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Here's How to Take Better Food Photos at Home, According to VSCO

Taking great food photos with your phone isn't rocket science, but it does require some thought and planning.

Despite all the "reopening" talk in recent days, there's a good chance you're still doing a lot of cooking at home. And whether you'd like to admit it or not, there's also a good chance that you're taking lots of photos of your homemade meals. I get it; you're proud of the towering lasagna you spent an entire Sunday assembling, you're finally pleased with the shape and crumb of your sourdough bread, you're pretty sure you've perfected cookie cereal. You want to share it with the world, so you should do your culinary creations justice by taking great photos.

Taking a good picture of your food isn't too hard, largely thanks to the powerful cameras in recent phones. But taking a stunning photo of your food? That will take some thought and planning. You're gonna need some good natural lighting, a nice backdrop, and an interesting angle, among other things. You're also gonna want to use one of the many photo editing apps out there to add an extra layer of polish to your picture, such as a filter, color adjustment, or crop.

One of the most popular photo editing apps is VSCO, which offers a suite of easy-to-use -- yet advanced -- photo editing and creative tools. So, it's safe to say the folks behind the app know their way around a great food photo. Zach Hodges, a staff scientist at VSCO, was kind enough to provide Thrillist with a bunch of helpful tips for taking better photos of your food at home. While some of the tips are straightforward, others will require you to get creative a think about your photos a bit differently and do a little extra work before you start snapping. The results -- and maybe the extra likes you'll get on IG -- will be well worth it.

Here's what Hodges recommends:

Use natural light

Lighting can make or break your photo, especially when you're shooting food. Your best bet is to capture your food photos in natural light; for example, soft indirect light coming in through your kitchen window.

"Natural light renders colors better and looks best on a budget. Pull a side table up to your window, step out on your terrace or into your yard plate in hand," Hodges said. "The bigger the window, the better. Bigger = softer. Generally, you’ll want the window to be behind you while shooting so that it’s lighting your subject." 

If you're taking photos outdoors, move your plate to a spot with even shade to avoid the bright direct sunlight and the resulting harsh shadows. And if you're cooking at night, Hodges also recommends saving a piece of the food for capturing the next day.

Avoid shadows

"If you’re using a lamp for lighting or your only accessible window has sunlight beaming through it, find a way to diffuse that light by bouncing the light off a bright surface like some printer paper or a white bed sheet to make the light source larger and softer," Hodges said. "If you are shooting in low light, be sure to hold extremely still while taking the photo to avoid blurriness."

Plate your food like an artist

Hodges points to a common expression to help drive this one home: "we eat with our eyes." With that said, hastily throwing your food onto a plate before you shoot it won't do. Be meticulous. 

"Shooting a fresh sourdough? What’s more important to you, showing the crumb or the cuts in the top of the loaf? Feeling proud of that homemade pizza? Make sure you’ve evenly placed every pepperoni," he said. "Whatever you choose, make it look neat and don’t be afraid to get creative with the design."

Think about your background or backdrop

Making the food look great is important, yes, but that's not the only part of the composition that you should think about.

"Choose a simple background that compliments your subject like a wood table, a textured placement or even a dish towel! Cutting boards are a very forgiving background that look great with most foods," he said. "Remember, no one will ever know if you put your plate on your wood floor to take the photo!"

As someone who has taken more than a few food photos on a pretty wood floor, I sure do feel validated.

viedfinder/VSCO

Don't be afraid to play with color

"Color is really important in food photography and can be easily enhanced with photo editing filters," Hodges said. "Create a cohesive look using a collection of similar colors or create something more fun and exciting with contrast!"

There are all sorts of ways to pull this off. You can easily create color contrast between the background and the food itself by finding a surface or backdrop that holds up against it well. Or you can create contrasting colors with the food, such as adding blueberries to yogurt, according to Hodges. If you want to use a filter in the VSCO app, he recommends trying C1 and G3 from the set of free filters, and A1, C7, E2, G6, K2, L5, S3, U1, and V5 from the members-only filters.

Find some good angles

The key here is to experiment and take multiple photos from multiple angles, considering the result from each as you go. Shooting from the side is common, along with from directly above or diagonally. It's up to you to figure out what angle showcases your food the best.

"If you’ve arranged your food on a plate and a placemat, above will be your best bet," he said. "If you’re shooting a layer cake, a side shot will showcase your work the best just make sure you think through the background."

Add some finishing touches with editing

This is your last chance to make your food pic look incredible before you post it on social media. VSCO's got you covered in the way of photo editing tools, but like I said before, there are tons of photo editing apps out there -- some free, some you have to pay for. Try as many as you can and by all means use multiple editing apps for your photos. Maybe you'll like the filters in one app, but hate the interface. 

As for VSCO, here's what Hodges suggests: "In the VSCO App, use the Adjust tool to crop and straighten your image if necessary, and use the exposure tool to brighten or darken your image to emphasize the right tonalities in your subject. The Contrast tool can also be invaluable to soften tones or make textures pop out more. Use the Tone tool to deal with shadows and highlights individually, and try using the White Balance tool to add warmth. If you are a VSCO member, HSL can also be useful to adjust specific colors to make them more appetizing."

Don't forget to have fun

You want to do your beautiful, home-cooked food justice with a nice photo, yes, but don't forget to have fun while you're at it. Your photoshoot shouldn't get in the way of enjoying you beautiful, homemade food. Get weird. Try something new. Make it a group activity and incorporate people and hands in your shots. Personally, I love when I come across one of my food photos and remember how fun it was to cook, photograph, and eat it. 

As Hodges points out, photography should be like a creative release and that goes hand in hand with cooking.

"These are unprecedented times," he said. "We’re all experiencing them differently. Photography is a creative way to share your story. If your #quarantinecooking is how you spend quality time with your family, incorporate them into your photographs."

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Tony Merevick is Senior News Editor at Thrillist. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.