How to take the best photos for Instagram

There’s no better way to learn than from the professionals themselves. Read on to find out our favourite Instagrammers’ top tips for taking that flawless food shot…

How to take the best photos for Instagram

There's no denying the huge appetite (pun intended) for food posts on Instagram, with chefs, bloggers, producers and home cooks all snapping, sharing and liking on the image-led platform. A staggering 500 million people worldwide use Instagram, and of these, 300 million open the app every single day, including us - follow at @bbcgoodfood. We asked some of the most successful Instagrammers for their secrets to capturing that perfect food photo...
 

Dan Doherty, executive chef at Duck & Waffle

Keep it simple. Don't cook for photos or over-style things, just cook real, tasty food, and that will translate in the picture. Content is king - you can be the best photographer in the world but if the food isn't great, don't bother. When you’ve got something worth shooting, consider your lighting. Dodgy shadows, dingy lighting and night time are the enemies of a good photo. Always have the light away from you so you aren't blocking it. If you've made the food yourself, think about the plating. If the food is vibrant with greens, yellows, reds - space them out a bit so as to maximise the use of colours. Don't keep all the same bits huddled together or on top of one another.

Follow Dan on Instagram at @dandoherty_.

Clerkenwell Boy, restaurant & travel Instagrammer

Soft, natural light is best. Ask for a table by the window if possible and always try to shoot your photos during the day time. Decide on the style and composition of your photo: (i) top down, (ii) 45 degree angle or (iii) super close up. Play around with negative space (the area in between and around objects) and use symmetry or the rule of thirds to structure and balance your images. When styling your table, add elements that evoke the mood of the cuisine such as flowers, cutlery, herbs, spices or fresh ingredients. When sharing, geotag the location so that others can find it via Google maps, and tag the restaurant or bar so others can easily connect and follow your recommendations. Tell a story through your posts by finding your personal niche and style – you could provide a description of your favourite dish on the menu, share a recipe, or describe a personal story or memory.

Follow Clerkenwell Boy on Instagram at @clerkenwellboyec1.

Symmetry Breakfast, food Instagrammer

Think of yourself before your audience. Eat and cook what you think is delicious, not what you think will get likes. As long as you aim for substance over style in the content you post, you will develop your unique signature later (I promise)! Be passionate about researching ingredients, cooking techniques and tools, but don't break the bank. An expensive piece of kit might sound like a good investment, but so is a good knife or pan. Start small and grow over time - becoming an expert at what you do takes patience but there is always something new to learn. Be inspired but don't copy. There are lots of great accounts for home cooking, restaurants, healthy eating and so on, but establishing a point of difference takes some market research. Finally, use the Instagram editing tools to correct, not enhance, the photo. A phone camera doesn't 'see' the world like the human eye, but there is no way that avocado was that green!

Follow Symmetry Breakfast on Instagram at @symmetrybreakfast.

Lily Vanilli, baker & cake designer

Bear in mind how your Instagram feed looks as a whole, because this is what people first see when deciding whether to follow you - if the images don’t flow nicely together it can look a bit of a mess. To achieve this, shoot against a consistent backdrop or colour as much as possible. Whether you're going rustic kitchen table or clean, fresh and white, stick with it and create a style for your account. Steer clear of filters as a rule, and also be wary of warm tones or yellow lighting. Use an editing app like Snapseed to crop, brighten and up the saturation on your images, and go for a consistent finish across your posts. I also use natural lighting pretty much without exception, which means thinking carefully about timing in the winter months!

Follow Lily on Instagram at @lily_vanilli_cake.

Marina O'Loughlin, BBC Good Food contributing editor

Don't spam people. When on trips abroad, I have to restrain myself from uploading every beautiful dish I eat, or sight I see. Fewer and carefully edited is better than dozens a day. Take as many snaps as your patience (and your friends' patience) will allow, then choose the best - don't snap straight from Instagram. Don't overuse hashtags - this looks a bit screechy. If you’re eating out, go at lunchtime - the natural daylight is much better, especially now when the most fashionable restaurants are, well, fashionably dimly-lit. Use zoom - it's a really useful tool for getting rid of pesky shadows. (Also, beware of pesky shadows.) I like Instagram's edit feature better than the filters. Filters tend to give everything a homogenous feel, whereas judicious use of edit - crop, brighten, contrast and saturation are my favourites - make pictures more 'your own'. Finally, restaurant dishes tend to look better photographed from above, but there's really no need - as I witnessed at Morito recently - for the snapper to stand on the chair. 

Follow Marina on Instagram at @marinagpoloughlin.

Edd Kimber, baker & food writer

Edit lightly. Instagram’s built-in filters can reduce the quality of the photo rather than enhancing it, so I edit with an app called VSCO which gives you great control. Always avoid flash - on a phone it always creates an ugly artificial look that makes the food look unappealing. Overhead shots can be easier to take and look great on Instagram. Most importantly, don't take it too seriously. I see people taking lighting and all manner of kit into restaurants, which seems silly to me. Instagram is meant to be fun - if you spend too much time thinking about it your feed will end up forced and generic.

Follow Edd on Instagram at @theboywhobakes.

Gizzi Erskine, chef & food writer

Good photography comes down to a good eye. Many people think they're good at shooting food but few are and I think it's simply in how you see the world. I don't think it's something you can learn per se... Instagram is a way for people to see the world through your eyes so make the set-ups as honest as they can be. When you watch the ‘uber-bloggers’ and ‘instagrammers’ they shoot in a second as they know what they're after - it's got to come naturally to you. My tip to make things look great is to always shoot in day light. And choose a filter that makes the food ping and not the plate or back ground. I like Nashville. I think it's as simple as that.

Follow Gizzi on Instagram at @gizzierskine.

Cassie Best, BBC Good Food food editor

Keep it real. Food looks most delicious when it's messy, drippy and oozy, so don't try to make it look too perfect. A tip that I’ve picked up on photo shoots is not to overfill the plate. Give the food space to breathe and it'll look all the more beautiful for it. Keep crockery and cutlery simple - intricate designs can dominate the image and make the food look fussy. Good lighting is everything! If you’re shooting outside, take the snap with the sun behind you, it'll highlight the food and help pick up all the beautiful details. Yellow tones can make the image look dated and bleak, so to counter this, I usually drop the warmth and increase the saturation in the self-edit options. My final tip is to clean your camera lens before you start snapping. Most phones are buried in bags or pockets all day and accumulate a layer of dirt. A quick buff on a clean cloth can make all the difference to the clarity of the image.

Follow Cassie on Instagram at @cassiecooks.

Sam Stern, chef & food writer

Think about presentation when you are plating. That might mean holding off on the full portion size or keeping certain ingredients of the dish separate instead of mixing it all in, so they can stand out and pop in the final image. For example, pasta dishes can look messy if you just pile it on the plate. Setting aside ingredients such as capers, tomatoes and basil for the top allows them to stand out and really pop, so keep some final garnishes such as chopped fresh herbs on hand. I don't use the Instagram filters 99% of the time. Use an app like Snapseed or Afterlight to customise your image - these give more of a professional look. Finally, experiment with different angles. Above is always nice but coming in from the side can give more of an impactful image – get creative!

Follow Sam on Instagram at @sam_stern.

Ed Smith, chef & food writer

Great photos can be taken with minimal fuss. First of all, if you're dining with friends or in a restaurant, never let taking a photo overtake the purpose of your meal – it’s all about enjoying the taste of the food and the company of others. I'm not a fan of moving plates around, standing up or generally causing a scene in the hope of gaining a few extra 'likes'. Have a think about which angle will look best before whipping the phone out. In terms of editing, I don't think pre-set filters ever look particularly good, but I do use Instagram's manual edit filters. I try to be relatively consistent and tweak the same settings each time - generally 'brightness', 'lux', and occasionally add a little 'structure', more 'shadows' and 'sharpness'. All the time my thought process is to try and ensure the food still looks as natural as possible. Ultimately, just enjoy taking pictures of food and occasionally posting your favourite ones. And remember, don't let the act of taking the photo become more of an event than the meal or moment.

Follow Ed on Instagram at @rocketandsquash.

Alpana Deshmukh, food & travel Instagrammer 

Get familiar with your phone’s functionality - turn on the gridlines; tap the screen to focus before shooting; consider using the AE/AF lock to fix the exposure and focus. Look for visually interesting backgrounds to add another dimension to your shot – in bars, cafes and restaurants, I’ll keep an eye out for graphic tiled floors, colourful wallpapers, textured walls and table tops. You don’t have to always shoot where you are served; I have been known to (discreetly) pick up my glass or dish and wander over to a different space in the venue to capture more light or a photogenic background. Judge your environment; you don’t want to cause a commotion taking pictures and distracting other diners!

Follow Alpana on Instagram at @alpana.deshmukh.

Niomi Smart, lifestyle vlogger

Shoot from the side. Overhead shots of food look great, but it's also lovely to get some of the background scenery into the shot to add context, especially when you're out and about or abroad. If you find yourself somewhere picturesque, take the shot at a slight side angle so that you can appreciate the beautiful surroundings but also have a clear view of the delicious food.

Follow Niomi on Instagram at @niomismart.
 

 

Rosie Birkett, BBC Good Food contributing editor

Think about the composition. Try making use of asymmetry and negative space - don't be afraid to leave some space on one side as this can add interest. It's important to make sure the shot is well lit so that the ingredients can really stand out. Use natural light and find a spot by the window if possible.

Follow Rosie on Instagram at @rosiefoodie.


Inspired to get snapping? Read our top tips on how to photograph food, or find out what it's like to work as a professional food photographer or food stylist.
 

What are your tips for taking the perfect photo for Instagram? Let us know in the comments below...
 

Comments, questions and tips

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jessicao9435
14th Jan, 2017
Good advice, thanks. Just a shame it's come from an immature, ignorant "chef" Dan Doherty.
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