How To Take Actually Good Pictures Of Food If You Fancy Upping Your Instagram Game
The Debrief: Food photography isn’t as easy as taking a quick snap of that spaghetti on your lap, guys
Deep down, we’re all suckers for food porn. Perhaps you’re one of those people who have actively crafted their Instagram feed to provide hour’s worth of hunger inducing double tap material. Or you might be a fan of those overwhelmingly colourful assaults on the eyes? Those annoyingly captivating mermaid/unicorn/*insert other nonsense here* food variations tend to be a winner. Or, maybe you’re someone who doesn’t actually follow all the foodie trends, but can’t help but hover a little longer over those artfully lit brunch shots while you salivate a little over your phone.
Food pics are the one, guys. But the thing that lots of people tend to struggle with is the actual taking of said food pictures. It’s easy to spot a good’un, but there’ll be a reason that grainy shot of last weekend’s avo on toast didn’t get you very many likes, pal. So, we had a chat with Ava Szjana-Hopgood, the brains behind the vegan food blog Guac and Roll and excellent taker of food photos, to find out how to get it right. Preheat the oven and pop your phone on charge. Here’s what you need to know…
1. Treat your dinner like your selfie: find your light
□□□ Cash me over on the @ninjakitchenuk blog today with my first recipe there: kale and lemon falafel with roasted vegetables, tahini sauce and grilled ciabatta. Thank you so much @spamellab for putting me in touch with Ninja, they're bloody brilliant! https://ninjakitchen.eu/uk/kale-lemon-falafel-roasted-veggies-tahini-sauce-grilled-ciabatta/
First thing’s first, check your light. Ava says that food (nearly) always looks better in non-direct sunlight ‘Always take the chance to photograph your food outside or in a room lit by sunlight when you can’, she says. So, if you want the good shots I’m afraid you’re going to have to be that dick patrolling the area in search of a big window.
‘If you’re serious about getting a good shot, don’t be embarrassed about taking your plate outside or perching it on the table of your café/restaurant’. I know what you’re thinking. Rude much? Well, it goes without saying that there’s a time and a place (birthdays and first dates are neither the time nor the place) but most of the time people around you won’t even notice.
2. It’s not ALL about white backgrounds, btw
New blog post up on Guac, link in my profile□□□□□□ A summer cookout with @genericgreeting □□□ feat. Chorlton rooftops, vegan dinner for 35+ and a whole lot of donuts. Thank you again @bill_szajna_hopgood for letting us have your kitchen for the day / @bigbigpeace for organising / @joey_frances for gazpacho / @meatfreemanchester for donut creations and @willberryillustration for □□ menus and labels. Lovely time. #whatveganseat #vegancookout #veganfoodshare #vegan
The Instagram standard seems to be to hold up something against a white wall and hashtag the shit out of it. Or perhaps rest it against a plain white surface and hope for the best. That’s all well and good if you’re going for that ‘clean and refined’ profile thing, but also isn’t the only option.
Ava says that surfaces bring out the best bits, so make the most of them. ‘A clean, interesting floor (flagstones, tiles, parquet) can be the best backdrop. Or a newspaper, some fabric, a plank of wood – think about the textures of the plate and how to contrast that with what’s behind’. And when it comes to plates, btw, of course, you don’t want to use the one your housemate chipped the one time they attempted a meal more complicated than a portion of oven chips. But also if you’re going to go for a busy, heavily decorated plate, you might want to go for a plain surface, and vice versa.
‘If you’re doing this at home, you don’t need to spend a load of money on props. I prefer to keep it feeling fresh and non-staged. Climb up fire escapes, perch on benches, take a photo of your lunch on the pavement outside your house, ask your neighbour if you can use their garden’, Ava says.
3. The caption does kind of have to match the shot
This probably applies more to those of you actively trying to build a following around your excellent food photography. But you do need to have a bit of a think about what you're trying to 'say' with your food, or at least where you're trying to draw attention to.
'It sounds super obvious but it's something I used to always forget when it came to actually plating things up. If you’re photographing a cake and want to talk about the filling, then you’ll need to cut away a slice so you can show that. If you’re talking about a curry with lots of different components, make sure you can see those elements', Ava explains. 'It’s very fashionable now in food photography to take bird’s eye views (Instagram and Pinterest are mostly to blame for this!), and those do come across really well on social media, but if that’s not showing all the details you want, try switching your stance'. There are alternate POV to explore that don't involve hovering over your food from above, people!
4. Those ice cream shots are a pain in the ass
Well hey. This week hasn't been the best. My rabbit, Buddy, got really ill, meaning I had to miss my flight to Berlin and Poppadom Preach so I can stay in London to take care of him. He's still not looking great but he's a head strong little guy and we're doing everything we can for a very begrudging bunny. So I'm not in Berlin, but I know Zenib, Liv and Heather are gonna knock it out that park tomorrow. And now I'm off to dig out the ice cream I tested these ice cream sandwiches on.
Chances are you've already learned this for yourself after many a failed attempt to take a cool Instagram worthy shot of a 99 flake in the boiling heat (speaking from experience) but those ice cream shots that are super popular at the moment - the ones where it's tactfully held up against an idyllic background to rub in the fact that you're sat at work while someone else is on a delightful holiday eating your favourite dessert - really are a pain. 'Ice cream is the WORST to shoot. I once did a recipe for affogato that I never want to repeat. Anything that changes with temperature over time is hard, so just be ready to photograph! It’s still worth a shot', says Ava.
5. Instagram isn’t the be all and end all
And finally some words of wisdom for anyone else who feels their Instagram feeds are inferior to the rest of the world. Don't be dishearted but also don't feel like you need to follow the crowd just to get a few extra likes. Everyone get's bored of that stuff eventually. 'Don’t just repeat shots you see doing well on Instagram. There are plenty of mediocre food photos out there, and the world doesn’t need another latte art upload!', Ava explains. 'On the flip side, everyone needs to practise! And I find the idea of having to get that ‘perfect’ shot really stifling when you just want to upload a photo of your office lunch on a Friday. Keep it fun and easy- if you’re not a trained food stylist you don’t need to aim for that level. Have fun with it and keep it real and human. If you mess up a recipe, say that. I love those glimpses into real life as much as a well-styled plate of tacos.'
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