How to take killer food pics for the ‘Gram

I remember the first time I saw someone take a picture of their food. It was probably around 2004 and I was suffering through an uninspired date night with my future ex-girlfriend at a French-influenced restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa called “The Brasserie”. The entrees arrived at the table next to us and I watched as a woman at the table reached into her purse and with the guilt and precision of a seasoned shoplifter, pulled out her BlackBerry and snapped a picture of her artfully prepared chicken. As she slid her phone back into her purse, she glanced over at me and grinned. “Ugh”, I groaned.

I always figured the term “food photography” referred to a professional marketing or advertising process. A company like McDonald’s taking a Big Mac, and giving it a plastic induced makeover just to get dummies like me to believe that what I got in the drive-thru might just resemble that perfect looking burger on TV. After all, why bother taking a picture of food if not to get someone to buy it? Even as I taught myself to cook and spent several years being lied to by friends and family when I asked, “How was it?” it still never occurred to me to take a picture of what I had made. After all, I didn’t own a professional camera and I wasn’t selling Big Macs. Furthermore, I thought the term “we eat with our eyes” was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard as no matter how hard I stared at a picture, I was still hungry.

Enter Facebook. Enter Insta and the 16-megapixel phone camera. Enter the golden age of FOMO irony where we’ll miss the concert, just to ensure we get a video of it that we’ll never watch again anyway. I didn’t start taking pictures of my food to share with other people. In fact, when I started snapping the occasional picture of my overcooked chicken or my heaping pile of rigatoni, it was just to remind myself what I had made so I could have ideas the next time I found myself wandering the aisles of the grocery store. But that all changed the first time my plate of pasta accidentally stumbled into the perfect lighting that existed next to my kitchen window for a few hours each evening. I remember looking at the picture on my phone and hardly believing my eyes. This, was my Big Mac.