Love taking snaps of your snacks and pics of your plates? Here's everything you need to know to take better food photos on your iPhone...

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For the Instagram-inclined, taking photos of food – from home-cooked hocks to Michelin meals – is a serious art. But are you doing it all wrong? We’ve enlisted professional food photographer and iPhone fanatic Ben Carpenter to dish out his top tips for making the most of what’s on your plate, with what’s in your pocket.

Ever taken a snap of your food to share on social before tucking in? You’re not alone. But what makes a great food shot and how can you create better food photos and and start to get them seen by more people. With around 150 million #food tagged photos on Instagram, there’s plenty of opportunity to stand out from the crowd. And the thing of it is, improving your snaps can be really easy.

Got food on the table and your iPhone in hand? Here are the tricks of the trade you need to know to improve your shooting skills…

1. Light
Lighting is probably one of the most important things you need to think about, but it’s really simple: try and use daylight wherever you can. Avoid direct sunlight or harsh overhead lighting and opt for natural, diffused daylight. My top tip? Always ask to sit near the window in restaurants.

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Oh, and never use your flash. The flash on most phones is a really flat and harsh light, which is usually unflattering for food photography, not to mention the fact that you’ll also draw unwanted attention to yourself if you’re in a restaurant! Luckily, iPhones work remarkably well in low light, and even if you can’t use daylight you can always try and use the available light around you – most restaurants have been designed with appropriate lighting to make the food look at it’s best, so use it well.

Obviously it’s a lot easier to control the lighting if you’re shooting your home-cooked dinners. Stick your table or background near a window and you’re good to go!

2. Composition and Styling
How do you frame your shot? Shooting from above works really well on iPhones, as does shooting from your eye-line as you sit at the table. I very rarely deviate from these two angles as i think the uniformity of it looks great, but this doesn’t mean the composition of your shots has to be boring. Try shooting all the dishes on the table at once, or shoot off centre so you get more of the table in. ‘Negative’ (empty) space will draw attention to the dish. Likewise, it’s often more visually appealing if you have one or two props in the shot, so think about adding cutlery, drinks, side dishes or even a hand reaching in for the food.

It’s important to develop your own style. The options are endless, so explore and see what works for you – why not try and crop into the shot so you capture one element of the dish? Or shoot wide and get some of the atmosphere of the restaurant in the background? Experiment with your style at home and then put this into practice in restaurants.

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3. Napkins
Napkins?! Bear with me on this… When doing professional shoots I use white foam boards to reflect light and eliminate harsh, dark shadows. You might not want to carry those to dinner with you, but white napkins or menus can do a similar job in restaurants. Before you pop yours on your lap, position it on the opposite side to the light source, and it’ll lighten things up. It’s a simple tip, but it’s so effective.

4. Tap for focus and exposure
A lot of iPhone owners don’t know that if you tap the screen on the focal point, it’ll refocus for sharper shots with the correct exposure. Tap a dark spot and the image will brighten, hit a bright spot and the image will darken. Simple!

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5. Be quick!
As lovely as it is taking pictures of your food, don’t let it ruin your dinner. You also don’t want to annoy your fellow diners! I never spend more than about 10 seconds shooting a dish when it lands on my table. Think about what you need to do to prepare for the shot before the dish arrives so you can snap it and then tuck in.

6. Editing
Instagram has improved its editing software dramatically over the past couple of years. Personally, I don’t like to use the pre-set filters, so my advice is to spend time getting to know the manual editing tools within the app. Your images will look so much better when you control the exposure, contrast, warmth, saturation etc. by yourself, and besides, doing things manually is another good way to develop your own style, rather than always using Hudson or X-Pro II.

7. Getting it out there
Once you’ve created a masterpiece, it’s time to share it with the world! But with more than 400 million users on Instagram worldwide, you need to make sure you hashtag your photo properly – thinking well beyond the obvious ones like ‘#food’. Don’t be afraid to go to town with hashtags that you think are relevant, it’ll only help more people see your shots. And most importantly, see if the restaurant has an account; if so, then tag them in it, since they’ll often regram it to their followers.

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8. Essential photography apps
I often get asked which photo editing apps I use on my iPhone. As mentioned, I’ve grown to really love using Instagram and its built in editing suite, to the point where it’s now my first stop when it comes to tinkering around. But there are a couple of other notable apps that are well worth a look:

Moldiv – This is a great app for making collages of several photos, with the option of adding text over the top. I’ll often use this when I’ve ended up with too many pictures to whittle down. It’s quick and easy to use, and makes your images look really slick. So much so that it’s proved to be quite popular with my clients when posting to their social media accounts.

Manual or Manually – These are probably as close as you’ll get at turning your iPhone into a DSLR camera, so they’re both well worth having in your mobile photography arsenal. In both, you can control the shutter speed, ISO, focus, white balance and exposure of your photo before you press that shutter – great if you’re at home and have time to experiment.

VSCO Cam – This app also lets you manually control your camera’s myriad functions, but also includes various editing tools for afterwards. It can take a bit of getting used to as there are so many options, but if you have the patience to get to know what’s under the hood, VSCO’s results can be really worth the effort.

 

You can find Ben on Instagram as @bencphoto, or online at bencarpenterphotography.com.

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