6 Steps to Take Better Food Photos on Instagram

Food Photography Before After

Cameras on iPhones and Androids have become incredible. The original iPhone had 2 megapixels whilst the latest has 8 MP, the lenses have also become significantly better. This great increase in quality brings great opportunities to share incredible shots with your followers and find new ones. Let’s dive in.

#1 Get VSCO Cam

Instagram has some cool editing features, but they’re quite limited and certainly not enough for editing food photography. VSCO Cam is free and great for having that edge ( Apple App StoreGoogle Play ).

Food Photography VSCO Cam

#2 White Balance (in VSCO Cam)

One of the main reasons pictures of food fail so often is the default white balance setting. White balance is a way of colour correcting images to the point that something that is physically white, actually shows up white within the image (not blue or orange). Consider the following example:

food photography white balance

White balance is often renamed to something easier to comprehend, for example warmth or temperature. Blue colour casts can be described as cold, whilst orange/amber colour casts as warm.

food photography white balance

Whilst colour casts can be used as a stylistic choice, food photography is the one place where it usually doesn’t work. If you take a shot of a steak cooked perfectly, the wrong colour cast will degrade the value of the content (and subsequently will make the viewer think the steak was badly cooked).

#3 Play with Exposure (VSCO Cam)

A lot of food comes out pretty dark on images. White plate, white tablecloth, all things that make the camera try to balance out the image by darkening the whites so that their detail is visible. What happens in those cases is that the actual food sometimes comes out underexposed. What you want to do in those cases is adjust the exposure so that the food is correctly lit, even with the risk to blow out some of the background elements a bit.

Food Photography Exposure

#4 Make the image pop (VSCO Cam)

Fixing the colour balance means you’re now ready to get the most out of your image. With VSCO Cam you can tweak a few settings such as Contrast and Saturation to give your images that extra little something.

food photography contrast saturation

The difference is very subtle, but really doesn’t need to be more. Desaturated colours often looks quite unappetizing, so boosting those colours towards something that’s more alive looking (even if it’s long dead) is the way to go.

#5 Lux (Instagram)

Time to move over to Instagram! From VSCO Cam, you can directly export to Instagram which is quite nifty. As image editing is for the most part done already, you just want to give your photo those finishing touches. Instagram has this feature called Lux which is a sort of fake-HDR. It will try to darken very light spots, whilst lightening very dark ones. It’s a feature that can easily be abused, so going above +50 isn’t recommended. When you can’t tell where light is coming from anymore in the image, you’ve definitely gone way overboard.

Food Photography Instagram LUX

Above – from left to right, the image starts to feel less “flat”

food photography animated instagram lux

Above – see how the light areas towards the top become more detailed, whilst the dark areas at the bottom become clearer.

Lux is a nice way to get more depth out of an image (especially when shot with smartphones). It’s a very handy tool, yet it’s incredbily easy to butcher an image.

#6 Sharpen (Instagram)

Instagram is typically consumed on smartphones and therefore smaller screens. It’s important that images are crisp enough that details are easily seen. Using the Sharpen tool is quite straightforward. Push the slider till the image has that strong level of detail without going overboard and making the edge sharpening visible.

Food Photography Sharpen


Food photography is one of those things where the default Instagram filters won’t work well. You’re better off trying to bring out the best of the images and in the most natural way possible. Good exposure, vibrant colours and a strong level of detail.

Food Photography Burger

PS: All the images were taken by my iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 and can also be found on my instagram. Also, if you know a local restaurant with a bad website, put me in touch, I’ll get that fixed up for them.

Noel Tock
Founder / Product Design
Noel leads up Happytables, bouncing between managing it, product design and growing the business. If he's not grilling tuna, he's drinking craft beers.