A bar in milan is occupied by a sole bartender making a drink in front of a packed drinks display and behind a bar with five expectant bar stools
Food and drink

Food photography tips for a fantastic Instagram feed

September 23, 2021

James Thompson, renowned food and digital content creator, is best known for his highly successful @food_feels Instagram account. Here he shares his top food photography tips to fuel your own social media feed.

For the love of food

I was delighted to create a series of #DCmoments Food Guides for Dorchester Collection, packed with restaurant recommendations of Instagram-worthy destinations, designed to delight both to the palate and the eye. To showcase your own food adventures, here are some of my secrets to successful food photography.

Portrait of a smiling man at the Dorchester
A highly stylised Arpege dish ready to be served with deep swirls and flowers adorning a yellow stuffed tube and a lipstick red quinnell.

Find your passion

I’ve always had an incredible passion for food. I love seeing what chefs are up to, the latest restaurant openings and what’s happening around the world, so that’s exactly what my Instagram feed reflects. Working with genuine passion makes creating engaging content much easier. Social media has been the perfect platform for me to share my experiences with likeminded people and members of my community are a great source of inspiration. Find what you’re passionate about and your enthusiasm will shine through.

Establishing your style

Once you’ve found a particular topic or niche to become associated with your style will naturally develop. The key is not to try and be all things to all people but to go with what feels right for you. If you scroll back to the first posts on my Instagram account you’ll see a very different style to what I now post. I think if you’re shooting enough images you’ll naturally find your own way over time.

Exterior of the restaurant Pierluigi in Italy, with waiters in black uniform
dinner is served beneath a great lamp and a glass of rose waits patiently for someone to drink it

Keep things real

My own style is pretty relaxed as I try to not stage my photographs, preferring to keep them as natural as possible. I want to realistically show people what to expect when visiting a hotel, city, restaurant or bar and I think people appreciate this honesty. It’s also why I’m a fan of simple white plates so all the attention is focussed on the food. I do admit to scanning menus for the options that will look best on camera though.

Shoot from above

My favourite way of shooting is to take photos from directly above the food. It doesn’t work with in all scenarios, such burgers or sandwiches where you want to see what’s inside, but with the right food and props you can create some really eye-catching content with a dynamic feel.

Photograph of crudités salads served on a white table, with breads
Interior of santo palato

All in the detail

Rather than shooting close-ups I prefer to share a feeling of a restaurant, showing some of the table, cutlery and background. I think it tells you so much more about the place than just the food. If you’re going to take lots of close up food shots though it’s worth investing in a specialist macro lens for really great results.

Get the light right

For me natural lighting is key. I always try to avoid flash photography and artificial lighting when possible. I believe natural light shows food and interiors at their best, and you can play around with using soft light versus sharp light and shadows to get the most pleasing effect. Think about the best lighting options when choosing your restaurant table to give your photo the edge.

Favourite photo-editing apps

There are plenty of photo-editing app to choose from but for one app that will help you with all your editing needs, I think Lightroom is a brilliant choice. If I’m doing a quick edit on my phone rather than using my camera, I find VSCO has great filters. I’m also a fan of Snapseed for easy but impressive editing.

A dark, rustic all wood seating smokehouse with a huge window with light streaming through
a copper island surrounded by bar stools awaits a party

Know when to stop

It’s easy to over edit your photos so check back to the original as a reminder of what you liked about it and to see when to stop. I’m fond of filters but it’s important not to overuse them or you lose that natural feel. Again, it really depends on your style and what works for you.

Take multiple shots

I always shoot more than I need to give myself different versions of an image to choose from. This is particularly useful when travelling and you only have one chance to get it right but plenty of time back home to consider which photos to use. It’s always better to have more images than less so if in doubt take that photo.

Cameras versus phones

Camera phones are great quality these days but for my professional work I still prefer to use a dedicated digital camera. Mine is a Sony Alpha 7 III, which I use with either a 50mm or 24-70mm lens. For me, those two lenses do everything I need and I find the 50mm is the perfect travel lens. I learnt to use my camera online. There are plenty of tutorials to show you all the basics, along with tricks of the trade to help develop both your technique and style.

Portrait of James T sitting

To navigate the incredible culinary scenes surrounding Dorchester Collection’s legendary hotels, see the #DCmoments Food Guides I’ve created for them.

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