The lights. The camera. The action. All this and more goes into taking photos that rise to the level of food porn. Yes, it’s tempting to release a deep sigh when you see an Instagrammer stand on a restaurant chair, lift up a plate or spend minutes rearranging an entire table setting. But there’s so much more than that to getting the perfect shot of an ooey-gooey cheese pull.
Some of your favorite food bloggers have parlayed photos into careers with best-selling cookbooks, collaborations with camera companies and so many hungry followers.
If you’re interested in understanding the process or even stepping up your own food pic game, read on to see how four popular Instagrammers do it.
Ali Maffucci, Inspiralized
While some food bloggers and Instagrammers engage in heavy editing and elaborate plating, Ali Maffucci of Inspiralized has a different focus. The New York Times best-selling author’s Instagram account isn’t just about the pretty, though there’s tons of that. Instead, it aims to inspire regular people to cook by making the process more accessible.
“I don’t think my audience is visually driven by my photos. They are more about realness and context,” she told HuffPost. “I try not to spend too much energy on the photo itself and more on sharing real content that will be helpful to my audience ― like, Hey, here’s an easy dinner I just made!”
Though Maffucci considers her style “low maintenance,” she still puts in work to get the best shot. While her blog showcases multiple photos taken with a DSLR camera, she also takes an iPhone photo of the finished recipe ― just like you and me ― to post on her Instagram feed. And there’s something about her Jersey City apartment that makes snapping food pics a bit more challenging.
“My building is blue. Like, the actual glass is blue-tinted, so 90% of my food photos, especially when it’s dreary out, are very blue.” Assuming her audience doesn’t want to see Smurf-colored food, she has to edit for white balance, saturation and highlights, raise the brightness in Snapseed and then add a VSCO filter.
“All in all, it takes about 20 minutes to post, from caption writing to final edited photo and copy.”
If Maffucci has one tip for people who want to snap better food pics, it’s to pick up a few supplies from the craft store.
“Do yourself [a favor] and get a foam board,” the author of “Inspiralized and Beyond” recommended. Sticking contact paper to the board ― Maffucci likes a marble design because it makes the colors of the food pop ― will give your photos with a sleek, clean background. If you’re posting them for others to see, a consistent background will also make for a more cohesive feed.
Jen Balisi, Indulgent Eats
Another food Instagrammer who’s had success getting in front of the camera is Jen Balisi, founder of Indulgent Eats, whose content is usually evenly split between photos and videos.
“I don’t just share food for the likes, but combine high-quality, drool-worthy photos and videos with my knowledgeable opinions, often eating on camera to capture my genuine reactions,” she told HuffPost. Balisi, who lives in New York City and Hong Kong when she’s not traveling, can easily switch from chain eateries to authentic street food to Michelin star restaurants.
The way she captures those meals involves a bit of bulk editing, presets and crafty plating. Some food bloggers have gotten a bad rap for doing that standing-on-a-chair move to get overhead shots in public places, but Balisi said she tries to walk the line between being respectful of those around her and doing her job. It seems to have worked because she has amassed more than 350,000 followers on Instagram.
Natural light is every foodie’s friend, but Balisi admits that stepping outside a restaurant with a plate of food ― which she does sometimes ― can garner a few looks. She also carries a portable LED light and tries to work fast so as not to disturb other patrons.
To capture the yummy plate of garlic prawns in Thailand (above), the process took about 10 minutes.
“I used one of my Lightroom presets, which changes the color of blue to turquoise” ― the hue Balisi prefers for oceans and skies. Additional editing involved the Retouch app to ensure her tattoo was fully shown without a lot of the ocean and sky being cropped out of Instagram’s 4:5 ratio image or the thumbnail. And a few spots in the sand were cleaned up to create a perfectly pristine pic.
Balisi’s one tip for foodies who want to snap better photos is to stop using a harsh flash. While she travels with a portable light, it’s not necessary for everyone. “A good trick if the restaurant is dark is to use the Notes app or any app with a primarily white screen and turn the brightness on your phone all the way up to create a soft light.”
Jessica Hirsch, CheatDayEats
Anyone who has ever tried to build a solid social following understands it can be hard to break through in a crowded landscape. But one way Jessica Hirsch of CheatDayEats has managed to amass close to half a million followers is with the use of video, which is 90% of her content.
“I began to feel bored after seeing photo after photo on Instagram. Video tells a bigger story and is more exciting to my audience.” So after watching countless hours of YouTube videos, Hirsch taught herself how to edit properly.
For photos, she batch edits on her computer and then makes additional changes in Snapseed, Lightroom or both. “It usually takes me about an hour from start to finish,” she said, but that involves multiple photos. To edit a single 30-second video clip can take one to three hours.
Some of the aforementioned bloggers have extra equipment, but Hirsch, who is a sponsored Sony photographer, has an entire lineup. It includes a camera, usually two lenses, a small LED light for night shots, reflectors to deal with shadows, lens cleaner, a tripod and a mic if she wants audio in the video.
The lighting at the restaurant was pretty low when she took the photo above. The solution? Hirsch sat at a table near a window, propped the dish on the ledge and used some of the equipment in her kit to snap an absolutely drool-inducing photo.
“I used a reflector to bounce light off to eliminate shadows on the dish,” which came with a green sauce Hirsch chose to make the focal point. “I then played around with the composition and framing so that the fork with the steak was in the center of the plate.”
The shot took 10 minutes and the editing process (bringing back color, removing any juices from the steak) was an additional 20 minutes.
Ultimately, Hirsch suggests playing around and having fun. Rearrange a plate, cut into a dish, take different angles so you can see the main ingredients.
“When teaching food photography, I often joke that it’s the perfect time to play with your food.”
Salvatore DiBenedetto, The Grubfather
Salvatore DiBenedetto, aka The Grubfather, will go to great lengths and even heights for his pics. The New York-based social media influencer, who combines food and travel, knew he wanted to create a standout shot when he took a trip to the Dominican Republic.
“I had to make my photo unique because if you search Montana Redonda on Instagram, it’s a bunch of pretty girls in dresses. How could I put my signature Grubfather spin on it?”
The solution involved carrying two burgers from his resort to the top of the mountain.
“I cropped the photo to take away the launching pad of the swing and the area below it that doesn’t give it as much of a dramatic effect. Lastly, considering how bright it was at the top of the mountain, I had to toggle the highlights and brightness down a bit to showcase just how beautiful and vibrant the landscape was.” DiBenedetto’s editing app of choice, whether he’s using his iPhone or his Canon, is Snapseed, which he says “single-handedly changed my photography life.”
While the food isn’t exactly the focal point in this particular shot, the action and the inclusion of DiBenedetto in the pic give it “craveability” and personality. That’s what his Instagram followers have come to know and love about his work.