraban of @eatingnyc.

2. Focus on a Dish or Two Instead of the Whole Meal

Order as many gorgeous plates as you can stomach, but don’t stress over gathering them all for one shot—or even solo pictures of each item. Go for the gold: the food that’s going to be most memorable. “Instead of spending forever getting photos of the bread and every single appetizer and side dish, eat all that stuff normally, and spend your time focused on getting the perfect shot of the big, juicy, photogenic burger,” says Mike Chau of @foodbabyny/@mikejchau.

Gissele Alzate of @feedyoursoull adds, “Don't have too much going on in one photo. You want to focus on either a section of the food or the entire plate—not having clutter on the table.”

3. Stay Seated

obligatory yolk porn at brunch with @brunchboys 👏🏼🍳🍔 *drip drip*

A post shared by 2girls1fork (@2girls.1fork) on

While getting an overhead shot can be tempting, a side angle can be just as aesthetically pleasing. Don't reach your phone's camera in other people's space. “Putting the plate right in front of you always helps,”says Alexandra Romonoff of @onemoredish.

Adds Michelle Gabe of @2girls.1fork, “There's no need to stand on chairs or tables to get the perfect angle. A good shot can be taken while sitting, head-on. Always make sure to make the main food item or plate fill the majority of your frame and move the plate around to see what side is best. Remember, just like people have a 'better side' to photograph, so does food."

4. No Flash Photography

In a dark restaurant, a blinding spark of light can be irritating and annoying to other diners. It’s also not going to help your food look appealing. “My number one piece of advice is to use natural lighting,” says Machover. “Food always looks significantly more appetizing when photographed in natural light. Never use a flash, ever.”

If the sun hasn’t gone down, sitting outside is your best bet. “If it is still light out, ask for a table near any windows along the side or front of the restaurant,” says Chau. “This allows you to get that good, natural lighting without feeling the temptation or shame of taking your food outside. Otherwise, some tables might be better lit than others, so you can try to request these if possible.”

5. Basic Instagram Filters Help

After taking the shot, there’s no disgrace in sprucing up the photo within the Instagram app. “If the lighting just isn't good enough, try tweaking the Brightness and the Shadow a little bit, says Chau. “Structure and Saturation can help too, but beware of sliding them too much to the point that everything looks too bright and fake.”

Of course, there are other ways to enhance the portrait of a parfait or paella, outside of Instagram. Sometimes, that perfect post doesn’t happen instantly. “Get Snapseed for photo editing,” recommends Mehraban.

“It's the best!” adds Greenberg. “If you are going to alter the photo, use editing apps such as Snapseed or vsco as opposed to filters.”

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