It may be the stereotype, but it's for good reason: an awful lot of us use Instagram to share photos of whatever we happen to be eating that day. Regular meals may be relegated to fast-disappearing Stories, but anything special gets memorialised in the main feed. Which is all well and good, but most of us will also have found that taking appetising photos of food is not quite as easy as it looks.
What looks delicious on the plate always somehow ends up looking a bit like brown sludge in your photos, and your painstaking recipe recreation may look the part in person but falls far short when you set your photo up against the cook book's. What gives?
To find out, we sat down for dinner with food photographer David Loftus, who's snapped snacks across the industry, including for basically all of Jamie Oliver's books. Armed with a Sony Xperia 5 (which we used for every shot you'll see here, with the help of some light editing), he walked us through how to turn a Michelin-starred meal into some Instagram-worthy photos.
Find the light
As with any photography, the most important thing to consider before you take your shot is lighting. Natural light is best by miles, so David suggests that if you know you'll be taking plenty of photos there's no harm in asking for a table near a window to make the most of it.
Once you've got the light, it's also important to expose the photo correctly. Most of the times phones do a good job of this on their own, but in difficult or mixed light you're probably used to tapping on the screen to adjust levels. If you need to, make sure you tap on the lightest part of the shot - that might make the photo seem too dark, but it will preserve all the detail, and you can then edit it afterwards. If you take a bright shot in the first place, you'll lose that detail and can never get it back.
If you're not so lucky, or the restaurant itself is pretty dark, don't give into the temptation to use flash to make up for it. Instead use your phone's low-light or night mode to make up for it. You'll need a steady hand though - or use one of David's hacks, which is to rest the phone on the top of a water bottle, camera facing down at the table, to steady it for the shot.
Pick up some props
Those aren't the only props David takes advantage of. He has a whole toolkit he brings whenever he eats out, but you can make do with what's around you.
For example, he carries a sheet of tissue paper to hold over shots to diffuse harsh lighting, and a reflector to the side to block bright lights and create shadows, but if you don't want to carry them around then a menu will do the trick too - just make sure to hang onto it after ordering. In a pinch your napkin will do the same job.
Framing the problem
Once you've got the right light and blocked out any pesky reflections, the next challenge is framing your shot. David's advice on this is simple: follow the law of thirds.
If you're not familiar, this is a guideline that applies to all photography, not just food. The advice is essentially that you should build your shot so that whatever you're shooting - your plate, in this case - either fills two-thirds of the frame, with a third left for the background, or vice versa.
That may sound tricky to estimate, but dig into the camera settings on your phone and there will be the option to turn on an assistive grid, with just about every phone offering one option that's a 3x3 grid which should help you find your thirds.
Shoot from above
This is one tip you probably already know - but maybe don't know why it works. David follows the advice of every food Insta feed and suggests taking most of your photos from a bird's eye view. He explains that this isn't just following a trend - chefs now tend to plate their food looking down on it, so every dish is designed to look its best from directly above it. So put your camera there.
It's just as important to know when not to follow that rule though. If your food's been served on a dish with an interesting shape or intricate design that adds depth to the shot, then shooting from the side might help capture that unique element while breaking your feed up a bit too.
Bash that bokeh
Speaking of depth, if you are going to shoot from the side then bokeh is your best friend. Previously the reserve of expensive DSLRs only, just about every phone is now capable of taking bokeh shots - usually through what it calls 'portrait mode'.
This keeps your food in focus while artistically blurring the background, simultaneously drawing the eye to the main dish while making the mess of half-empty wine glasses behind it look a little more glamorous.
A couple quick notes. This won't really work on top-down shots, as there's not enough background to blur. It also won't work on every phone - while some will apply a bokeh effect to any subject, others rely on facial recognition to detect a target so will only do bokeh for proper portraits. It varies by phone and manufacturer, so try it out for yourself, but don't be too surprised if your phone won't do bokeh without a person in the shot.
Fix it in post
So now you've taken your photos. But despite following David's tips to the letter, your shots don't quite look the part. Your first instinct may be to reach for the filter button, but stop yourself - you only need a couple of simple editing tools to give your photos their full potential.
In addition to filters, Instagram lets you edit photos on a more granular level - though it's still simple enough. David recommends sharpening shots a little to bring out the texture, adding a slight vignette to draw the eye to the food (especially in darker shots), and upping saturation - but only a little. Most Insta shooters crank the saturation slider way up, but resist the temptation. It only makes your food like fake.
You can do all of this on your phone right in the Instagram app, but you might find it quicker to edit a few shots on your PC. If you do, you can still get the photos up on Instagram afterwards - here's our guide to uploading to Instagram from a PC or Mac.
Our final tip was actually David's first: be subtle. Instagram is an inevitable part of any modern restaurant visit, but chefs still don't really want to see you snapping away while your food gets cold, and other guests don't want to be bothered either.
That means don't clamber up onto your chair (or table!) to get the perfect shot, don't walk around to find the best angle, and (again for the people at the back) definitely do not use flash.
Using a phone as a camera helps of course - it's better than breaking out a DSLR at the table - so if yours needs an upgrade then check out our guide to the latest and greatest camera phones this year.