8 Tips to Elevate Your Instagram Food Photos

Written by Erin Quinn-Kong

Love & Lemons Instagram Waffles

Whether you're trying out new recipes or just want to show off your signature dishes, it's fun to post your hard work in the kitchen on Instagram. But shooting top-notch food photos for social media isn't as easy as it looks. We asked Jeanine Donofrio, the writer and photographer behind uber-popular food blog Love & Lemons and The Love & Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking, to share her top tips for taking beautiful, creative, fun Instagram photos of home-cooked meals. With more than 220,000 Instagram followers, the Chicago-based Donofrio clearly knows her stuff. 

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Find the light. The most important thing you need for beautiful food photography is good light. “Everyone says that, but it is super important," says Donofrio. “If your food looks unappetizing, it’s because of the overhead kitchen light. Move the dish by a window to get good natural light. Not direct sunlight, but somewhat diffused light.”

Figure out your style. Since Donofrio makes food that is mostly plant-based, it’s very colorful, so she keeps her photo backgrounds and dishes clean and simple to make the food pop. “But you may have a different style and want to use lots of colorful dishes or darker backgrounds,” she says. “Experiment until you find what you like.”

Love & Lemons Broccoli Tahini Pasta Salad

Make food that’s pretty. Casseroles and brown foods are a lot more difficult to shoot than a colorful salad, Donofrio points out. (Not to mention that colorful fruits and vegetables are chock-full of healthy antioxidants.) “While you can add fresh herbs or microgreens to make a casserole pop, you’ll set yourself up for success by cooking pretty food to begin with,” she says.

Think ahead. Don’t just take random photos after you’ve plated your dishes. Instead, Donofrio suggests making a shot list and picking out the dishes, silverware, linens and accent items you want to use in your photos. “Sometimes food works great from the pan or pot, like a pretty soup,” she says. “But most of the time I have the scene set up, so I can finish cooking, plate it and shoot.” And don’t be afraid to take plenty of photos. Donofrio estimates she takes 30 pictures—making small changes in each—for every one that makes it on Instagram.

Move quickly. “Food wilts really fast,” Donofrio points out. “Ice cream melts quickly; even a beautiful pasta starts to look gunky faster than you think.” Her advice? Spend enough time to get a good shot, but be quick about it.

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Experiment with apps and filters. No experienced food photographer or blogger is using just Instagram filters for their beautiful imagery. Donofrio is a fan of the A Color Story app. “I stick with the same few filters,” she says, “Use trial and error to figure out which apps and filters work for you.”

Just say no. If a food photo isn’t working, consider skipping it. “Not every shot needs to happen,” says Donofrio. “If something isn’t working, I don’t post it.”

Let your creativity shine. Instagramming your home-cooked meals should be fun! Don’t be afraid to play around with setups and do things that no one else does. “I try not to have shots that look exactly the same over and over,” says Donofrio, who regularly experiments with ingredients, setups and even angles. “I've recently started shooting a meal upside down. It’s always an angle I didn’t plan that looks the best.”

All photos courtesy Love & Lemons.