3 Tips for Better iPhone Food Photography

Don’t you love a good slice of pizza?

If so, you’re not alone. Pizza appears to be the most photographed food on Instagram.

There was a time, before Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom shared the platform’s first photo (on July 16, 2010), when — believe it or not — we just ate food. We didn’t snap a picture and then share it to social media.

Now, 95 million Instagram posts are made every day. I don’t know how many of those are food posts, but if my stream and those of people I follow are any indication, food is a common topic.

Deciding to up my Insta photo game

I’m in a local Facebook “foodie” group. As our group grew and our common interests started becoming more apparent, our facilitator discussed the idea of a meetup where we could get some professional instruction on how to take better cellphone pictures of our food.

Enter the Tallahassee Foodies Cellphone Photography Meetup. The organizers secured a venue and an instructor (Emmy Award-winning Dave Barfield of Lonely Fox Photography) for the event, held on Sept. 5.

Better iPhone Food Photography
Photo credit: Tallahassee Foodies

Here are three takeaways I gained from the evening (plus a bonus, which is actually the most important point). I must share the caveat that it was a challenge to take notes, eat our food, take pictures, visit with all the fun people, drink tasty concoctions from the bar (optional, obviously!) and absorb all of Dave’s great information. Hopefully the pieces I did catch will help you if you’re trying to improve your cellphone food photography.

Room Lighting Matters

The light in the room can make a big difference in the appeal of your food picture, said Dave. He urged us to sit near a window when possible and take advantage of natural light, which is best for this type of photography.

On one issue (which I have, sadly, violated often with the “fail” that is to be expected) Dave was unequivocal. DON’T USE YOUR FLASH. There’s nothing good to come from trying to use your flash when photographing your food. I can attest!

We had a *ton* of fun with one of the pointers Dave gave us. I got more questions on this topic that I mentioned in my Instagram story than I did about anything else. A white napkin can be an effective device for improving your food photography.

Our fearless Tallahasee Foodies leader, Jennifer, captured the power of the white napkin better than I did (must have been when I was doing that cocktail thing): “If you have light on one side, and shadows on the other, you can use it to bounce light into the shadowy areas, or if you have too much direct light, you can use it to block/diffuse.”

Better iPhone Food Photography
Dave demonstrates the “power of the napkin” (although technically I think this is a piece of paper!)

Dave also pointed out that you can cover the phone’s flash with the white napkin and negate the flash’s detrimental effects, but I watched him do it and it’s not as easy as it sounds!


Dave described different ways to position your food and set the scene to make the image more compelling.

Thirds Photography’s rule of thirds at its most basic encourages photographers to use other options than positioning the subject right in the middle of the frame. The link I have shared has a good explanation.

3/4 view Dave described 3/4 view as “how you would see your food.” It covers holding the phone at an angle varying between 25 and 75 degrees in relation to the food, according to this article, which gives a great example of the difference between a camera held at 30 degrees and one held at 45 degrees, in addition to more information about why the angle matters.

Master view This involves holding the camera directly overhead (at a 90 degree angle). This is one I try often, because it does (sometimes) look more professional without needing much extra effort. I watched Dave coach a few people that evening, and I noticed that he pointed out the necessity of being at a true 90 degree angle. It’s an easy thing to not pay attention to in the midst of enjoying a meal with friends. There was also at least one hummus casualty in each class due to a dropped phone while going for this shot. Hold on to your phone!

Details Choosing to focus on standout details of your dish can create a great image, said Dave.

Context Try to capture something that identifies the establishment, recommended Dave (you’re going to want to tag them to give them some social media love, right?).

Burst mode Dave noted that burst mode can be effective for catching interesting images such flames at just the right moment.

Tap the screen where you want the focus to be This is one I was taught long ago. Obviously a simple tip, one many iPhone users know, but it bears repeating.

Better iPhone Food Photography
This is the sriracha carrot hummus, before (left) and after (right) trying some of the techniques Dave taught us. I cropped it, brightened it, added the vignette effect and removed some shadow.

Editing Tricks

Here are a few tips Dave gave regarding the editing process:

  • Avoid “weird diagonal lines”
  • Enhance the brightness
  • Reduce shadows
  • Warm tones are important
  • Always add a vignette to the corners, which darkens the corners slightly and brightens the center (here’s a good explanation)
  • Experiment with tilt-shift effects
  • Crop after editing
Better iPhone Food Photography
This is a ginger-braised short rib taco, before (left) and after (right) trying some of the techniques Dave taught us. It lent itself easily to the 3/4 rule. I cropped it, revised the shadows, added a warmer hue and added the vignette effect.
Better iPhone Food Photography
My classmate, Becca Lynne, deserves some major creativity points for using the brick wall behind us as a backdrop. She also did a great job of making the taco look more full of ingredients. It was great learning from each other.
Better iPhone Food Photography
This SoDough Banana Stand Pudding was easily the most difficult to photograph. I changed the brightness and shadows, added the vignette effect and experimented with the “tilt-shift.”

BONUS: Etiquette

Time for a small soapbox here (photograph it from whatever angle you prefer). I truly enjoyed the class and gained tips that I know I will use in the future.

However, as soon as I left Madison Social (the venue), I immediately felt hesitant to share photos of food on Instagram. “Oh crap what if it isn’t warm enough? (the photo tones, not the food!), What if I could have used the magic white napkin to make this picture more aesthetically pleasing?”

I found myself adding a caveat, especially within our Facebook group and with people who had been at the class with me. “Not edited/filtered, just a picture.”

The very first thing Dave covered was etiquette. Don’t stand on your chair to get the perfect master angle, he pleaded. Wait and edit your pictures after you eat. The chefs prepared the food carefully (usually at least!) and it is meant to be served at a certain temperature. Don’t let it get cold while you find the right angle.

As I said when I started this piece, my notes aren’t perfect. My pictures never will be. But I enjoyed good food with enjoyable people in an atmosphere that nourished my soul in a way that will last much longer than a few Instagram “likes.”

In fact, my favorite picture from the evening has terrible lighting, not a crumb of food and probably breaks many of the rules Dave tried to teach us. But what good is it if your picture is perfect if you’ve neglected picture perfect friends in the process?

Better iPhone Food Photography
My friend Paula O’Neill shared the adventure with me.

Thank you to Madison Social for hosting our meetup, to the organizer(s) and to Dave Barfield.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

By the time I tuned in to this summer’s Tallahassee Burger Trail event, I was behind.

My first official stop on “the trail” was Vertigo Burgers and Fries on July 18. I had until July 31 to fit in as much burgerliciousness as possible. Was I up to the challenge?

Vertigo Burgers and Fries

I mounted the burger trail horse at Vertigo Burgers and Fries for lunch on Saturday, July 18.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

This was my first visit EVER to Vertigo Burger. The Burger Trail special was the Red Hills Burger: A 50/50 mix of in-house ground beef chuck and Bradley’s sausage, Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill cheese, cornmeal fried okra, bacon-braised collard greens, creole rémoulade.

The Standout Feature(s): The sweet potato fries were delicious. I enjoyed my burger (especially the okra!). My friend loved her “Dizzy Duck,” especially the cherry sauce. I loved spending time with a friend I met through the blog, when I wrote this.

The Tin Cow

A friend wanted to talk about some personal challenges, so I figured he could spill his angst while I checked off another Burger Trail stop. That’s how I ended up at The Tin Cow on Friday, July 24.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was “The Classic”: A half pound of Angus on a kaiser bun with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.

The Standout Feature(s): Well, it’s not a “feature,” but anyone who knows our family knows how much time we spent at AJ Sports, which previously inhabited this space. It was so weird to walk into the Tin Cow and be in someone else’s business!  Anyway, I thought this burger got the most points for presentation. So pretty with the ketchup and mustard; someone paid attention to presentation. I just wish a) my friend has less angst (sigh) and b) it had not been lunchtime on a weekday because the spiked shakes (or at least a brandy soaked cherry) sounded so good!

Up in Smoke

The July 31 “end of the trail” was looming closer and closer, so I redoubled my efforts to check off a few more stops. That is how my friend Sandy and I ended up at Up in Smoke on Tuesday, July 28.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the Up in Smoke: a 1/2 pound burger topped with blue cheese crumbles, caramelized onions, crisp bacon, lettuce and tomatoes, topped with onion rings. Served with a side of blue cheese and bacon hand cut fries.

The Standout Feature(s): This burger was REALLY tasty. Something about the sauce just had that “zing.” My friend and I enjoyed chatting with the owner, also. Sandy and I have not had time to sit and chat one on one EVER so this was really a treat!


The week of July 26 was Stick a Fork in Cancer week, so my friend Rachel and I killed two birds (cows?) with one stone by visiting 101 for a Burger Trail AND Stick a Fork in Cancer stop!

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the Black Avocado Surf and Turf: This 100% Angus ground beef is made up of black avocado, Cajun aioli, and topped with fresh shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico on a flaky croissant bun!

The Standout Feature(s): I loved the fact that I could check off a Burger Trail stop AND help the American Cancer Society at the same time. The shrimp were definitely a unique addition to my burger. These homemade chips were SO DELICIOUS.

Canopy Road Cafe

Sunset was starting to fall on the Tallahassee Burger Trail as I determined to mooooooove toward fitting in a few more burgers. That is how I found myself at Canopy Road Cafe with my awesome friend Lynne.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the Breakfast Burger: 8 oz. Black Angus beef covered in melted cheddar, grilled honey ham, pecan smoked bacon and an over easy egg.

The Standout Feature(s): I was leery of the “egg on a burger” idea but I have to admit it was really tasty! And time with a friend I rarely see IRL was a special treat.

Madison Social

In all honesty, I did have a MadSo burger during the Tallahassee Burger Trail summer promotion, but I did not take a picture, so I am not sure it counted! To be sure, I consumed one. more. burger. on Friday night, July 31, at one of my favorite places. I was way over fries by that point, though, hence the green beans!

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the MadSo Burger: Fried avocado, peppered maple bacon, aged cheddar, Jameson caramelized onion, house aioli, on a brioche bun.

The Standout Feature(s): I am not a HUGE avocado fan, so that was a bit of a “take it or leave it” for me. And by this point I could not look at another fry again. NO MORE FRIES! But I loved the ability to squeeze in one more burger trail stop at a place which has been so good to me and the causes I love, so I made the MadSo burger my finale.

As The Dust From The Trail Settles…

Six (huge) burgers (with fries, usually) in 13 days is definitely out of the norm for me. But I love a good hashtag (#tallyburgertrail) and I love a great way to connect with our fun social media community in Tallahassee.

Next year: an earlier start so I can spread the decadence out a little bit better (and make all the tops)

When it is up to me, I am pretty basic in my burger preferences. Usually by the end of eating one of these special burgers, I had deconstructed it and was consuming the components separately (like the okra at Vertigo – yum!).

I also had read somewhere that restaurants look down on people who order their beef medium well, but I am still sort of squeamish about burgers that are pinkish. I think some of the burgers I had would have been better medium than medium well. Maybe next year I’ll have the guts.

The Burger Trail forced me to organize myself in order to visit establishments I had not made time for previously (like Vertigo).

Most importantly, the Burger Trail forced me to sit down and enjoy time with people for whom I care a great deal. And THAT beefed up my morale considerably. The people in my life are so affirming, it could have been peanut butter and jelly for all I care — the point was spending time with them. It was a bonus that I got to enjoy these delicious creations and support some of Tallahassee’s finest restaurants at the same time!

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

NOTE: Even though the June 1 – July 31 “window” for winning prizes has ended, the Burger Trail intends to keep serving up the burgers! Check out their website, choose a restaurant, and saddle up for a burger adventure! Tell them The Big Green Pen sent you!

Breaking Free of the Hunger Cocoon (A Feeding South Africa Post)

Source: www.morguefile.com

Source: www.morguefile.com

Do cocoons make you curious about what’s inside? What color will the butterfly be when it emerges? Where will the winds and its wings take it? Will it bring someone joy?

For children in South Africa, hunger threatens to keep them in the “cocoon” of hunger.

65% of all South African children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education.

When children are unable to stay in school and obtain an education, it is unlikely they will emerge from the cocoon of hunger.

Nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS.

In addition to the absence of parental support, these orphans are more likely to remain trapped in the cocoon of hunger.

Lack of food can diminish concentration, erode willpower, and strip away a child’s potential. The conservative estimate of the number of children in South Africa living below the poverty line is 12 million.

Although government programs assist approximately 8 million of these children, 4 million children still need help to emerge from the cocoon of hunger.

African Basket

African Basket

Although my teenagers no longer want my input or involvement in their lunch choices, I remember well the challenge of finding something nutritious, novel, and affordable for their lunches. We bloggers participating in this campaign are each contributing a recipe. Mine comes from Ellie Krieger of the Food Network. It’s colorful, tasty, and affordable (and it has a great name!).

Rainbows and Butterflies Pasta Salad


8 ounces bow tie pasta, preferably whole grain

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen

1 cup shelled edamame, thawed if frozen

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

2 medium carrots, shredded (about 1/2 cup)

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)


cropped ingredients


Cook the pasta as the label directs. Drain and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil to prevent sticking; let cool.

In a large bowl, toss the cooled pasta with the corn, edamame, bell pepper and carrots. Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat. Add the parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss again and season to taste.

plated pasta

Besides thinking about sending rainbows and butterflies in your child’s lunch (or yours, as I’ll be doing this week!), what can you and I do about the 4 million children in South Africa for whom a “colorful pasta salad” would truly be a luxury?

Lunchbox Fund Photo 3

We can help The Lunchbox Fund meet its goal of raising $5,000, which will provide 100 South African school children a daily meal for one year. (The meals are provided at school, which reinforces the likelihood that the children will go to school.) But $5,000 sounds *BIG* doesn’t it? I gave $10; if 499 more people do the same, we’ll be there! For me it was giving up the $10 I would have spent on yoga today and doing yoga at home instead. A small sacrifice in the long run.

To donate, click this link.

There’s no reason that those of us who have so much can come together to help children who need the basic gift of food and help them fly free from poverty.


 *Note: The factual information in italics was provided by The Giving Table.

Wordless Wednesday (Salty Pimp Edition)

I am not proud to admit that I had forgotten that address numbers get larger the closer you get to the East River in New York City, but once a security officer pointed me in the right direction, I stopped walking around in circles and found my destination, the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop in the East Village. I wanted to experience for myself what all the tweets from @biggayicecream had tempted me with for months.

A fun place…..

With fun toys…..

And fun boys…

Watched over by a glittery unicorn….

I got the Salty Pimp after asking, “if I only get to come here once, what should I get?” My mobile phone picture doesn’t really do it justice…

 But theirs will make your mouth water:

Photo Credit: Big Gay Ice Cream

And that is how I ended up wandering the streets of New York City licking a salty pimp at midnight. A combination almost as rare as a unicorn!

Wordless Wednesday Hop

Wordless Wednesday (Toloache Edition)

During last month’s trip to New York City, my friend and I followed a local’s tip and ended up at Toloache, a Mexican restaurant.

We were watched over by her:

While my friend ate this (Camarones Toloache):

 And I chose to pass on the Chapulines (Dried Grasshoppers!) and enjoy the pork tacos:

With a side of fried brussels sprouts with queso fresco (yum)!!!:

While I hydrated with this:

Thank you, Toloache, for delicious food and lasting memories.

Gracias, Toloache, por la deliciosa comida y recuerdos duraderos.

Wordless Wednesday Hop

Wordless Wednesday (Lunch in Bryant Park Edition)

 Delicious memories from a recent lunch in Bryant Park, NYC!

Come to think of it, why are French Fries French?

 Vegan Forbidden Rice and Black Eyed Pea Salad with With Grilled

Asparagus and Garden Vegetables.

Photos taken at the Bryant Park Grill Cafe.

Wordless Wednesday Hop

Wordless Wednesday (Sweet Cravings Edition)

I walked into a Cracker Barrel Restaurant today for a business-trip lunch stop.

And there was this…..

which led to this……

which transported me back 30 years to my grandmother’s Sunday “Dinner” table.

The memories were worth the calories……

Wordless Wednesday (Summer Pops Edition)

It’s nice to give kids a few extra treats in the summertime,

But……when mom needs a summer treat for herself, she can…
Add lime zest:

And some summer spirit(s) in the form of tequila and orange liqueur, to get…

Mom Treats!

The recipe for Margarita Pops came from Family Circle Magazine.
A few more images of my “Margarita Pop Fun” session:

Here’s the recipe (click on it to enlarge):

I am linking this Wordless Wednesday post up to the Crazy Days of Summer Photo Challenge sponsored by Kristi of Live and Love Out Loud and Alicia of Project Alicia. This week’s theme is “summer treats”! Next week’s theme is “fun with friends.”
Crazy Days of Summer