5 easy Instagram tips from a professional food photographer
Presenting a new mealtime manifesto for avid picture-takers
I hate to break this to you, but that brunch photo of brioche French toast with bacon marmalade you just posted on Instagram? It's not very good. It's so terrible, in fact, that we can't be friends anymore.
Just kidding. (Kind of.) To be fair, I'm as guilty as anyone of posting underexposed, soulless photos of my meals online. Take this unimaginative Shake Shack burger. Or this boring pint of lukewarm beer. Or… well, you get the point.
All these awful photos aren't a bad thing, necessarily. Oversharing isn't a disease exclusive to a generation raised with phones in their hands, no matter what the grumpy curmudgeons say. Instagram, Facebook, email, and letter writing were all born out of a perfectly natural human desire to tell our friends what we've been up to.
Which isn't to say we're not annoying from time to time. We are.
According to The New York Times, a few noted chefs have grown fed up with overzealous foodies and are beginning to crack down. Some, like Moe Issa, owner of the venerated Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, have even instituted policies banning food photography altogether. "Some people are arrogant about it," he told the Times. "They don't understand why. But we explain that it's one big table and we want the people around you to enjoy their meal. They pay a lot of money for this meal. It became even a distraction for the chef."
Not all is lost. There is a way to share your gastronomic adventures with the world at large with etiquette, decency, and yes, maybe even an artful touch or two.
We spoke with New York Times food photographer Andrew Scrivani, who gave us some practical, useful rules — attach a camera lens? Come on. — for sprucing up your Instagram feed like a pro without annoying the other restaurant-goers around you.
1. Don't be a jerk. Don't make a production out of it. Be as discreet as possible. Don't stretch across the table. Try not to stand. And don't, under any circumstances, use flash. Even for professional food photographers, "shooting in the murky weirdness of restaurants is torture," says Scrivani, which means you have to pick your spots. If the restaurant is well-lit, that's fine — take a few snaps and move on with your meal. If it's dark, keep your iPhone tucked away. It's that simple. "Flashing your food is bad for aesthetic reasons," he says. "And the fact that you're annoying all the diners around you."
2. Be selective. You don't have to photograph everything you eat. Limit yourself to plates that are "funky looking or in some weird lighting," he says. "Instagram has become overloaded with pictures of what people are eating or what their cat is doing. It gets tedious because people are not selective." That's really the key to any good photograph: Be a discerning editor. "If you're just snapping away and posting everything, you might as well be taking vacation photos," Scrivani says. And if you try putting only your best foot forward, you may even get a like or two.
3. Use the right apps. The untrained eye might disagree, but most pros don't like the way Instagram makes their photos look. Try using Camera+ — which has features that let you adjust for different lighting scenarios — for taking the snap itself. Then use Adobe's Photoshop app to make minor corrections before showing the world your foie gras adventures at Momofuku Ko.
4. Overhead shots look best. It's difficult to get down and frame a shot from the diner's perspective, especially with your phone's limited lens. That's why "the overhead shot tends to be the most interesting," says Scrivani. Framing your photo from above tends to work even if the lighting stinks "because you're looking at something artistic." Remember: "When you're in restaurants, the chef usually works pretty hard on the presentation. That's always either from the diner's perspective or from the chef's view up top."
5. Learn from folks who know what they're doing. The best part about Instagram is that it non-intrusively gives you a window into worlds outside your immediate social circle. Try giving Scrivani (@AndrewScrivani) and these other talented food photographers a follow: Noah Fecks (@noahfecksphoto), Evan Sung (@evansungnyc), and Linda Miller Nicholson (@SaltySeattle) all have interesting stuff going on.