Six Words To Make Your Restaurant’s Instagram Photography Better

Gamehaus Fries from Gamehaus Gastropub, on McAllen, TX

It’s very frustrating to see restaurants and bars I love make their food and drinks look awful on social media. The chefs I know take as much pride in presentation as they do in taste. If you’re in charge of social media for your restaurant and/or bar, you don’t have to be a professional photographer or have an particularly artistic eye to take good to great food photos.

With your smartphone camera, Instagram, and six words to memorize, you can easily improve your food and drink photographs.

Well lit, in focus, get close

A friend of mine works as a hostess at a fine dining restaurant known as much for their cocktails as their cuisine. In person, everything looks amazing, but social media is not a priority for this business (as is the norm in our region).

As a follower of what I have been doing for Roosevelt’s at 7, Gamehaus Gastropub and Infusions Eats & Drinks, she saw an opportunity to help business grow. She volunteered to take over social media at her restaurant and quickly came for advice.

“How do you take such great pictures?” she asked. I took a look at what she was doing and what little had been done before she started, and noticed a trend that paralleled what I was seeing on social media across the industry. A few fundamental mistakes were turning exquisite into eh.

Well lit

Light your subjects well. Smartphone cameras are improving every day, but they don’t do well in low light situations. Your eye is far more powerful than your camera, so what appears as perfectly balanced lighting to your naked eye doesn’t always translate to your photo.

Either turn the lights up or get up and move your plate or glass to the best lit area you can find. You’ll often find me bouncing from from one corner of the restaurant to the other, plate or drink in hand, trying to find the best lighting.

This week’s chef’s special: Blackened Fish Tacos with a Chipotle Lime Aioli, served with Rice Pilaf.

A photo posted by Roosevelt’s at 7 (@rooseveltsat7) on

Another key reason to make sure your subject is well lit: most of Instagram’s filters are made to darken part or all of the image. The app doesn’t do a great job of brightening images without adding too much contrast or discoloring it. If your smartphone offers has it, experiment with the HDR function as well, which I’ve found to work very well when you’re stuck in a low light environment. Conversely, your phone’s built-in flash is not ideal for these kinds of photos.

In focus

I will never understand how anyone could consciously put a blurry photograph of their food on social media, but I still see them far too often. Most smartphone cameras from the past couple of years will auto-focus and allow you to refocus with a tap. Experiment with focusing on different parts of your image; it will change how your subject appears to be lit as well as the perspective.


I have noticed that blurry food and drink photos tend to also be taken from far away, as the photographer tries to capture something in the background as well as the food itself. If you’re letting your smartphone camera auto-focus on these types of pictures, you can’t control if it focuses on the food or the background, which leads to the last two words of advice.

Get close

Less is more: On Instagram, your subject should take up almost the entire square frame. This means you might not be able to fit the entire plate in the shot, and that is perfectly okay. Rotate your or drink around to get the best angle, get in close and focused and you should be well on your way.

Our delicious Airline Chicken Breast! TANKE performs on the patio tonight.

A photo posted by Infusions Eats & Drinks (@infusionseatsdrinks) on


Remember that your photographs are going out via social media, and increasingly will be seen via mobile. Your customers shouldn’t have to click and zoom to really be able to see a particular item.

But Instagram makes everything look great, right? Why do I need the extra time and effort?

That’s the kind of thinking that results in mediocre smartphone photography. Instagram should not–I would even argue cannot–make or break your photos.

If you follow these six words of advice, your picture should be good enough so that Instagram will simply be icing on the cake.

Is that really all there is to it?

Don’t get me wrong: there is certainly much more to great photography than what I’ve outlined here. However, these mistakes seem to be the most common and are also the easiest to fix. Once you get these fundamentals down, getting more creative and incorporating more advanced techniques will be much easier.

I will also end with a disclaimer: I am not a professional photographer. My advice might run counter to what you read elsewhere. My advice is based on my experience, observations and my portfolio (see the Instagram accounts for Roosevelt’s, Gamehaus and Infusions to start).

I’m happy to offer individual help as well: send a message on social media or email me.