Three food stylist professionals explain how to up your foodie Instagram game
We’re all familiar with the injustice: you’ve slaved over a homemade lasagne and done it all properly. Chopped, simmered, seasoned, simmered, reduced, grated, stirred. Everything.
Once cooked, you agonise some more, but this time, over the kind of shots to upload to your Instagram, expecting it to break the internet à la Kim-K. But it doesn’t. Instead, you get three measly ‘likes’ – one of which is from a stranger stalking anything with #pasta – and all the pride you felt when the oven timer went off has been replaced with disappointment in yourself and from everyone who follows your profile.
Improve your rookie photography skills and follow the tips from these expert food stylists who’ve made a living out of making food look as amazing as it tastes. These guys create photos so beautiful you’ll want to lick your screen.
Get uploading and remember, Instagram is your oyster (tip one: don’t take photos of oysters, they look awful).
Step one: start with the lighting
Time to ditch lamps, candles and yellow-tinged ceiling lights when snapping your meals. “Natural light is key,” say Alex Hoffler and Stacey O’Gorman otherwise known as the Meringue Girls, who make all passing Londoners abandon intentions of a summer diet in favour of the Willy Wonka-style sweet treats in their Hackney bakery.
“Photograph the food in a bright spot, out of direct sunlight," they say. Cookbook writer, expert food stylist and Drizzle and Dip blogger Sam Linsell agrees: “I only shoot with natural light, so make the most of the lighter hours to get the best image."
Step two: add some shine
"I keep things very natural – and edible – in all my editorial and blog work,” explains Sam. “However, if your food needs a little help, use a small spritz of water or a little olive oil. It’ll make slightly wilting fruit and vegetables look fresh again, and you can still enjoy it afterwards!”
Source: Homeade/ Helena Hamilton
Step three: choose fresh ingredients and keep them that way
“It’s important to be select if you’re cooking with plans to photograph the finished product,” explains Lily Jones, aka Lily Vanilli, food stylist and creator of some of the most colourful, eccentric, stylish cakes we’ve ever seen. We mean, check out these glitter cherries. “I often spend an hour painstakingly picking individual cherries at the market,” she continues.
Taking pictures of your fresh salad? Then hold off on drizzling the dressing, says Sam: “I wait until after the photo is taken, because any liquid on salad leaves will immediately make them go limp. Instead, pour a little dressing around the sides of the salad, on the plate, and on a few areas that are in the shot to create the illusion that the salad is dressed.”
Step four: don’t waste expensive booze
Your Instagram feed will no doubt be full of boozy summer party photos at the moment, but you don’t have to use the good stuff that’ll just go flat and warm to get a great photo.
“Don’t experiment with alcohol photos or you’ll end up wasting it. When doing a champagne shot, I use sparkling grape or apple juice or a cheap non-alcoholic sparkling wine and I just keep refilling the glass,” says Sam.
If you’ve got carried away making cocktails in the sun and the bubbles have gone flat then don’t worry; Sam says that adding a small pinch of salt will immediately fizz up your drink. We don’t recommend you drink that one, though.
Step five: accept defeat – sometimes, small-scale is best
It turns outs that even the professionals find it difficult to photograph some food. Sam doesn’t like shooting tomatoes or white food, and large quantities can take the ‘that-photo-of-cheese-on-toast-looks-delicious-I’m-going-to-like-every-one-of-your-Instagram-pictures' element out of an image.
“Shooting multiples of the same thing is tricky from a composition perspective, like a tray of cookies or cupcakes," says Sam. Instead, pick your favourites and arrange them elegantly on a small plate.
Step six: hone your style
“When you’re trying to gain Instagram followers, bear in mind that you’ll definitely attract more views if your profile focuses on one subject, for example the same colour scheme,” say the Meringue Girls.
Colour is a big deal on Instagram: curate your images so that they complement each other as a collection on your profile. Lily says: “Invest in a couple of simple backdrops – white or coloured card will do – I bought a load of tiles with nicely textured surfaces to photograph my cakes on."
Sam likes to keep her images focused on the food, which she calls the "hero" of the image: “I try to keep a very limited and controlled colour palette and place food on contrasting colours to make it pop. Dark surfaces work well. If you introduce too many colours it can be distracting to the eye; avoid heavy patterns, stripes or dots.”
Step seven: invest in good props
A quick stop at your local charity shop and you can stock up on really interesting props to use in your image.
“Wooden boards are our saviour when styling,” explain the Meringue Girls. "We have lots of lovely chunky rustic ones. We've painted a few white and let them rub off a bit – it looks great in shots – and we’re always picking up bits and pieces at car boot sales, too. Vintage cutlery, any old baking tools, interesting surfaces and nice fabrics. It’s really easy to start a simple collection of props for your food shots.”
Step eight: don’t forget to garnish
When a dish is set in front of you, the smell and anticipation of eating it will influence how you feel about it. In a photograph, those elements need to be recreated in other ways – and that’s where the garnish comes in.
Lily’s failsafe garnish is good old-fashioned fruit while Sam says, “Every garnish must have a reason for being. For example, a pile of fresh coriander can really help a dark curry look good and it’s a legitimate pairing, too.
"If you’re stuck for ideas, think of various textural elements to add: nuts, seeds, crumbs, salt, pepper and colourful spices. Food looks good with a few layers of contrasting garnishes, so a plain bowl of oats could be spruced up with a drizzle of honey, a sprinkling of golden granola and a fresh berries.”
Step nine: get your edit right
It’s not all about choosing between Nashville or Amaro filters. If you want to use a filter on your photo, Lily recommends editing outside of Instagram instead: “Apps like Snapseed and Instasize have different tools you can use if you think the ones in the Instagram app are limited."
The Meringue Girls agree, saying they only manually tweak images using contrast and lighting levels on Instagram to avoid the obviously filtered look, and Sam doesn’t add any big filters to her Instagram photos, but adjusts the strength to low instead.
Source: Homemade/Helena Hamilton
Source: Homemade/Helena Hamilton