9 Instagram-Worthy Food-Styling Tips From a Pro

Updated 05/18/19
Young woman holding black Canon camera in-hand
@emmahoareau

In the era of Instagram, food photography has reached an apex with restaurants, chefs, bloggers, influencers, and foodies utilizing the platform to share photos of their meals. Anyone with a smartphone can take an overhead image of perfectly manicured hands reaching for slices of pizza, but there's a reason we gravitate toward some photos over others. What moves us to follow a user so we don't miss a single post?

In my experience shooting and styling food for some of the top chefs around the world, I've found a few key points to be the most important. Read on for nine tips to know (and follow) before posting your next brunch shot on Instagram.

Experiment With Background Textures

Smashed purple sweet potatoes drizzled in olive oil and rosemary
Aliza J. Sokolow

Experiment with a variety of backgrounds to see which colors and textures are best to showcase the dish, ingredient, or drink you are shooting. I'll play around with marble, slate, or a wooden cutting board depending on the visual I'm trying to create. I love shooting on white marble the best, though it's important to consider what background will provide the greatest contrast for the food.

Be Resourceful and Get Scrappy

Pair of chocolate and custard filled desserts
Aliza J. Sokolow

Don't be afraid to work with unusual materials or even items you might usually chuck into the trash. You can use packaging (or even that paper bag your bagel came in) to create a background that really sets the scene for the image.

Find the Best Light

Overhead shot of various pizzas
Aliza J. Sokolow

I can't stress this enough: In order to capture a great image, turn off the flash and find good (preferably natural) lighting. Even if that means you need to stand on a chair in the middle of a restaurant or shoot the dish on the ground—find the light! Natural lighting is best since artificial light can create shadows or odd colors. Lighting is best near a window and on a cloudy day; it's softer and won't create so many shadows.

When dining at a restaurant, always request to sit near a window or under a skylight.

Pick the Right Subject

Overhead shot of slices of cakes
Aliza J. Sokolow

Choose things you want to eat and shoot. Your photo will be better if you are excited about the picture. When in doubt, don't post it.

Show Scale and Proportion

Tablescape with hands reaching for various dishes
Aliza J. Sokolow

Utilize an object that gives the food scale and draws your eye to the dish. This could be a hand holding the food or a piece of silverware next to your dish.

Choose Natural Angles

Cheesy toast topped with figs and a side of honey
Aliza J. Sokolow

I like to shoot based on how the chef crafts a dish. If the dish is built vertically, I'll shoot it straight on. When the dish is built flat, I'll shoot from above.

Frame Your Shot

Mediterranean themed tablescape
Kelly Huibregtse

What makes a good crop? Since you are no longer beholden to the Instagram square, I recommend going into your edit tool and moving the box to find what makes the subject stand out the most. Sometimes that will entail cropping out background colors or objects.

Craft a Narrative

Scoops of ice cream on wooden background
Aliza J. Sokolow

Each image should tell a story. Let's talk a stack of pancakes! How can you make that stack more pleasing to the eye while telling a story? Syrup! Dripping photos of a yolk, sauce, or syrup beg for the double-tap. For example, a person's hand holding a fork in a way that looks like they are about to take a bite is more interesting than just a plate. That perfectly twirled forkful of pasta is more interesting than pasta sitting on a plate because you can picture yourself taking that bite. It invites you into the photo.

Download the Best Photo Apps

Overhead shot of a brunch spread
Aliza J. Sokolow

Think beyond the Instagram filter. Find a great app on your phone to enhance your images. My favorites are Camera+ and Adobe Lightroom for mobile.

Set the tone in your snaps with the right dinnerware. Shop our edit below:

Agate cheese serving boards
World Market Agate Cheese Serving Board $70
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Marble and wood cutting board
West Elm Marble + Wood Cutting Board $40
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French Kitchen Marble Cheese Dome - Crate and Barrel
Crate and Barrel French Kitchen Marble Cheese Dome $60 $51
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1960s Italian Brass Cocktail Pitcher
Restoration Hardware 1960s Italian Brass Cocktail Pitcher $107 $85
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White Ruffle 16
Crate and Barrel White Ruffle 16" Platter $30 $25
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For more amazing food snaps and food styling tips, follow Aliza on Instagram.

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