How to take better photos of your food for social media | 8 best tips

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 21, 2021

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When you make a delicious recipe or enjoy a great meal, it’s only fitting that you share the photos on social media. Taking photos of food is no easy task, especially if you want to capture beautiful colors and details.

Food photography is a huge niche already, but the good news is that if you want to take some photos of your food for social media, you don’t need to take special courses.

Even as an amateur photographer, you can take stunning food photos as long as you use the following tips.

how to take better photos of your food for social media 8 photography tips

Take a look at the #foodphotography tag on Instagram, and you’ll notice it has almost 80 million posts. That’s a lot of photos of food, and that’s only on Instagram.

But, if you use Facebook, Pinterest, and other sites, you’ll find even more. So, what can you do to make your food photos stand out from the crowd?

If you’re enjoying your sukiyaki or teriyaki chicken bowl, why not snap some photos for Instagram using simple tips? I’ll show you how to take better pictures of food.

8 best food photography tips for social media

When you photograph your food, there’s a big chance that the photo looks appetizing on your plate, but it turns out ugly on camera.

When you use your smartphone, things like a wide-angle camera and bad restaurant lighting can make the food look far less tasty than in real life, so the photos are not social media worthy.

For that reason, I’ve compiled the eight best tips to help you take better photos of your food for social media.

Take pictures in natural lighting

Lighting makes the difference between a mundane and an exceptional shot. Photographers know that it’s hard to beat natural lighting.

Food looks best under natural and directional light because it gives the photo dimension. If you can take your food outdoors and shoot there, go for it!

When you’re at home, take the food and place it near the window so that you can take photos in natural light.

But keep in mind, natural light doesn’t mean direct sunlight. If you try to take pictures in direct sunlight, they won’t turn out well at all.

When you use your smartphone, make sure that light comes either from the side or the back of your plate. The problem with front light is that it casts unwanted shadows and makes food look flat.

If you’re inside a restaurant without natural light, try to avoid that awful glare of fluorescent lighting.

Not only will the colors of the dish look “off,” but the green or yellow-tinged cast is pretty unflattering. Yellow noodles will look washed out under indoor lighting.

If you have to take the photo inside the restaurant, try sitting near a window. If you can’t, zoom in on details because you have a better chance of getting a good photo.

Don’t use flash

Try to avoid using the camera’s flash. This built-flash creates unwanted shadows as well as harsh reflections and alters the colors of the food. Therefore the photo can look dull, and the glare ruins the overall aspect.

In some cases, the food will look so overexposed you can’t even tell what exactly the food is! As I mentioned above, take photos in natural light when you can.

The main problem with artificial lighting is that the unwanted shadows and hues are hard to edit afterward.

Professional food photographers use expensive flash systems that almost mimic natural light, but you can’t do that with your phone, so it’s best to avoid flash altogether.

Focus on composition

Photographic composition takes a while to perfect. It can be learned, but if you don’t want to focus on all the details, then follow this simple rule: don’t take messy or cluttered photos.

Not sure what I mean? If you look through the average user’s Instagram feed, the food photos are often messy.

The food can look messy and all over the place, and so can the environment. Perhaps there are too many toppings, or the dishes are all crammed into one photo because people want to show off ALL the meals they had.

Avoid doing this because your food won’t look appetizing.

Take tighter shots and eliminate unnecessary props. Compose your photo so that it’s focused on one dish only and try to take a tight shot.

Leave some negative space in each photo. This means that there should be some “empty” space where the viewer’s eye can rest. You don’t want viewers to feel confused and overwhelmed by too many elements in a photo.

For example, if you’re taking a photo of a sushi plate, center the plate and leave some empty space around it so the viewer has some negative visual space.

Don’t place different plates beside each other, or the image becomes too overwhelming.

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is the most popular rule of composition. It means that each photo is divided into nine equal squares.

This happens in your mind, of course, so think of it as a tic tac toe board. All of the key elements (food) should be located at the intersection points or along the lines of the board.

Use the smartphone’s overlay grid if you can because it helps you place the focal point. The viewer’s eye will be drawn to focus on the focal point, and you can make sure the emphasis is there.

Even something simple as a garnish of rice or pickled plums can serve as a focal point.

Keep the styling minimal

Food styling is an art, but it’s best to keep things simple when taking photos of your meal.

A complicated table setting and tablescape are hard to photograph, even for pros, so for social media, keep it simple. That means having minimal decorations and clutter in your photos.

Don’t move around too many elements, which may clutter the composition. The food is the star of the photo, so make sure your plate (s) are the main subject.

If the food is plated nicely already, there’s no need to add anything more. Focus on getting a clear shot that captures the colors and textures of the yummy dishes.

You can make it a bit more interesting if you really want by adding a nice linen napkin tucked under the plate or some beautiful cutlery.

A tasty poke bowl or salad, for example, is colorful and requires no extra props. However, if you have a tasty soba noodle soup, then you can add the chopsticks and a glass of sake as props.

For the best photos, use a simple background such as a wooden table or plain white tablecloth. Avoid lots of patterns and colors that clash with the food and distract the eye from the ingredients.

Choose the best angle

When shooting with a smartphone camera, the number one issue is that the angle just looks off. So, it can look as if your ramen bowl is slipping off the table.

That’s because most smartphone cameras have a wide angle that distorts the food’s appearance at certain angles.

To avoid this problem, you need to test out a few angles until you find the most flattering one.

The best rule to follow is to shoot the food at a 90-degree angle or straight on. Avoid the ¾ angle because that’s the most unflattering one.

Another good way to take photos is to take the picture from above the food, which is similar to taking flat lay photos.

When taking photos from above, the depth is flattened, but it allows you to capture many more elements into the frame.

For example, if you are at a Korean BBQ and take a picture from above; you can get the grill, the meat, cutlery, side dishes, and maybe even the drinks, so you have a complete picture for social media.

If you only take photos at a 45-degree angle, you might only capture some of the grill and meat.

If you’re shooting tall foods and drinks, like big burgers, shoot them straight on, not from a 90-degree angle. This angle brings out the food’s layers, like the lettuce, cheese, sauces, bun, etc.

how to take better pictures of your sushi for social media

Zoom in to capture details

Whatever dish you’re taking a photo of, make sure to take enough close-up shots too. When you zoom in, you can see the details.

If you’re capturing images of your sushi order, zoom in on the toppings like the roe or the tasty fillings like avocado, shrimp, salmon, etc.

A colorful plate of sushi will get lots of likes if you showcase details that let people see that it’s no ordinary supermarket sushi.

The tighter the shot is, the better. Therefore, avoid photographing too much of the plate or other items in the background. The food should be the center of attention, so focus and zoom in on the various ingredients.

If you’re having some tasty sukiyaki, you can zoom in on the hot steam coming from the tender meat slices. These simple details can make a big impact.

Use filters & edit photos

Just take a look at the most popular food blogger accounts, and you’ll notice most of their photos have a common theme or color palette. This is achieved through post-production photo editing and filters.

For simple social media posts, you can simply use Instagram’s own filters or download preset packages. These will make your photos look more professional and put together.

But, be mindful that filters will add a colorful tinge to your photos and can denaturalize the true colors.

There are so many photo editing apps out there, such as Adobe Lightroom or Snapseed. Using free apps is a good option if you’re just starting out as they have lots of presets and filters you can use to improve your photos.

However, keep in mind that people still want to see what the food actually looks like in real life, so don’t go crazy with editing. Natural-looking photos do best because they present delicious foods just as they are.

For example, with curry noodles and curry rice, you can use software like Photoshop Fix to bring out the color of the curry sauce and give it more contrast compared to the rice and noodles.

You can also make the parsley and sesame seed toppings stand out.

I know that some people don’t want to use filters, and in that case, keep things simple and use the camera’s adjustment tools and setting.

From there, you can adjust color saturation, tint, fade, and temperature.

Don’t forget about the human element

If you’ve spent 2 hours cooking up an amazing Japanese recipe, there’s no reason not to show yourself enjoying the tasty food. Or, if you’re dining out with a friend, why not use photos of the two of you cooking the hot pot ingredients?

There’s nothing wrong with including yourself in food photos.

You can use a close-up of your face as you eat the food, but it’s usually a bit unflattering, to be honest. But, if you show your hand holding the chopsticks and picking up a sushi roll, it looks much better.

Plain food photos can be a bit static or boring, but if you show snippets of the body as it interacts with the food, the images become more attractive.

After all, photography is about storytelling. People are more likely to crave the food in your photos if they see you enjoying them.

Troubleshooting common food photography problems

I’ve tried to get perfect Instagram-worthy photos of my dumplings, only to realize they look like a pile of yellowish dough. It wasn’t really all that appetizing…

Truth is, I wasn’t actively following any logical tips or guidelines!

Then, as I did some research, I realized so many people struggle with taking good photos of their food for social media and that there are some easy ways to fix these issues.

Here are some of the common problems with food photography you might encounter:

The photos are blurry

If you’re in a hurry to take photos at a restaurant, your hands might be shaky, so the photos can turn out blurry. Always try to keep your hand steady while taking photos.

But, if you take pictures at home, you can make your life easier by buying a smartphone tripod.

These tripods are pretty cheap, and they’ll keep the phone steady so you can set the timer and take top-notch social media photos of your favorite dishes.

Another trick you can use is to raise the ISO, which means that the camera needs less light to take a photo.

Colors aren’t as vivid or true to life

Sometimes if you try to photograph your okonomiyaki, it will just look like some mushy yellow porridge. It’s not the best dish to post on your Facebook feed.

The problem is that the smartphone can distort the food’s colors. So, what may seem like a colorful dish in real life can turn out washed out and murky when you post it on social media.

If, for example, the plate of food seems too green, you can use the white balance tool to fix it. You might have to download photo editing apps to access this feature.

Also, you can play around with the color balance settings until the food looks true to life.

The photos are overexposed

Photographers deal with overexposure on a daily basis.

Professional cameras have exposure settings that make it easy to control the amount of exposure. You can make the photo brighter or less bright using these settings.

But, when taking pictures with your smartphone, some food turns up way too bright – or overexposed – to use the correct terminology.

White plates or white backgrounds tend always to be overexposed, and this can ruin a good photo. Contrast photos are also problematic because the camera can’t maintain the detail in both contrasting colors.

As a result, the highlights tend to be overexposed, while the shadows look under-exposed.

With a camera, you can fix the problem by exposing for highlights. This way, you can see the details in the brightest part of the image.

iPhone users can adjust exposure by tapping the area of the photo that they want to appear sharp. The camera then focuses on that area.

All you have to do is slide your finger up and down the screen, and this works for most Android phones too.

Sliding up increases exposure and makes the image brighter, while sliding down decreases the exposure, lowering the brightness.

Social media photography FAQs

Here are some of your burning questions about taking photos of your food for social media. I’ve answered them in this Q&A format.

How do you do the best food photos on Instagram?

When it comes to food photos, Instagram is still king. I’m sure you’ve all seen those photos of people holding ice cream in their hand, and then there’s an urban landscape photo in the back?

Or, if you follow the Japanese food hashtags, I’m sure you come across sushi sandwich or bento box photos. They make the food look mouthwatering.

 

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The key to making photos look great on Instagram is to use the right format.

While Instagram supports vertical and horizontal photos, too, the preferred format is a square image. Frame the image with the square format in mind.

Also, consider what might get cut off as you compose the picture.

The horizontal photo of a food buffet might not look great on Instagram. Instead, focus on a close-up of one or two of the dishes and put them in square format.

Which phone camera is best for food photography?

The more lenses, the better. A good smartphone has excellent cameras with IOS (optical image stabilization), bright lenses, big sensors, and optical zoom.

Look for cameras with a 3xtelephoto lens, a 10x telephoto lens, and a minimum of 12 MP. These days, 48 MP cameras are more popular.

Here’s a list of the top 7 smartphone cameras as of 2021:

What is it called when you take pictures of your food?

The obvious answer to this question is “food photography.” However, you are probably wondering about the phenomenon of people immediately taking photos and then uploading them to social media before eating.

This is called “camera eats first”, and it’s a worldwide phenomenon, popularized by confessed foodies and food bloggers.

It’s all about photos first, then eating. The more photogenic the food is, the better it does on social media.

When should I post food on Instagram?

If you want as many people as possible to see your food on Instagram, there are two things to consider.

First, the hashtags matter most. If you use a combination of general food-related hashtags combined with small and specific tags, you’re likely to get lots of interactions.

But, timing is also key. People are more active during specific days and hours.

Apparently, Thursday during 2 -3 PM EST is a great time to post your food photography. Wednesday morning at 10 AM EST is another good time, and Friday between 10-11 AM is also pretty active.

But, my guess is that if you’re targeting people in your area, stick to mornings and evenings in your timezone.

The bottom line is that there’s tons of competition for likes in this niche, so make your food photos mouthwatering and irresistible.

There’s nothing like a hunger pang to entice people to click the small heart button.

How do you take food pictures at night?

This is a tough one because, as you know by now, lighting is everything. Don’t feel discouraged, though, because there are some solutions.

If you can, use an app that lets you adjust the exposure and ISO. Then, use an external light source like a ring light or a big lamp.

Make sure you avoid candles because the flames flutter and ruin the photos.

If you’re dining indoors at a restaurant, you can try to use the smartphone camera’s flash and see how it interacts with the restaurant lighting. But, if it’s terrible, move the food closer to the best light source at the locale.

When you’re shooting at home, you can install string lights to help create more light near the table.

Be sure to read: Etiquette and table manners when eating Japanese food

The bottom line

The best way to learn is through practice. That’s why I recommend you follow the eight tips and start taking tons of photos of your food.

The more you get used to finding the best lighting and angles, the better the pictures will be. Once you get the hang of things, you’ll be posting drool-worthy food photos on your social media pages.

If you’re serious about taking fantastic food pictures, you can invest in some photo editing apps or software to help you balance colors, exposure, and even crop out unwanted elements.

Most importantly, have fun taking photos and enjoy tasting delicious dishes!

Need to pauze a Japanese dinner for a picture? Use “Sumimasen” to apologize (or say thank you)

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.