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8 Ways to Up Your Instagram Food Game

Everyone’s taking photos of their food these days. Make yours better.


In 2013, Martha Stewart caught flak when people noticed that her Instagram feed was full of terrible food photos. Pallid wedge salads, regrettable-looking pasta, out-of-focus entrées. If even the queen of domesticity could use some photo photography pointers, it’s safe to say that you might, too.


We enlisted the help of Steve Czerniak, the photographer who shoots much of HONOLULU Magazine’s beautiful food imagery (check out the rest of the Restaurant Guide for numerous examples of his work). Czerniak generally uses a pro-level DSLR camera for work, but he says that iPhone and Android smartphones can make for some surprisingly nice photos, if you just employ a little technique.


Here are a few ways to wring the most out of your phone camera.


1. Quit using your flash.

Light is one of the most important elements of making a photo, but your phone’s tiny LED is doing your food no favors. It’s too weak for even coverage, it washes out colors, it blows out the highlights of the scene. Just say no. 


2. Instead, look for natural light in the restaurant. 

PhotoS: Steve Czerniak 

The more natural light you have access to, the better. Shoot during the daytime, not at night. Ask to be seated near a window. You can even grab extra light by using a sheet of paper or a menu as a reflector, bouncing light onto the dish you’re shooting.


3. Once you’ve got light, go for atmosphere. 

Don’t just shoot everything with light flooding the dish from straight ahead. Instead, the light should come from the side, or from behind, to create more visual drama. When shooting cocktails or beers, backlighting will make the most of the drink. 


4. Mix up the angles.

It’s easy to default to a 45-degree shooting angle—after all, that’s how you see dishes when they’re in front of you. But some dishes look better when shot from straight above. Soups, hot-pot, high-end dishes with a particularly artistic plating—a new perspective might surprise you.


5. Take control of the plating. 

Don’t be afraid to move things around. Some restaurants plate their dishes beautifully, but we’ve seen more than a few dishes around town that—while tasty—could definitely benefit from a visual remix. If you’re unsure of your arranging skills, get a safety shot of the dish first, then you’ll be able to experiment more freely. And if it’s possible to upgrade from Styrofoam plate-lunch boxes to a ceramic plate—well, we’ll let you decide how obsessive to get.


6. It’s not just you: Salads are hard to shoot.

Of course, when you’re eating out, the way a dish tastes takes precedence over the way it looks. But if you’re hoping to get a hero Instagram shot out of lunch, keep in mind that some dishes are inherently more photogenic than others.


7. When editing, less is more.

Smartphones these days make it possible to overlay your photos with all kinds of crazy effects, but resist the urge. Stick with basic editing tools for a more realistic look, and skip the over-the-top filters, heavy saturation and extreme contrast. One caveat: If a restaurant’s lighting is strongly colored or otherwise less than ideal, turning a photo black and white can be a cool-looking option of last resort. Some of our favorite photo editing apps: Afterlight, Snapseed and VSCOcam.


8. Practice makes perfect. 

This might be obvious, but the more food you shoot, the better looking your photos will be, and the hungrier you’ll make your Instagram friends. As if you needed an excuse to eat out more.




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Honolulu Magazine August 2020
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