How to Take Instagram-Worthy Food Photos

Snap a shareable photo whether you're dining out or staying in.

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Lights! Camera! ... Bacon?

It's no secret that we eat with our eyes first. Social media stars and app developers are capitalizing on it — and you can, too. Photographing a meal is so common these days that if you're not whipping out your smartphone to take a quick picture of your cocktail, did it even really happen?

But taking the perfect photo of your refreshing margarita isn't always easy. Read on for pro-tips on how to get the shot, enjoy your meal and rack up all the likes.

Light It Up

Shoot It: Soft, natural light is sure to make a foolproof photo. Keep it simple and shoot by a window or up the ante by investing in a studio light you can move around. Backlight the food for a dramatic look or add light from the side to highlight details. A piece of white foam core (or a napkin, poster or sheet) will reflect light and brighten shadows; a black one will absorb light and bring out the details in the whites.

Live It: If you’re dining out, avoid using your flash — the direct hit from a harsh strobe rarely improves the shot and can bother other diners. To really commit to a shot, request a table near a window, utilize the candlelight or have a friend hold up a white napkin as a reflector to add light.

Composition Is Everything

Shoot It: When it comes to setting up the perfect shot there are three main factors to consider: framing, camera angle and context. Keep your camera parallel to the ground and steady. Then, consider the negative space and determine whether zooming in on textures or taking a step back for atmosphere better serves the food.

Live It: Be aware of those around you. Focus on the food, not those eating it — most people don’t appreciate a camera snapping away as they chew. And work quickly so no one at the table has to wait to eat their (rapidly cooling) meal.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Shoot It: There's no fix for a blurry photo. Check your camera's focus before clicking the shutter release. If you're using a smartphone, tap on the object you want to capture on the screen to make sure it is sharp and clear before pressing shoot.

Live It: Movement causes blurriness. If you're eating out and have trouble holding your camera still, this isn’t the time to whip out a tripod. Instead, try bracing your upper arms against your body for stability while extending your forearms out to get the shot.

Messy Is Good

Shoot It: Don’t worry about achieving perfection. A few drips here, some crumbs there can add texture and interest to your picture. If you're photographing your own recipes, always make more food than you think you need so you have enough for different plating options.

Live It: If you came to try the signature dessert at a restaurant, add a human element, like a hand diving in with a fork, or take a bite first, then start shooting. The upside? No one has to wait for you to eat, and you can include your friends in the experience.

Use Edit Tools, Including Your Judgment

Shoot It: Don't underestimate the power of post-production. You can boost highlights to show the craggy crust on perfectly fried chicken and saturate colors to emphasize the yellow filling in a lemon meringue pie. The Internet is brimming with free image processors, and in-phone processing apps are relatively inexpensive. Get in the habit of using them.

Live It: You may want to keep your followers up-to-date with your whereabouts, but we're big fans of the #latergram. Saving the post-production for after the meal means you won’t waste precious time with friends and family staring at your phone.

Step Out of the Shadows

Shoot It: Plates move, and so can you. Don’t let a pesky shadow ruin your shot. Move yourself and your dish around until you find the best light. And keep an eye on exposure: Lots of food photos are overexposed (meaning the whites lack detail). Use your manual exposure setting and focus on the highlights — think a white plate or a dollop of whipped cream — to ensure you get plenty of textural details.

Live It: At home you can carry your plate from room to room in search of the perfect set-up, but if you are dining out, consider an arm’s length about as far as your plate should roam.

Check Out Every Angle

Shoot It: Some dishes — like latte art — look best shot from above. Other very textured foods, like a broken baguette, are best in tight shots that fill the frame. And still others require context with carefully chosen props to tell a story. Shoot from multiple angles to find out what works best.

Live It: If you are out with other diners, just remember that your movements affect them. You can still shoot different angles, but leave the more complicated set-ups for when you have more space.

Throw in Some Color

Shoot It: Food comes to life with color. Create contrast with simple props and garnishes. A red napkin can accentuate the deep-purple of a bowl of blueberries, while ribbons of green basil can brighten up the monotone palette of a plate of spaghetti.

Live It: If you aren't at home, you'll have to make do with the tableware and glasses around you. Keep it simple; more often than not, the chef has already made the same considerations of color when creating and plating the dish.

Take the Shot Again and Again

Shoot It: Practice...a lot! Even the most experienced photographer needs to take more than one photograph to find the winner. Light can change and food can settle and move. Shoot multiple images, then be your own editor and look critically at each to decide on the best one.

Live It: Make the burst setting on your camera or phone your new favorite trick for taking lots of images in rapid succession. You won't waste the time of your dining companions and you can go through the images later. Bonus points for turning on the silent shutter release option in a quiet restaurant.

Ditch the Phone

Shoot It: Still wondering how your favorite food blogger gets those juicy details on a cut tomato? It's probably the handiwork of a professional camera. Smartphone cameras have come a long way, but they can't compete with a DSLR camera. If you're serious about food photography, you might consider investing in some equipment (or digging out your old point-and-shoot to compare). Quality ingredients are key to producing the best dish — and the same goes for pictures.

Live It: Don’t let your camera sit on the table like an unwanted dinner guest. Store your camera out of the way — possibly under your chair — when you aren’t shooting.

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