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How to Photograph Food with Your Android or iPhone: Tips and Apps for the Home Chef

Updated on September 13, 2012
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Food Photography Should Be Appetizing

Nothing is more unappetizing than food poorly photographed. The proliferation of food blogs and sites like HubPages give chefs a platform for sharing great food. The opportunity to share and connect over otherwise delicious food is undermined by outright awful photos. Poor food photos abound.

The good news is that it's easy to do appealing, authentic food photos with a few simple tips, an Android or iPhone, and two (free) apps: Instagram and Color Effects. Here's how in 3 easy steps.

The angle slightly above glass level allowed me to look down the straw of the Blackberry-Kiwi smoothie and draw in the reader.
The angle slightly above glass level allowed me to look down the straw of the Blackberry-Kiwi smoothie and draw in the reader. | Source
Sautéed kale photographed on my desk where natural light and beam of sun light the texture of the otherwise dark and shadowy kale.
Sautéed kale photographed on my desk where natural light and beam of sun light the texture of the otherwise dark and shadowy kale. | Source

Step 1: Stage Your Photo Properly

Before you take any photograph of your finished food, there are a few simple tips to consider.

  • Lighting: Take your photo in natural light. Everything else that you do to make your photograph look appetizing will be destroyed by poor, artificial lighting. I rarely take my food photographs in my kitchen which has artificial light. My preferred spot is in my living room on my coffee table which gets loads of natural light. Natural light also means natural shadows.
  • Angle (food level not bird's eye): Too many amateur food photographers take their pictures from standing directly above the food. This doesn't draw in the reader. Take your pictures from food level or slightly above the plate.
  • Use Props: You don't want to clutter your photo, but using the right prop can improve the setting for your food. A fork sitting in the vegetables, a few crumbs next to the cake, a glass of red wine behind your steak. Props enhance your setting.
  • Prep before, shoot quickly: Do all of the above before the food is done. Once the food that is your subject is finished cooking, you want to photograph it as fast as possible before it starts to cool, melt, jiggle, settle, etc. Food looks its best immediately after its cooked. If you get your set prepped with the above tips before the food is ready, you can slip the food on set, shoot, and move on. It even helps to use a stand-in and take a few sample photographs beforehand so that you can test your settings and work out the kinks.

This photo was staged and practiced several times with colored water before the coffee was brewed. You can see a few practice attempts in the Instagram screen shots below.
This photo was staged and practiced several times with colored water before the coffee was brewed. You can see a few practice attempts in the Instagram screen shots below. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
A screen shot of Instagram as your camera.After you take your photo, you can apply any of 18 filters (bottom) or blur effects (top).Final step: click "Done." The rest is optional unless you wish to share your photos with others in the Instagram Community.
A screen shot of Instagram as your camera.
A screen shot of Instagram as your camera. | Source
After you take your photo, you can apply any of 18 filters (bottom) or blur effects (top).
After you take your photo, you can apply any of 18 filters (bottom) or blur effects (top). | Source
Final step: click "Done." The rest is optional unless you wish to share your photos with others in the Instagram Community.
Final step: click "Done." The rest is optional unless you wish to share your photos with others in the Instagram Community. | Source

Step 2: Use Instagram to Take Your Photo

When you are ready to take your photo, open Instagram on your iPhone or Android phone. Do not use the phone's built-in camera. To take your photo do the following:

  1. Touch the camera at the bottom center of Instagram to initialize the camera.
  2. Touch the camera icon at the bottom center to take the photo (photo 1 at right).
  3. Scroll the list of 18 light filters across the bottom of the screen to select a filter that most makes your food look authentic. The light filters provide differing effects that modify the saturation and contrast of your photo and can improve the lighting of your subject (photo 2 at right).
  4. Apply a linear or radial blur effect to bring your subject into focus. The blurs are in the teardrop menu at the top of the screen. Use two fingers to change the size and position of the blur (photo 3 at right).
  5. Touch the green checkmark to save your photo (photo 3 at right).
  6. Click Done on the final screen. Your photo is uploaded to Instagram, but it is also saved to the Photos on your phone (i.e. on iPhone it's in Photos > Camera Roll).

Example: New York Steak with Instagram, Valencia Filter and Radial Blur

I took this photo of my new york steak for my Hub, "How to Make the Perfect Steak," with Instagram, applied a radial blur to focus on the texture of the steak, and the Valencia filter to correct the lighting from my kitchen at night.
I took this photo of my new york steak for my Hub, "How to Make the Perfect Steak," with Instagram, applied a radial blur to focus on the texture of the steak, and the Valencia filter to correct the lighting from my kitchen at night. | Source
A screenshot of Color Effect to re-color parts of your photo in the original color. This version is the $0.99 advertising-free version, Color Effects Pro.
A screenshot of Color Effect to re-color parts of your photo in the original color. This version is the $0.99 advertising-free version, Color Effects Pro. | Source

Step 3: Use Color Effects For Rich Focus on Your Food

The app Color Effects enables you to use your fingers to color only a portion of your photo. This app is free, or if you want the version without advertising, you can buy it for $0.99. To use color effects do the following:

  1. Open Color Effects and touch "Photo from my Photo Library."
  2. Select your photo from your list of photos.
  3. Select Original Color at the bottom to re-color portions of your photo back to the original color.
  4. Use your fingers to color like a child.
  5. When you are finished, click the Cog at the top left corner, and click Save to Photo Library to save your photo.

Example: The New York Steak with Color Effects

I opened the original Instagram photo saved in my iPhone Camera Roll in Color Effects. Using Color Effects, I re-colored the original color of the steak back into the photo.
I opened the original Instagram photo saved in my iPhone Camera Roll in Color Effects. Using Color Effects, I re-colored the original color of the steak back into the photo. | Source

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    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Though I'm not a great fan of photographing food, I would like to take some pictures so that I can use when I'm doing a recipe.

      These tips are very useful.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Me, too, Vinaya. I only do it to have photos in the recipes that I write here on HubPages. It sure does make a difference, though! Glad the tips are useful.

    • jasonponic profile image

      Jason Ponic 5 years ago from Albuquerque

      This is one of the most useful hubs I've seen yet!

    • TrahnTheMan profile image

      TrahnTheMan 5 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

      Cool and helpful article! I love taking photos of food with my iPhone. And that steak looks delicious! Voted up.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you, Jasonponic. That's quite a compliment.

      TrahnTheMahn, that steak was magnificent. I savored every bite!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I adore the photos you include in your food Hubs, so I'm glad you've created a guide to making them! Here's hoping you inspire more Hubbers to include beautiful, vibrant, and original photos in their Hubs!

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Simone!

    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 5 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

      Your photos are excellent. The steak looks so good!! I appreciate the tips and recognize the value of having really good photos especially for food. You have given me extra incentive to use my camera more.

    • puter_dr profile image

      puter_dr 5 years ago from Midwest USA

      Great Hub and great ideas here. Now all I have to do is remember to take pictures of the food before it is eaten.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Maralexa. That steak was *very* good, indeed!

      puter_dr, I have the same problem! I have about a dozen unpublished food Hubs that are awaiting the photo that I forgot to take!

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      Awesome tips! Your photos are beautiful and professional looking. I've been using my iPhone 4s to capture photos of food up close and so far I'm impressed with it. I have not tried playing around with Instagram yet, but definitely will try it soon. I like the radial blur effect! Thanks for sharing!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India

      Thank you - great tips indeed! And I'm going to start trying my luck with Instagram!

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Turtlewoman. I've been using the iPhone 4 (not the S) as well, but some of the photos were even taken on my partner's iPhone 3. The power of Intstagram and Color Effects.

      Thanks, Shalini. Good luck!

    • Maine Photography profile image

      Maine Photography 5 years ago from Portland, Maine

      Fantastic hub! I highly recommend Vignette for Android. It is my favorite app.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the suggestion, Maine Photography. Unfortunately, I use an iPhone, but will definitely suggest it to my Android friends.

    • Maine Photography profile image

      Maine Photography 5 years ago from Portland, Maine

      After 4 years as a die hard iPhone user I made the switch to the Galaxy Note and couldn't be happier. Composing on the 5 inch screen is fantastic. Just pinned that blackberry kiwi smoothie to my grub board. Looks so good!

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Fab! I've definitely gotten slightly better on my own very recently after being disappointed viewing my food pics, but this article tells us everything we need to know. I love my Evo and the 3D camera is great, but I want my 2D photos to be clear without fiddling too much. Instagram users seemed like a club and I wasn't very interested in the app; however, after reading your hub I'm absolutely jumping on that bandwagon. Thanks! Voted useful and awesome, and pinned.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, theclevercat. Personally, I'm not really into the Instagram club. I use it not for the photo sharing/social features but because it makes my snapshot look like art. You can turn off all of sharing settings and not let anyone follow you on Instagram so that it really can be more like your personal camera. It has truly democratized beautiful photography.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • SEXYLADYDEE profile image

      SEXYLADYDEE 5 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thanks for such a good Hub. I downloaded instagram a while back but never found a use for it. Glad to learn I can improve the quality of my hub pics. I too have hubs on hold waiting for pics. This and actually taking one will help. Dee

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Good information. I will have to download the app. I'm always trying to make my photos looke better. Voted.

    • Eileen Goodall profile image

      Eileen Goodall 5 years ago from Buckinghamshire, England

      Sorry but that Kale photograph is a bit dark which I've noticed is the problem with a lot of food photos displayed on Hubs. BUT I love the cup of coffee, absolutely spot on - thanks for sharing.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Yeah, most of the kale is in the shadow which makes it dark. But the part that is directly lit with sun shows the texture. That is what I was trying to capture. Given kale's dark nature that was tough to capture if I evenly lit the whole plate.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the comment and the vote, moonlake.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Glad I could be of help with improving your pics, sexyladee. Wish I could help you with taking them, but I have my hands full taking my own!

    • Steven Gray profile image

      Steven Gray 5 years ago from Pensacola, Florida

      Great hub! Your pics are fantastic, and they demonstrate well how effective phone photography can be when attention is paid to lighting and composition. Voted up fo sho.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Steven. Much appreciated.

      Yes, basic lighting and technique can't be made up for by apps, fo sho!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      I don't have a smart phone but found your general tips at the beginning of the hub useful. I recently went online looking for tips on photographing food since this cooking contest started. I had told my husband there's definitely an art to food photography.

      I'm sure everyone will be benefit from your tips, regardless of their camera. Voted up.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Danette. Although apps like Instagram and Color Effects can add artistic touches, nothing can help poor lighting or angle. Good luck with the June Contest!

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Your food photos are beautiful indeed, we can certainly all learn something from them. I never even dared to try it with my iphone but your tips have convinced me! Shared... Thanks!

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      LetitiaFT, you can definitely do it with your iPhone. Glad that you found it helpful. I'm looking forward to seeing your Hubs with your iPhone food photos.

    • Marina Lazarevic profile image

      Marina 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      I played around with a new photo app this weekend and thought of your Hub. Photo Toaster is AWESOME. It's an editing app (not a social app), saving images to your camera roll/photo stream is just a tap of a button, and most importantly: it crushes Instagram (imo) in terms of variety of settings. I have Photo Toaster Jr (the free version) and I'm still trying to figure everything out. The full version is available for only $1.99 in the App Store.

    • MickiS profile image
      Author

      MickiS 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the lead, Marina. I will try it out!

    • raydevlin profile image

      Ray Devlin 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Great article - it's interesting to see just how creative you can be with a phone!

    • Rae Saylor profile image

      Rae Saylor 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks heaps for the tips! Voted up :)

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