So You Want to Make Food Porn

Food is an art. It’s a language. It’s emotive and it’s nourishing. For many, in that particular order. Rosalind Coward, feminist food critic, first coined the term, “food porn” in 1984, and we’ve had a steamy, visual love affair with food since. And in today’s mobile world, if you’re not sharing a photo of a cat on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, you’re probably sharing a photo of your lunch or dinner (or you’d like to).

We have a fascination with food; we glorify it or look at it with great contempt. The multi-billion dollar diet industry, especially in the United States, is a testament to that. The world loves food – it’s that simple. And in many countries, we idolize it. If you’ve got a burning desire to create fabulous food porn, I’ve got some secrets that will dazzle your friends.

If you ask my colleague, Abbey Sharp here at Eat St., our resident expert in the social, cultural and sensual roles of food, she’ll tell you it isn’t easy balancing the ideological demands of being a foodie and a dietician. Abbey views every taste, smell and touch as a holistically stimulating event, and she talks about it religiously on her blog. That in itself is the basis of and passion behind food porn – it’s capturing that holistically stimulating food experience in a photo to share with your world. If you’ve got a foodie’s passion, and can’t take a bite of your food before snapping a photo, consider this your crash course into the world of food porn.

What You’ll Need – A Camera and a Small Arsenal of Mobile Apps.

You’ll need a mobile phone or device, equipped with a camera, for starters, and a photo editing app, like Photo Editor by Aviary for iPhone and Android. This will allow you to take amazing photos and make adjustments to them, before showing them to the world.

Consider your intentions. Do you want to simply capture the foods you’re experiencing, and share them with some friends on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Or, do you want to influence a greater audience, make recommendations, and write reviews?

As a professional food critic, I document my dining experiences for official reviews on the Stitches ‘n Dishes blog, but I share nearly all of my dining adventures all over the web. I share my photos, using Instagram, available for iPhone and Android, and of course, the Eat St. mobile app for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Android when I’m dining at a food truck or food cart. Instagram is the most popular photo sharing app available, and it allows me to share my photo memories across my Facebook page, Tumbler and Flickr accounts, and it posts links to the photos on my Twitter account.

FoodSpotting is also one of my favorite sharing sites with apps for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry. By simply adding a #foodspotting hash tag to a photo on Instagram, my photo is automatically shared with my fellow foodies in the FoodSpotting community, as well. Think, Instagram just for foodies.

Regardless of where you want to share the greatness of your food porn or who’d you like to share it with, there are a few things you’ll need to know in order to capture that fish taco at its best.

Lighting – The Difference Between Good Food Porn and Bad

I’m a professional photographer, but I don’t lug a 15 pound camera and lighting equipment out to a restaurant. Proper lighting is absolutely critical. The golden rule for lighting your prized lunch: do not use the camera’s flash, unless there is adequate lighting surrounding the dish. Not only is the flash very harsh on your food, it can be annoying to other guests if you’re in a restaurant. The camera’s flash is intended for what’s called “fill lighting” – it’s not meant to light up your plate. If you use the flash in a darker space, your lunch will appear as a washed out, bluish gray mush on a plate. Not very appetizing.

Position the dish in a well-lighted area. Take a look at the dish, and reposition it to eliminate any unwanted shadows. Try turning the dish around. Look at it from several positions. Depending on how it’s plated, position the dish so the main element is closest to the camera or a focal point of the shot.

The flash will help with unwanted shadows, but there are other tricks you can use to avoid a shadow of your cell phone hovering over your lobster mac ‘n’ cheese.

Taking pictures with a mobile device indoors can be tricky. A romantic, dimly lit restaurant may be a wonderful setting to experience a quiet dinner with a certain someone, but it affords little for a foodie with a camera. Make the best of available lighting, or sit by a window in the daytime. Mood lighting can sometimes enhance food porn’s appeal, but it mostly gives it an orange glow. Photo Editor by Aviary will take care of that. If you’re outdoors on a sunny day, the best place to take photos is in the shade. Too much sun can “blow out” the colors of your dish.

Styling – Get Ready for the Close Up

If you’re taking a picture for a review, it’s always best to photograph the dish exactly how it’s presented by the chef. Plating is an art. We eat with our eyes first, so plating is critical for a pleasant dining experience. As a reviewer, your fans and followers deserve to see what they’ll get, if they follow in your footsteps. But, if you’re having lunch at your favorite food truck, and the food’s served in a paper boat, there isn’t much canvas to work with. Remove food from paper boats and packaging whenever possible. Flip the boat over to use it as a display for the food. “Style” the food so it’s appealing.

Position Yourself and the Camera

Second to proper lighting, camera angle and “framing” are the most important elements of great food porn. Closer is better. Unless you’re creating an “editorial” food photo, your food porn should be up close and personal to show off every mouth-watering morsel of your meal.

If you’re outdoors in a sunny area with no shade, carefully observe how you and your mobile device create shadows. Position yourself so your shadow does not overcast the dish. This may mean that you’ll take the picture against the sun, or stand in an awkward position to move your shadow around the food.

How is the plate constructed? Is it tall, short, or flat? If the food profile is tall or vertical, position the camera approximately 12-18 inches over the plat at a 45 degree angle, or almost vertically at the table. If you’re taking a picture of a bowl of soup or a flat presentation, positioning the camera at a 90 degree angle, directly above the plate might be more appealing.

Experiment. Add utensils, a napkin or other items to your food porn set to give it an extra splash of appeal. Utensils and napkins can make a food porn photo more interactive for your viewers, and gives them a sense that they’re actually about to take a bite themselves.

Editing and Adjusting

You wouldn’t go out on a date, a job interview or an important meeting without brushing your hair first, right? And, you don’t want to overdo your look, either. After going to the trouble to find the perfect lighting, position your dish, find its best side, and take the picture, turn that photo into your best food porn before you share it with the masses.

I’ve recently discovered Photo Editor by Aviary for iPhone and Android, a free and easy-to-use mobile app that will make your photos shine.

Do not apply any special effects or filters to the photo (a frame is acceptable). They may be fun and artistic for scenery, but seldom work for food porn. Use the editor’s “Balance” feature to remove that orange or yellow glow, then adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness.

Share Your Food Porn

After you’ve edited and created a food porn masterpiece, share the photo across the social networks with your friends, family and your new foodie fans. Resist the temptation to apply filters in Instagram or Facebook when sharing your photo.

Be Heard – Write a Review

While many feel that Yelp! is the ultimate go-to spot on the internet for reviews, I personally tend to follow the reviews at Urban Spoon and Zagat more seriously. Urban Spoon is a serious food review site where you’ll find not only the everyday review, but food blogger and critic reviews. It offers mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, and Kindle on their mobile apps page. Of course, Zagat Survey is the world’s leading provider of consumer survey-based information for restaurants and other leisure activities. Zagat is considered the most up-to-date, comprehensive and reliable guides ever published.

Stitches ‘n Dishes is the creation of Christopher Ford and Andrew Nicora, and it’s inspired by Stitch, an American Staff. Terrier mix / Bichon Frise, born October 24, 2010.

We’re passionate about food, fun, photography and film. We also love the outdoors – hiking the city streets, the fairgrounds, or the beautiful trails all around California. Andrew literally grew up in the catering and concessions industries, doing everything from bussing tables, serving, cooking, back-stage hosting to you name it, and Chris has worked as an event promoter, organizer, photographer and marketing consultant.

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