How to shoot your food and 'kill it'

Master food photos with these five easy tips.

Scroll through any Instagram feed, and between the selfies, you’ll see food. Food photography has become an essential part of the dining experience, encouraging customers to try new things. Operators must focus their efforts to satisfy that demand, says Maeve Webster, senior director for Chicago researcher Datassential.

“Social media is pushing photography to the forefront, and this is increasingly how younger generations are communicating,” Webster says. “The biggest challenge is that many [photos of] operations are out of operators’ control. They need to start taking back control so their efforts are properly presented.”

To learn how, we spoke to a few restaurant operators and food photographers to get their tips for improving the photos you post online, whether you’re snapping your own or hiring a pro. 

Lighten up. Using natural light is the consensus to optimize food photography, be it with a camera or smartphone. “Take your food by the windows. With a phone especially, sunlight is your friend,” says Phil Merkow, social media manager for The Oinkster, a burger and pork-focused spot in Eagle Rock, Calif. “My favorite days are a little overcast.”

Keep it simple. Nathan Michael, a Chicago designer and photographer who has shot for Bon Appetit magazine says, “Choose an angle that highlights the food. Sometimes you shoot over the top because that looks
best, but if you shot a burger like that, you’d just see the bun.” 

Keep it real. People respond to “realness,” says Chicago food photographer Tyllie Barbosa. “Capture the messiness of a burger, for example, by shooting tight,” she says. “A successful image is when the customer sees your photo and says ‘I’ve got to have that right now.’” 

Put a person in it. A recent study of 1.1 million Instagram photos by Georgia Tech found that pictures with faces in them are 38 percent more likely to receive “likes” and 32 percent more likely to get comments.

Post wisely. Finding and sharing fans’ photos and crediting them is key to The Oinkster’s strategy, but it’s also a fair amount of work. “Have all fan photos go through a point person,” says Merkow. “It helps to manage the flow of posts and makes sure things aren’t repetitive.” Timing also is important. Michael suggests posting food shots an hour before meal times when people are hungry and will engage with a photo. 

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