How to Level Up Your #Foodstagram Game Using Your Smartphone

You've got to admit - gone are the days when you can eat your food, and drink your beverage right away as soon as it's served. In the era of social media, especially with the birth and rise of the popular photo-sharing site Instagram, more often than not, your food gets cold and your drink gets cold too (or warm?) before you can even devour it! As they say, "I did it for the 'gram!" ;)

Taking food photos is a combination of skill and good camera. Whatever your reason is for taking so much time in photographing your food is yours to keep. Promise I won't judge! Because I myself am fascinated with taking photos of food. Being a blogger and a shutterbug, I'm guilty of "picture now, eat later" most of the time. 

*Find a blogger friend who supports you through darkness and light

We all want to achieve good-looking food photos, right? Some people say that they can't because they don't have a good enough camera. Truth be told, a lot of my food photos are photographed using my smartphone. They're probably not as great as those you see in food and lifestyle magazines but they're pretty good for social media (i.e. Instagram), and have gained lots of appreciation from my followers.

I wasn't intentional with my food shots before. Here are some sample photos I took years ago with my previous Android phone. You can see the changes for yourself as you read through this post.

Today, I'm going to share a few of my tips on how to take great food shots using a smartphone and eventually level up your #foodstagram game. I hope you're not hungry though! You ready? Here goes. 

1. Open your eyes. 

No-brainer? Lol! Apparently, you need to open your eyes when taking photos. But what I mean is that you have to be observant and keen. Look for nice details that you can focus on, angles that you can take, and composition and patterns that you can rock! 

Since your smartphone is just a device or a tool, you have to be able to visualize in your head how you'd like the photo to appear so that you can translate it later on through adjusting your phone camera settings. You've got to use your eyes in a deeper manner so that you can see what others can't, and eventually be able to show them what you did see.

If you need to tiptoe, or stand on a chair to do a flatlay, go ahead. If you need to kneel or crouch, feel free to do so, as long as you're not hurting anyone. ;) Sure, all eyes will be on you but all eyes will be on your photos too once you get your shots perfectly. 

In this photo of a strawberry cake, I wanted to show the little pearls on top. They're all edible, and I think this close-up shot was a nice way to showcase the details. 

*Strawberry Cake

I did the same for these little cakes. I immediately took notice of the sugar crystal on top, and wanted to show it too. 

Aside from the food's details, composition and patterns are also things I always consider. I'm not the best but I always try to make the photo more interesting. And in case of food photos, more appetizing. 

*The arrangement of these red velvet cakes appeared to have a diamond shape kind-of pattern so I took advantage of it. 

*These macarons! Food photos don't always have to be flat. In fact, you can add more depth or texture by adjusting their positions. You can also add little props like the little orange flowers.

*I took advantage of the diagonal patterns and the obvious color combo of purple and green. I think it looks appetizing! 

2. Pick a nice spot. 

When you go to a restaurant, most likely the environment is nice. When you go to the sidewalk to eat, there's a big chance you won't have the prettiest backdrop. But that's okay. It's all about perspective! Remember number 1? Open your eyes? Yes, you have to use your eyes to find unique perspectives. Your food shots will not look nearly as good if you have a completely messy and ugly background. 

I like the artistic kind of messy though! So again, check your perspective. White background, wooden table, brick walls? Props? Which one's a nice spot to shoot your photos? If you can't find a nice enough space, then look again. In my case, I just try to create a story if I can't really control the environment. I don't over-stage my photos. To me, it's important that the food still looks realistic. 

One afternoon, I was walking alone at the bay walk near my house. I decided to buy an avocado shake and kwek-kwek (quail eggs) but there's no pretty spot I could use for my photos. I tried to look around and these were what I came up with. 

Sometimes, you just have to transport your food from the table to somewhere nicer, like this. :D

*Eggplant rolls from the table...

*Transported to this spot with a nice background and even nicer lighting. Plus with a hand model for human interest or factor. 

3. Practice adjusting your phone camera settings. 

A lot of smartphones nowadays have manual settings or expert modes so you don't get stuck with the usual auto mode. But even though your smartphone is indeed smart, it won't work well if you don't know how to use it.  Control your photos by knowing how to use your own camera and mastering the settings. 

I currently use Oppo F1s and I'd usually tinker with its camera settings especially the Expert Mode Honestly though, even without using the Expert Mode, my photos still look good enough. But since these settings are here to make the photos even better, then I choose to take advantage of them. Why don't you, too? ;)  Come, take a look. 

Exhibit A. 

Below we have the default settings, and how it looks when you tap ISO as well as Shutter. Sooner, I'm going to make some tutorials on how to use these settings. They can be very technical so I'm only going to mention the basics, and not going to discuss them in details here. :)

With ISO, you're measuring how sensitive the sensor of your camera is to light, or to achieve exposure. What I've learned is that LOW ISO is best when shooting outside like on a bright sunny day. HIGH ISO is best when shooting in low light like inside a dark restaurant. But be careful with it because the higher the ISO, the more grainy the image quality will be.

Below are some indoor behind-the-scenes. If the photo looks too dark even though the scene is bright, you can increase the exposure. Conversely, decrease the exposure if the photo looks too bright.

Shutter speed, on the other hand, is measured in seconds. It's basically the amount of time the sensor is exposed to light. So the rule of thumb is: the longer the shutter time is, the more light passes through. You can also use or adjust this setting to control the brightness of the photo.

Then we have the AWB or Auto Balance, Focus, and Beautify to make your photos smoother (it's important not to overdo this). 

Below is another indoor behind-the-scenes. Just make sure that your Focus is on point to avoid blurs. You can see the round indicator while the camera is open and you can move it around to change it.

On the middle photo, you can see that I tapped AWB, and it showed different options. These are the color tones or temperatures of your images. Although you can change this while post-processing or editing, you can also do it right there and then when taking a photo.

I tried the "daylight" mode below and as you see, the photo looks warm and yellow, and it's not really the best tone for food photos. You can change AWB until you achieve your desired look.

Some examples using Expert Mode // I had to work on the lighting too. Restaurants have their own flair when it comes to lighting, I figured. I just slightly adjusted the exposure on the camera settings. The photos came out a little dramatic I should say. 

Exhibit B. 

Below you will see the different options you have when you open the camera app. You can use the normal mode, ultra HD, color filter, double exposure, GIF, and the expert mode (as shown above). There's even an option for Panorama shots. 

Exhibit C. 

Never forget that your smartphone has a built-in camera timer. I use it as a prep tool. You know sometimes you panic with the first click. Using the timer allows you to breathe first, and prepare a little bit

I also use the Voice method of taking photos so that I don't have to touch the screen (helpful when your hands are extra-shaky). I'd just "tap to focus" and say "cheese", and the camera will automatically take the photo. 

There are other awesome things your smartphone can do. You just have to figure out how to use them to your advantage. It does take a lot of getting used to but hey, practice makes progress right? 

4. Own your style. 

Take photos because you really want to own your skill and style! No matter how good you are with all the technical stuff, it won't matter if you don't put your heart into it. When I first started taking photos using my smartphone years ago, I've learned to love phone photography, and I believe that loving what you do will translate into great photos too. 

Don't be scared to edit or post-process your photos. It's part of your style. In my case, I usually edit using Lightroom or VSCO. I'm not into super bright bordering to overexposed photos. I like to have just enough brightness.

Also, as I've mentioned earlier, I'm not into over-staging my photos because I want them to look close to the real thing especially with food. I want to retain the colors as much as possible so as not to deceive whoever wants to eat at a certain restaurant or who wants to try the food in the future. 

*This Pasta Paella from Michel's Bistro, Cebu is the best! ;) 

When you own what you're doing, you will also work hard to achieve the photos you desire. So embrace your style, and never be afraid to adjust to changing times. 

Important tip!

5. Find your light. 

I think this is one tip that every photographer or enthusiast will tell you, no matter what kind of photography you are working on. Finding the right lighting and making it your light will create so much difference in your photos. Photos don't have to be so bright but you have to be careful for it not to be so dark. I admit I still struggle with lighting until now, and it's something that I will forever continue learning. 

When taking food photos, remember number 2? Pick a nice spot? Along with that is picking a nice spot with lots of natural light... but not harsh natural light. Sometimes, the environment doesn't allow for good lighting so you just have to get used to chasing the right amount of light. 

Near the window. 
Outside the house. 
Artificial light. 

Work on what you have to create more drama. 

These are some photos I took when the light wasn't really in my favor. We were in a very small store. It has glass walls though so at least, there was still light coming from the outside but the photos looked really dark. I just edited it using VSCO app to come up with this kind of effect. 

 *Mister Donut Wicked Puffs

And some others like these. 

*Even roasted pigs can look gorgeous in dimlight! 

*Don't be fooled. These are edible Christmas cookies that my friends and I designed! 

*Or you can go crazy like this. Dig in for this battalion of sausages! ;) Take note of the hand models: they add story to your photo. 

Oppo F1s has been my trusted mobile phone companion since last year, and it's been amazing because it's just so convenient to grab your phone and take great photos. This smartphone has gone not only from being a selfie expert (with 16 MP front cam), to an overall type of camera as well (with its 13 MP rear cam). 

It's been the best phone cam for me ever since but I'm currently drooling (pun intended) over the newest offering of Oppo which is the F3! It's not only a selfie expert, for sure it's going to be the best companion for foodies and shutterbugs like me. ;) 

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