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You’ve done it. You’ve stumbled upon a restaurant where the food’s as photogenic as it is delicious. Or maybe you didn’t stumble upon it at all—maybe your arrival was the result of days of careful research. Either way, you’re in peak food Instagram territory. And you want to make your foodie pic count.
The thing is, a truly stunning food Instagram isn’t simply the product of a haphazard snap or two. It’s the conclusion of a careful process—one involving light, angle, attention to detail and maybe something of a food facelift. It’s not enough to find a restaurant serving yummy, pretty dishes; you have to lay the groundwork to ensure that food looks as great as it possibly can. And according to some of your favorite food-loving influencers, taking a dish from nice to veritably drool-worthy isn’t actually that hard—you just have to know where to start.
1. First things first, get a table outside or near a window.
“Sit by a window,” Alexa Mehraban (@eatingnyc), tells StyleCaster at June’s BlogHer Food conference. “Natural light is important for capturing food.” This is especially key for her, she says, because she doesn’t like to over-edit her photos; natural light ensures she can get a vibrant, well-lit shot without spending too much time in a photo editing app.
By the same token, Remy Morimoto Park (@veggiekins), tells StyleCaster to “go outside if you can.” Even if you can’t get a table near a window or on an outdoor patio, you can take your dish outside for a quick photo or two—no shame.
2. Order something you actually want. (In other words, be yourself.)
In a BlogHer Food “Social Media for Foodies” panel, Dara Pollak (@skinnypignyc), Lin Chen (@lettucedine), Phoebe Lapine (@phoebelpaine) and Alyssa Rimmer (@simplyquinoa) spoke about the importance of keeping things real, even when—and perhaps especially when—you have Instagram in mind.
“I’m trying to incorporate more realness into the food that I share. I’m trying to show that the platform is real, and that I’m a human,” Rimmer says. “I’m just going to do what I want to do, and hopefully people will follow.” Pollak agrees: “I’ve always been about sharing my life,” she says. “It’s always been pretty personal, and I feel like that was one of the things that drew people to me.” In a different BlogHer Food panel, Park echoed a similar sentiment. “Did you really like that pizza?” she asks. “Most times you want to be honest, because you don’t want to put your reputation on the line.”
That emphasis on authenticity extends to the aesthetic realm as well. “Don’t just copy other peoples’ styles because it’s what does well,” Rimmer says. If you start seeing dark, moody photos doing well on Instagram, for example, you don’t need to upend your aesthetic just to get it on the trend. “That’s not my style,” she says. “Even if, all of a sudden, that took over the internet, that’s just not what I do.”
In other words, order something you actually want to eat—and snap a photo of it you actually like. This is your Instagram feed, after all.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask the server to make the dish look extra pretty.
Park says she’s actually asked the person scooping or serving the food to dress up dishes in the past. She simply tells them she’s planning to shoot something for Instagram, so if they could make the dish look extra special, she’d appreciate it.
4. Once your dish arrives, give it a quick tune-up.
Food photographer Lauren Volo (@laurenvolo) and food stylist Mariana Velasquez (@marianavelasquezv) spoke extensively about making food camera-ready at BlogHer Food’s “Food Photography, Styling and the Making of a Cookbook” panel. Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting a moment or two to give a dish the opportunity to “gloss over or melt,” Volo says. Velasquez says she actually brings tweezers with her to move parts of the dish around so that they catch the light better, or so the composition looks a little more interesting.
Velasquez tells StyleCaster she also makes sure to wipe the edges of the plate clean before snapping a foodie pic. Sometimes bits of grease or food will get stuck around the rim, and using your napkin to wipe off the plate ensures nothing will catch the eye that shouldn’t.
5. Play around with angles.
Volo recommends using your iPhone for overhead shots and only overhead shots, but encourages experimentation as well. “Don’t be afraid to take things further,” she says. “See if there’s another angle.”
6. Giving your audience something to recreate is more important than making everything absolutely perfect.
“Instagram is moving away from the more curated stuff,” Rimmer says. “People want to see what’s real. Maybe it’s a picture of you eating your smoothie in the morning, rather than some drippy, over-the-top whatever.” Chin agrees: “Is the photo something the user can recreate?” She explains that when she and and her Lettucedine co-founder, Alice Zhou, shared fancier, more picture-perfect shots, their audience wasn’t as apt to engage. “They want to relate to it, and understand they can take the same photo,” Chin says. “We can invest in a nice lens and night lights. But if the audience can’t recreate it and use it as an inspiration, the engagement isn’t there.”
At BlogHer Food’s “Insta-Restaurants and the Rise of Influencer-Driven Food Trends,” DO founder and CEO Kristen Tomlan (@kristentomlan) shares that early in DO’s history, she shared an Instagram so covet-able that people were actually coming to the store to recreate it. The picture? A shot of a cup of cookie dough with a snowy background. People came to DO in droves with the hope of snapping the same pic.
7. Keep your caption fun, personality-filled and most of all, authentic.
“You’re never going to please everybody,” Pollak says. “There are a million other food accounts someone could follow. That’s not they follow me—they follow me because of my independent personality and voice.” Pollak goes on to say that while she’s put in effort to improve her photo-taking skills over time, the message has always seemed more important to her followers than anyone else. “My voice has always been kind of dark, sarcastic and humorous,” she says. “And I’ve always been about engaging with my community.”
“I write and talk on Instagram Stories like I’m talking to my friends,” Rimmer says. “I make it feel very welcome, very casual.” It’s not necessarily about defining your brand right away, she adds. “It’s just about being who you are. You’ll attract people who enjoy you as a person.”
Virtually every other food influencer who spoke at BlogHer Food agrees. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Gail Becker, Caulipower founder and CEO, says. “We poke fun at ourselves…and give people a reason to come back.” Chen does the same: “Our captions are witty, punny, stupid, fun…It’s about finding that passion, being genuine online and being nice.” (Because let’s be real, it never hurts to be nice.)
Tomlan puts it perhaps most succinctly when she says the following: “Authenticity, authenticity, authenticity.” At the end of the day, this is your Instagram. And while you’re aiming to elevate your food Instagram to its utmost potential, you’re ultimately doing it for you. “We’re not doing it so it looks good on Instagram,” Tomlan says. “Instagram is just part of it.”