Food for Thought

Delicious photos: How to take food pics that don't ruin everyone's appetite — or totally annoy your neighbor

Delicious photos: How to take food pics that don't ruin appetites

taking a photo of food with a cell phone
“I take tons of photos on my phone,” professional photographer Lynn Lane says. (File photo) AFP
Marene Drexel House April 2015 lox on a bagel with cream cheese
Photo apps you can download can help make pics look better, like my shot at Drexel House lox on a bagel with cream cheese. Photo by Marene Gustin
Marene El Real Tex-Mex Cafe chips queso quesadillas nachos
Shoot tacos or Mexican food at an angle to show volume. My example: This combo plate from El Real Tex Mex Cafe. Photo by Marene Gustin
taking a photo of food with a cell phone
Marene Drexel House April 2015 lox on a bagel with cream cheese
Marene El Real Tex-Mex Cafe chips queso quesadillas nachos

You do it.

You know you do.

Everyone does, it seems. I’m talking about taking photos of your food with your iPhone and posting them on social media. It’s not just restaurant reviewers and foodies anymore. Normal people are doing it, too.

And, like most of us, sometimes the photos just don’t do the dish justice. So here are some tips on how to get better results.

First, get a new phone. Now professional photographer Lynn Lane says you can get good photos with older models, but he does agree that the iPhone 6+ has an insane camera that works as good as most actual cameras. Lane, a native Houstonian, shoots fashion, portraits and the arts. He’s the official photographer for Houston Grand Opera and Austin Opera and shoots for dance companies around the world. He’s also been a CultureMap contributor.

 "I like the dive-y restaurants. I’ve lived in New York City and in Europe and I’ve done the fancy restaurants, but I’m a low-key kind of guy.” 

Oh, and he also shoots a lot of his personal photos on his iPhone and even teaches a class on iPhone photography at the Houston Center for Photography.

So when looking for help he seemed like the go-to guy to ask for tips.

“I take tons of photos on my phone,” Lane says. “It makes me a better photographer when I get behind a real camera.

“I eat at Doshi House every day and always shoot photos of what I’m eating. It’s a vegetarian coffee house. I like the dive-y restaurants. I’ve lived in New York City and in Europe and I’ve done the fancy restaurants, but I’m a low-key kind of guy.”

So, what advice does he have for taking great food photos with your phone?

“First,” he says, “you should think about composition. I think when you are taking a photo of your food you should tell a story. Are you reading a book or writing in your journal? Then that should be part of the photo, too.” He suggests moving table items around and rotating the plate until you get the best shot.

And what about the angle?

“If it’s soup, shoot over the top, straight down on the bowl,” Lane says. “If it’s tacos you want to shoot at an angle so you show the volume.”

Composition, story, angle. Got it. But some restaurants are just too dark to get a good shot.

“Do not use the flash,” Lane says. “It’s not going to work, if there’s a candle on the table move it closer for mood lighting.”

And don’t forget to edit before posting. Lane says the newer phones have features where you can adjust the pictures for brightness, contrast and color.

 “Put your elbow on the table for support and shoot between heartbeats — like snipers do." 

“And there are photo apps you can download,” he adds. “They come out with new ones every week that you can use to make your pictures better.”

But is it ever inappropriate to take a picture of your food?

“Sure,” Lane says, “but do it anyway.”

And what about those shaky photos?

“Put your elbow on the table for support and shoot between heartbeats — like snipers do,” he adds.

“But no matter what kind of phone you use or what apps you have,” Lane sums up, “it’s really about the basics of photography. Tell a story and engage your viewers. That’s a good food photo.”