You’re out to dinner in a trendy restaurant that has pretty wooden tables, floral arrangements and low lighting. When your perfectly plated food arrives, you take out your phone to capture the beautiful scene, and… blurgh. All you’re left with is a dull, grainy photo that really doesn’t do justice to the meal. You could filter it and get a few likes, but odds are it’s just going to sit on your phone and take up precious storage space until you have to go on a deleting spree in a few weeks.
How do those food bloggers do it? Sure, real food photography is done with a DSLR and Photoshop, but we’re talking about those enviable Instagram foodie feeds we can’t stop following. They’re using the same phone camera as you, but instead of bland, muted colors, they’re making veritable food porn. What gives? We got San Francisco food blogger Cynthia from Cyn Eats to spill the beans on Foodstagramming like a pro, using just your phone and some ingenuity.
Find Your Light
1. Ask for a table with great lighting. This is such a simple tip that we’re kind of embarrassed we never thought of it. When making an online reservation, Cyn uses that “special request” box to ask for a table with great lighting. Bonus: You’re likely to eat healthier if you sit somewhere well lit.
2. Turn your back to the window. Obviously one of the best lit areas of a restaurant will be near the window, but Cyn warns that you should avoid shooting against the light with a camera phone.
3. Avoid direct sunlight and shoot in the shade. When you’re taking your lunch to go, you’ll actually get the best lighting in the shade.
4. Use your friends. If she’s in a dimly lit restaurant like in the scenario above, Cyn will forgo her own flash (which can be too direct and hard to control, resulting in harsh lighting) and ask a friend to shine theirs instead. Here’s another genius tip: “If the light coming from their phone is too harsh, take a napkin and cover the light so it that gives off a softer glow.”
5. Get moving. So you didn’t manage to get a seat by the window? This is where being a food blogger takes some moxie: “If I’m sitting in an area of a coffee shop with bad lighting, I will actually take my coffee and move it to find the best lighting, then go sit back down.” Cyn’s no stranger to curious looks from other patrons, but that’s the price of Insta art ;)
Set the Scene
1. Shoot from your food’s most photogenic side. For a lot of food, that’s going to be bird’s eye view, one of Cyn’s favorites. But if you’re about to go HAM on a burger, snap it from the side so that your photo isn’t all top bun. Check out how Cyn smashed both halves of her sando together in the pic above.“That makes it much more foodporn-ish,” she says.
2. Arrange your food neatly. If you’re going for the top-down view, Cyn suggests leaving space between your plates. Also, don’t be afraid to stand up to get a wider shot and avoid clumping dishes together. She does it all the time.
3. Find the right background. Make use of a killer view or creative background if you’ve got it, but otherwise Cyn’s favorite backup background is a white surface for a really clean look. Oh, and if you’re Instagramming an ice cream cone? Pick a background/location ahead of time then RUN, “like, REALLY REALLY REALLY FAST.”
4. Find your focus. As great as smartphone cameras are, they’re not amazing for establishing the focus range — a DSLR is better for that. So make sure you’re tapping your screen to focus on the foreground or background. You can also use Instagram’s Tilt Shift feature to blur parts of the image.
Edit Where Needed
1. Download VSCO Cam for iPhone or Android. The Instagram app is handy for slapping on a quick filter and calling it a day, but you have to get a little more technical than that if you want to really stand out. VSCO Cam happens to be one of our favorite (free!) photo-editing apps for the same reason as Cyn: Every photo is different, and VSCO gives you more control over individual aspects of each photo.
2. Adjust the contrast, exposure and highlights. These are some rules of thumb for getting familiar with your editing apps. “If the photo is too blown out, decrease the highlights. If the photo needs more color, add a little bit of contrast to make it pop. If the photo is too dark, add a little bit of exposure to brighten it up.”
3. Don’t assume you always have to edit. If you found great lighting and a really appetizing meal, then let the food do the talking and go #nofilter, like Cyn did with this burger.
Put It to the Test
So, does it all work? I went to some local eateries (ugh, work is so hard) to see if I could master the camera phone once and for all. First up was this minted cold brew coffee in a cafe with some free counter space by the window. I even grabbed a potted plant off the windowsill to set the scene (while apologizing profusely to the customer next to me). Here’s the before:
One thing I regret not doing was tapping the screen to focus on the coffee. That would have helped take some focus off the smudges on the counter. So I took Cyn’s advice and added a radial tilt shift in Instagram. I also upped the highlights, added a hint of contrast and toned down the exposure. The results:
Boom! Minty fresh photography.
Next up was this INSANELY good waffle sandwich from Melted (get thee to Napa, pronto). The before:
Even though the inside of this sandwich was tasty, I thought the top-down view would work best from the waffle and tomato soup standpoint. I nabbed a perfect window seat so the lighting was great. Already I was off to a good start (I had once tried photographing this exact same sandwich before from one of the outdoor seats, at an angle, and quickly deleted it). The only editing left was to crank up the shadows, add a little contrast and then sharpen the whole picture to show off that parmesan cheese. Here’s the after:
Aaaaand now I’m hungry again. #Foodporn mission accomplished!
Do you have any tips and tricks up your sleeve for taking the best food photography on your phone? Share your tech savviness in the comments.
(Featured photos via Cyn Eats)