10 ways to get the best food photos with your smartphone

Natural light, a steady hand and these savvy photography tricks will make sharing your edible adventures with the world a lot easier (and more appetizing!).

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 Hand holding smartphone taking photo

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest have created a nearly irresistible lure for foodies to share their edible adventures with the world. Whether you’re for or against this trend, we can all agree that if you’re going to share food pictures, it’s a good idea to make them look appetizing!

A lot goes into making food look beautiful in those glossy magazine pages you flip through monthly. They’re a culmination of efforts from recipe developers to food editors, food stylists, art directors, prop stylists and professional photographers. So, for those of us with just our smartphones (and no styling team), there are 10 simple things you can do to get the best food photos possible:

1. Turn off the flash: The flash on your camera is one of the first things to ruin your picture. In professional photography, flashes are positioned in strategic places, to light certain aspects of a shot. The flash on your phone is located right next to the lens, so when it goes off, it releases an arbitrary flash of light that highlights random elements of your picture (and not likely the parts you want it to).

2. Use natural light: Whenever possible, use natural light to take your photos. Unfortunately, turning off the flash decreases your light source, which complicates things. Try getting up close and personal to your kitchen window, or the window of a restaurant. If that isn’t an option, make use of any candlelight or lamp lighting that’s in the room. Ambient lighting will create a much better effect on your picture than a harsh flash will.

3. Steady, steady, steady: I know some of you are guilty of whipping out your mini tabletop tri-pods in a restaurant, but the rest of us need a way to stabilize our images sans gadgetry. Shaky or unsteady hands will create a blurry picture, so when possible, rest your elbows on the table or balance yourself in such a way that you feel stable before shooting the image.

4. Lock in your focus: Different cameras have different terminology, but if your camera has an AE or AF function (auto-exposure or auto-focus), use it. It allows you to touch your screen and specify the part of the image you most want to focus on. Once this function has been enabled, the camera remembers to focus in on that area. Also, avoid zooming in. Get as close to your picture as you need to. The more you zoom, the less chance the camera has to get a clear focus.

5. Use the rule of 3s: In photography, odd numbers work better than even. Three fresh strawberries almost always look nicer than four, five muffins grouped together look better than six. . . you get the idea.

6. Avoid crowding: Things read differently through a lens. While a stack of sticky ribs may look amazing to us, without the advantages of professional photography, they may end up looking like a stack of brown mystery meat. When it comes to shooting with a phone, pull items apart, create space and allow your camera to focus. Less is more.

7. Dark vs. light: Beautiful winter shots of dark bowls on dark wooden tables are gorgeous, but a bit ambitious for phone cameras. Generally, darker items will need a lighter plate or background to create contrast. Similarly, light foods on white backgrounds can look blown out, so try to bring in some neutrals to balance the tone.

8. Angle and centring: When in doubt, take overhead shots. If you’re having difficulty getting the camera to interpret the image the way you want, an overhead shot will simplify things and reduce elongation in your photos. (Try shooting slightly off-centre to add some interest.)

9. A bite out is okay (sort of): It can look very cute to see a piece a chocolate cake that you have taken one delicate bite out of, leaving a residual crumb behind. That’s much different than seeing some chewed bones on a plate of mopped up demi-glaze. Use your (good) judgment on whether the shot will look interesting, or just gross.

10. Edit for effect: Use editing apps to create effects. Most smartphones come with built-in editing settings, however there are many good apps available that will help to edit your pictures beyond what your phone can do.