Food porn has never been more important for restaurant businesses. 69% of millennial diners take a photo of our food before tucking in, and 30% actively avoid restaurants with a weak Instagram presence. A quick survey of the office told us that half of us research our restaurants before booking a table – turning to review websites and tagged photos on Instagram.
That makes Instagram one of a few key skills to learn for restaurant marketing.
There are two key parts to this. The second – which we won’t focus on – is to encourage your patrons to “gram” your food – and London Restaurant Dirty Bone even rolls out “Instagram kits” for guests which comes with an LED light, a clip-on wide camera lens, a selfie stick, and a charger.
But the first is taking photos yourself. Social media is a cheap and effective way of promoting your brand; and a means of quality assurance for potential patrons. But not all food photos on Instagram look good…or even edible. We’ve put together some factors to consider when preparing a food shot.
1. Camera phones
Yes, a phone camera is acceptable for your Instagram! Just not any phone camera.
The downside of using a smartphone is that a macro lens is generally considered best for food photography. That’s a sort of wide-angle lens which can allow you to do more with your photograph in terms of focus and depth.
But the upside of phones is that you can always use them! The spirit of Instagram is taking pictures spontaneously – which might be better in capturing the ambience and culture of your restaurant than an expensive camera.
Smartphones are usually high definition enough to ‘gram at a top level. The rule of thumb with resolution is that “more megapixels are better”. This is true; but you’ll find that really expensive cameras tend to way exceed the maximum resolution size for an Instagram aperture. For context, the aperture is a maximum of 1080 pixels wide (“1080p”). “4K” is around 8.6 megapixels or an aperture of about 4096 pixels, which is more than Instagram is built to handle – for now.
If it’s a modern iPhone, it should be great – but if you bought it a while ago and it wasn’t top range, consider getting a new phone or camera.
2. The Best Food Filters
There’s no right or wrong answer for which filters to use; but here are four of our favourites for creating great food shots.
Clarendon adds light to darker areas; and vice versa. It also brightens, highlights, and slightly saturates – it’s the most used Instagram filter of all. But watch out – that added saturation could make your food look blotchy in the wrong light conditions. For best uses, stick to natural light; great for things like salads with some bright red and green colours you want to bring out.
Crema – Crema adds a kind of “creamy” quality to pictures and has obvious applications in the right kinds of foods! Ensure you’re using food which looks good in porcelain here – creams, yoghurts, and whiter foods for which texture is as important as texture.
Lark – has a sharpness to it and brightens some parts of the photo. It’s a great all-rounder, and could be one to consider for whole dishes; including meat and highly textured but less colourful foods.
Mayfair – this is a much more atmospheric filter. Not so good for capturing food detail; but if you want to capture the feel of a glass of red wine on your restaurant balcony, it’s the best.
Custom Tweaking > Preset Filters
If you know how, manually tweaking the contrast and saturation is usually better than preset Instagram filters. You can always post photos in “normal” after you’ve tweaked them using a tool like Photoshop.
It’s best to Sharpen your photos. This refers to its overall clarity of focus and the level of detail – which is important when capturing the beautiful texture of your grub. It will be very tough for a native photo from a digital camera to match the “sharpness” of a film camera – but you can add a bit of sharpness in post.
Contrast and Saturation can make a photo more dramatic and make the colours “pop” more – but watch out, these can be false friends! It’s too easy to fall into the habit of adding more and more contrast and saturation to your picture, in order to make it “pop” more and more… only to find that the food appears blotchy and unnatural.
Crop photos to get the framing right – but if you do this, you need to think about resolution as cropped photos are smaller. If you want to do this through your phone, Snapseed and VSCOcam are good options for editing on the go, on iOS and Android. It’s also easy to crop pictures with tools like Holy Crop. The “golden ratio” is a mathematical pattern that is aesthetically pleasing, and can help you frame your photographs. To achieve this, use a phi grid overlay when editing your shot. Focus points of your image should sit at the intersections of these lines. It should look roughly like the “rule of thirds” – that if you split your photo into thirds, your subject should be two thirds along.
3. Diffused Light
The worst outcome here is that you use a bright white flash. 😉
The received wisdom is that for most foods, you should have bright natural light which is diffused via a window or a thin curtain. Really bright light or spotlights can create shadows which can undermine the food’s texture in some instances; and artificial light will generally make it harder to execute the food photography well, even if your creative vision involves warm indoor light. Most food photography uses the following template: a window, a bright day, and paper or something reflective on the other side of the food to the light source.
One common-sense guideline is that the lighting set-up should match the target environment your food should be consumed in. If you’re selling chocolate brownie and a glass of red wine at 11PM; warm and late-night lighting might be appropriate – whereas if you’re selling a plate of brunch, it’s definitely best to stick to natural light set up detailed above.
If you are in a lighter or darker environment than you’d like, “HDR” is a setting that takes several different photos in rapid succession and merges them into a single image. This means that the camera is taking a separate photograph for the high and low light level parts of the shot you want – and putting them together. That makes it good for very bright outdoor shots and dim lighting conditions – where there are shadows and high levels of contrast. It’s better to get a great shot in diffused light and subsequently adjust the contrast up than to take a photograph in very strong lighting.
If you are indoors or using a studio – that’s ok too, although it’s generally a bit tougher than outdoor lighting. Avoid lighting the food from the front; side-lighting is better. It’s much better to have a large light, or a light which is diffuse, than a spotlight. You may even want to invest in some LED lights which you can adjust – changing dimness and warmth, for example. Use a reflective surface like paper to reflect light from a window onto the non-window side of the plate in this instance, too.
4. Depth & Angles
For angles, one classic to consider which captures the food really well is a flatlay, bird’s eye view shot. This enables you to get a picture of your whole plate; and the presentation of an entire meal. It also means that you can focus more on your skills as a chef – including the presentation of food on a plate – and less on your skills as a photographer. Think photo-first: whether that’s your napkins, plates and eye-catching patterns.
If you go for a lower angle, one great way to get good food shots is to think about depth – consider using a selective focus to spotlight the food itself. Some camera phones have a selective focus tool – which is generally
Equally, a low angle with selective focus is good if you wish to spotlight the food itself. Stack the food to give it some height – this creates the impression of volume. Focus the lens on the items closest to you and blur out the background. Below is an illustration of one way you could frame your photo to get the right lighting – diffused light through a large window from the side, paper to the other side of the grub to reflect light, and focus on the grub where the background is blurred.
5. Geo-Tag it
Geotagging is a way of recording exactly where you were (the co-ordinates) when you take a photo. This data is collected by the GPS device in your phone or tablet and is accessible to Instagram if you grant permission.
Enable geotagging for your restaurant so that you and other visitors can add your location to food posts. If your business is registered as a location on Facebook, it’s likely that your business name will pop up as a listing when users want to geotag a photo. This is very valuable for you.
Firstly, others who click that geotag location can see all the other posts that you or other people are uploading to the geotag.
This is a good way of linking your brand name to delicious-looking content but also reaching new customers. Tourists or people new to the area can search the geotags and see if your restaurant offers the cuisine that they’re in the mood for.
Secondly, it’s a handy source of “user-generated content”. (This is gold from a marketing standpoint – if you can get your users to generate content for you, then you’re onto a winner!)
If it’s in line with your strategy and branding, you can repost to your account. By using Instagram’s API, you can see all of your geotags by clicking on the “location” button – this brings up a world map, and you can then zoom in on anywhere in the world. This is especially useful if you’re a global brand, and want to get granular detail about who you’re targeting.
6. Responding to User Mentions
People that upload photos taken in your restaurant may choose to “tag” you in their post. When users go onto your Instagram page, they can click on the “tagged” section of your feed and see what photos you’ve been tagged in. It’s always a great idea to comment or like in response to these posts. Humanising your brand is a key attraction and will give people unique experiences with your dining establishment.
They might decide to mention you in their posts too – this is when they @mention your account, which will give you a notification, or use a searchable hashtag that’s linked to your business. Build a strong hashtag game on Instagram by using broad as well as narrow hashtags relevant to your content. To find trending hashtags, you’ll want to use a free online tool like IconoSquare or Websta to start.
And that’s a wrap for our guide to shooting the perfect food photo! Instagram has turned the restaurant industry on its head, and the norm of sharing food pics has now become a strategy for restaurants/cafes to boost their brand and get free advertising from their consumers. People are now deciding where they want to eat based on Instagram, so it’s vital that you’ve got the best possible shots of your dishes.
7. Use Food Photography Hacks
“Hacks” are a widely-publicised element of food photography which food photographers say are widely overblown. That said, one or two can really help!
A) With Sandwiches, stuff the fillings towards the visible side. Yes, this totally goes on – and you should do it.
B) Cardboard spacers can add height to a “stack” of food and stop anything sagging.
C) Tampons can be dipped in water and microwaved to create steam behind cold food you want to look hot.
D) Toothpicks can hold everything in place.
E) Vegetable Oil can be made to make meat “glisten’ in a way it otherwise might not.
F) Start in the Middle of the Plate and work your way out when you’re arranging – this will make everything easier.
8. Measure Your Progress
The most important tip – with any marketing strategy – is to keep track of your progress throughout. As you get bigger, Instagram has great metrics tools to help you measure your success. We advocate for an integrated e-commerce and marketing approach, which should pull metrics from your social channels, as well as things like your website performance. Nowadays, you can stitch identities of your users to different accounts – so it’s possible to track a person viewing you on Instagram, to saving a card on your website, to using the card in the restaurant.