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Search Instagram for #foodphotography today and you’ll find almost 30 million posts.
Blogs and social media have turned what was once a weird little niche in photography into a worldwide phenomenon. From Baltimore to Beijing, there is no doubt that people love to take pictures of food.
However, as appetizing as your filet mignon may look to your eye, it may not to the camera. Throw in some bad restaurant lighting and a wide angle smartphone lens into the mix, and the potential for ugly food photography is high.
Here are my top five tips for great smartphone food photography for social media that will make your Instagram and other social channel images stand out.
When it comes to food photography lighting is everything. The knowledge of how to use light is what separates the amateurs from the pros.
Although flat lighting has been a trend in food photography lately, food looks best when the light is natural and directional.
The reason a lot of food images taken in restaurants looks so bad is the fluorescent lighting, which is hard and unflattering. It is also often tinged with a green or yellow color cast.
When shooting food indoors on your smartphone, try to get beside a window.
Natural window light is what every professional photographer tries to mimic with complicated and expensive flash systems.
It is very flattering for food.
Just be sure that the sun is not too bright, as it can also cast harsh shadows that are unflattering to your dish.
When shooting food with a smartphone, notice where the light is coming from. It should be from the side or the back of your plate or set-up.
While front light is beautiful in portraiture, it will make food look flat and also can cast unwanted shadows.
Does your plate ever look like it’s sliding off the table whenever you shoot with your smartphone?
This is because the camera has a wide angle lens, so certain angles make your food look distorted.
To achieve the best results, shoot your scene at 90-degrees or straight-on. A 3/4 angle rarely works.
An overhead angle gives a graphic pop to an image because it flattens depth. You can also get a lot more into the frame than you would if you were shooting at 45-degrees.
It’s a perfect angle for tablescapes, but also more minimalistic compositions.
90-degrees is not a good angle for tall foods, like burgers or stacks of pancakes. You want to see those layers, so shoot these kinds of subjects straight-on.
Tablescapes are fun and look appealing, but they are oftentimes difficult to do.
It can take a lot of moving the various elements around to make a pleasing composition and by the time you get it right, the food will no longer look appetizing.
A minimalist approach usually works best, especially if you’re a beginner. After all, the focus should be on the food!
Look at it this way: if your food is nicely plated and styled, then you’re already more than halfway there!
All you need is an additional prop or two, like a utensil or a piece of linen tucked under the plate.
How you approach your propping will really depend on the food. In the image of the poke bowls below, the food is already bright, colorful, and full of texture. Adding more than a set of chopsticks would have distracted the viewer’s attention from the dish.
One problem you often see in food pictures on Instagram is that they look messy. Sometimes the food looks messy but also the environment in which the food is captured in.
The background is cluttered, or there are too many props that are distracting and don’t add anything to the shot.
Some of this can be solved with tighter shots and by taking some unnecessary elements away.
But you should also be aware of some of the basic principles of composition.
Try to have some negative space in the image. That is a clean area where the eye can rest for a brief moment as it moves through the image.
Resist the urge to fill every part of your image.
If every area of your surface is covered with ingredients or a prop, it confuses the viewer and gives a claustrophobic feeling. Negative space provides a bit of breathing room and helps us focus on the main subject.
You should also be familiar with the rule-of-thirds. This is a compositional guideline that divides an image into nine equal parts, using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, like a tic-tac-toe board.
The important elements in your scene should fall along these lines, or at the points where they intersect.
Smartphones already have a grid like this as an overlay when you turn on your camera. Use it to help you place your focal point. That is the area where you want to create emphasis and draw the viewer’s eye.
A focal point can be created with color, an area of contrast, or isolation. A garnish can serve as a focal point.
I have stated that a minimalist approach is often best, however, be mindful that adding a narrative quality to your images can also be very powerful.
Everyone loves a good story. Give your viewer an idea of a wider story taking place beyond the confines of the frame.
For example, you can do this by partially cropping out some of the elements in an overhead table shot, or show someone’s hand serving food or holding a cup of steaming coffee.
This human touch has become wildly popular in food photography, and this lifestyle element has spilled over from Instagram into the world of commercial food photography because it creates a sense of atmosphere and relatability.
Hopefully, this article has given you some tips to improve your smartphone food photography for social media.
Whichever approach you choose, be conscious of consistency and developing your style.
If you look at the most successful accounts on Instagram and other social media, you will find that they have a specific look in terms of color treatment or palette.
Take a good look at your images for the consistencies in your style and work on developing them. This may mean you take a lot of bright and airy images, or maybe you do mostly close-ups of your food.
The more you hone your style, the tighter your feed will look and draw an audience that loves what you do.
I’d love to see some of your smartphone food photography, so please share in the comments below.