Restaurant owners don’t need a DSLR camera to get viral-worthy food shots. Smartphones can capture photos of your menu items that will draw foodies from across the country to your venue.
From a former Floor Manager/Food Photographer, I’d hate to tell you that many high-profile social media food photographers are using small mirrorless point-and-shoot cameras, iPhone 7s, and similar devices to get their viral-worthy shots. But they are. Back when I managed a restaurant, I used an iPhone 4 to take some of the photos that we posted to social media. It was quick and easy.
Using your phone to capture food photos is advantageous because you can post them immediately. Did your bartender make an amazing cocktail that you want to feature tonight? Capturing the shot and posting it online can be done in minutes. Be proactive, and use these tips to get your best shots ever.
It all starts with a good-looking dish. Make sure to have your food plated so that it looks appetizing, using small garnishes for color, and making sure that plates are sterile and clean. Also, consider buying dishware that can be used specifically for photographs if your restaurant doesn’t already have photo-worthy plates and bowls. Natural, hand-shaped plates work very well. You’ll want a light and dark option to pair with different types of food.
Photography means “the capturing of light”. Having good lighting is paramount to taking the perfect shot. And the best lighting for food photography is soft lighting. Try to avoid direct sunlight or warming bulbs. This will minimize shadows; for high contrast is never ideal in capturing plates of food. If it’s sunny outside, consider an indoor shoot, maybe near a window where the artificial lighting is minimal. You can go so far as to use a white tablecloth to block some of the light and create a soft glow on your dish. If you do have artificial lighting as your only option, make sure to find an area with the least amount of reflection, and edit out the strange colors after.
Composition means where everything sits in the picture. Ever see the grids on your phone or camera? Those are a guide as to where to place the centerpiece of your photo. If it’s a burger with fries, keep the burger as the focus. In addition, with a quick search on the Rule of Thirds, you’ll find all kinds of further explanations on how to take advantage of this age-old photography trick. You can also take photos of the food at eye level or from above as if you were a giant towering over the dish. Don’t forget to fill your frame, unless you’re trying to show the vastness of your gigantic venue. Use cropping if you have to, but make sure that all the corners of the photo are being used. You’ll see a lot of food photographers use a half or even just the corner of the plate in their photos. This works especially well for foods that are repetitive, like fried calamari or pasta. Check out this page for short video tutorials and to see examples of fantastic-looking food.
Learn to use your device.
Did you know if you tap the screen of your iPhone, the camera will refocus on that one point and adjust the exposure? You can also drag the bar next to the ‘sun’ icon, allowing you to manually change the exposure of your picture. Use this to your advantage. This will allow you to take up-close pictures of your food and create a shallow depth of focus. This means, one point of the picture is sharp and clear, while the background is out of focus or blurry. This is great if you are taking pictures of a dish that has a lot of details, like pasta. It could look like a big lump of noodles, but if you want to emphasize a piece of cheese or an olive, then get in close, tap on the screen, and adjust.
On your phone, there will be some built-in software to edit your photo. On iPhones, there’s a small wand icon in the top right-hand corner. This wand will edit the photo to what it deems best. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad. The good news is, you can go in and individually change the brightness, contrast, etc. You want to aim for photos that are bright, but not overexposed (i.e. the whites look white and not like a hot spot). Depending on what you’re shooting, editing can help up the saturation and bring out more color to your tomatoes, green salads, and so forth. Just be careful not to overdo it to make the food look artificial.
The best way to improve your food photography and expand your idea repertoire is to look at food pictures. Search online, taking a glance at other social media accounts of food photographers (like this online food publication: https://www.instagram.com/eater/), and find out what looks good and what doesn’t. There are different trade tips and tricks, like placing the venue in the background, using someone’s hands to hold the food, cutting a sandwich to display its fillings, or pulling up a piece of cheese-covered French fry to show its gooey interior. Learn these by searching for photos that draw your attention and make you want to hop on a plane and eat that dish.
Remember, practice makes perfect, so take as many pictures as you can and figure out what works.