How to take the perfect food photo for social media

Fast food brands are designing Instagram-friendly offerings.
Fast food brands are designing Instagram-friendly offerings. Photo: Eddie Jim

When was the last time you sat down to a meal and ... ate it? Without take a photo first? Aha, thought so. The photography of food has become a completely normal part of the entire experience. I mean, if you didn't shoot it, did you really eat it? Who can really tell? Which is why we consulted two of our favourite food photographers on Instagram, who seem to have the perfected that coveted blend of styling and lighting to make food photography seem easy. Because if we're being honest, food is tricky to shoot - it's not all pretty fruit 'n' chocolate 'n' puddings, is it? Sometimes, you've got to shoot a dumpling. Here's how to do it.

1. Natural light is best 

 

A photo posted by Helen (@grabyourfork) on

Food blogger Helen Yee @grabyourfork is a girl who specialises in eating out (for our viewing pleasure) and documents her meals with editorial-quality photographs using a mirror-less digital camera to capture her shot, but can whip out the iPhone if the lighting's good. "Always try to use natural light. When I'm eating out, this means trying to dine at lunchtime or book an early dinner," Yee says. "Don't ever use flash - it never looks good and is discourteous to other diners."

Taline Gabrielian from Hippie Lane (@talinegabriel) agrees. "Whether you're shooting inside or outside, natural light always produces a better photo. Overcast days are also a good opportunity to get nicely lit snaps."

2. Set the scene

 

A photo posted by HIPPIE LANE (@talinegabriel) on

"At it's core, a great food shot has to be appetising. An intricate and elegantly constructed dessert can be just as enticing as a splodge of jam dripping messily from a doughnut. [And] action shots can help draw in your audience," says Yee. "Hold a dumpling with your chopsticks or take a forkful of chocolate cake and show it to the camera." 

Gabrielian is also a fan of including a fork or spoon in the pic "it's realistic and relatable," she says. But if making your food mobile is just too much to handle while trying to take a snap, styling your dish to stand alone is the way to go. "The best food shots are a result of careful styling, with colours, composition and plating," says Gabrielian. Lesson: have a plan. Know what look your aiming for and set it up before snapping away. 

3. Choose carefully

 

A photo posted by Helen (@grabyourfork) on

"Styled or not, some dishes are delicious to eat but don't look good to the eye," warns Gabrielian. "Decide whether the dish is photogenic before going through the shooting process. It will save you time and disappointment." 

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Foods that don't translate well from plate to pic are soups and dishes that are either primarily brown or white according to Yee. "Glistening sauces underneath fluorescent lighting are a nightmare," she adds. So, best to avoid. 

4. Snap away

 

A photo posted by HIPPIE LANE (@talinegabriel) on

Take lots of shots. Lots. Of. Them. "Practice shooting - over and over and over!" says Gabrielian. "Photography and styling food is a skill that is learnt through practice. Compose your picture and take many different frames of the same dish. Through trial and error, you will learn what works and what doesn't."

"In dim dining rooms with candlelight, I'll take up to a dozen [shots]," says Yee. But she also warns, "If you're photographing a communal dish or someone else's plate, get it done within 20 seconds or risk having a fork dug into you." Wise words. 

5. Tell the story

 

A photo posted by Helen (@grabyourfork) on

Yee recommends avoiding the urge to clear the space around your dish. "Use the background to provide a story and a sense of place. Don't clear away the table condiments in a Vietnamese pho noodle house. Keep the bottle of sriracha and the box of tissues visible in the background to create context," she says.

And play with angles. "Some plates of food look better from above, from the side or from an angle," says Gabrielian. "Take photos at various angles to begin, choose your favourite and resume from your favourite position to get the golden shot."