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How to style the perfect food photo for Instagram

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Master your Insta game to get the perfect food pics

Behind nearly all of those stunning foodie Instagram feeds is a pro who styles and shoots her food with lighting and backdrops and all kinds of props. But Jane Ko is a restaurant blogger, so she takes her food pics like the rest of us do: in the restaurant. She can't bring fancy lights with her. She'll get yelled at if she climbs up on a chair for the perfect shot (though she does it sometimes anyway).

And Jane she didn't start off as a great photographer. She's entirely self-taught, and her talk at the BlogHerFood16 conference in Austin earlier this month, Jane confessed to a very relatable phase where she got way too filter-happy. But now, her Insta feed is gorgeous proof that as long as you stay with it and continue shooting photos over time, they will get better — especially if you follow these four tips:

Tell a story with styling

Think about your photo even before you take out your phone. What's in the background? Jane believes in showing who's eating: a friend reaching in to take the first bite of that taco, a friends at brunch with hands digging in, or your kids running around in the background. Those details tell a story—and stories connect people to you.

Natural lighting is your best friend

Natural light makes way prettier photos than flash, but it's hard to get in restaurants. Jane's bold: She'll walk her plate over to a window, even if she wasn't seated there. She also eats a lot of daytime meals, so she can chase that light.

Direct sunlight will cast hard shadows on your subject, so if you're outside, find a spot with shade. And the holy grail of natural lighting is open windows with sheer white curtains. They're the perfect combo of

Choose your perspective

Try shooting from the top down, to show the whole table. Jane's willing to climb up on a chair to make that happen (but if you have a DSLR camera, just hold it really high and flip the screen out toward you so you can see).

Shooting at eye level can makes people really want to eat what you're holding. Jane likes to hold food out in front of her, and she's bold about asking random people to stand behind her and take the shot for her.

Master your Insta game to get the perfect food pics
Image: Jane Ko

Go for vertical photos, which grab people's attention the best. Square photos are also fine, but avoid landscape (horizontal) perspectives. Those show up smaller, so people will just scroll right past them.

And think about grabbing people's attention using Boomerang, which takes supershort video that runs back and forth. Try digging into an egg, so the yolks break and unbreak. Both Boomerang and the time-lapse app Hyperlapse are built by Instagram, so the algorithm loves them, and using them might give you a visibility boost, too.

Go beyond the Insta filter

Jane loves the 99-cent Fotograf app to keep her photos consistently bright. It has preset filters, and she almost always uses #3 so that her entire feed looks consistent.

If you're just tinkering with images on your phone, play with the brightness first, then contrast, saturation, shadows, then sharpen and temperature if you have those options.

And her last pro tip is genius: Use the whitening tool on Facetune (yes, the selfie-beautifying app), to take out yellow glare from overhead lights on the table.

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