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How to edit food shots on your smartphone, Level 1

A beginner’s guide to editing food shots for Instagram

Welcome to my first photo editing series!

This tutorial is specifically created for beginners who have recently found interest in food photography and are looking to brush up their skills.

Over time, I will be sharing more complex tutorials but for now, let’s discuss the basics.

Supplies needed:

  1. Smart phone
  2. VSCO & Snapseed (available for free on the App Store)
  3. Flat Lay shot


Step 1: Start with a photograph that has the following qualities:

  • correct lighting preferably shot during daytime with indirect sunlight. No night shots, harsh sunlight, flash photography
  • strong, bold colours of your subject – colour has emotional value. When you see colour in a photo, you have an emotional response to it
  • neutral temperature of light where white looks white – not yellow or blue. If there is a colour cast, we will correct it during the editing phase

This is the photograph we will edit

Step 2: Open VSCO and tap on the “+” sign on the top right hand corner to import your photo

Step 3: Before selecting a filter, correct the photo using the following tools:

(a) Exposure
Exposure is the amount of light in a photograph.

  • If a photo is too dark, it is underexposed. Details will be lost in the shadows and darkest areas of the image.
  • If a photo is too light, it is overexposed. Details will be lost in the highlights and brightest parts of the image.

Underexposure -4.0, correct exposure +1.5, Overexposure +4.0 and above

For this edit, I’m going with +1.5 in exposure. The original file is slightly dark for me.

(b) Contrast
Contrast is the scale of difference between black and white in your images.

  • High contrast images will enjoy strong, bold colours and textures will be emphasised
  • Low contrast images won’t exhibit a great deal of difference between its lights and darks, and as a consequence, it might appear flat or dull
  • Everyone has their own perception of the ‘perfect contrast’, but in food photography, medium contrast looks best as the colors pop without looking fake

Low contrast -5.0, Correct contrast +1.0, High contrast +4.0

I adjusted the contrast to 1.0 to make the colors stand out.

(c) Adjust

  • Straighten the image to equally balance the elements on the table
  • If the flat lay will be uploaded as an Instagram post, crop to 4:5
  • If the flat lay is for Instastories, crop to 9:16

Skewing the image using X & Y is a crucial step for flat lays.

  • X-Skew modifies and stretches the photo along the x-axis to change the angle of the photo
  • The Y-skew is similar to the X-skew and modifies the photo focus point along the Y-axis

The beauty of a flat lay is when the table is actually flat in appearance.

(d) Sharpness and Clarity

These tools make the image look sharper and more clear. They add details into your image and create more contrast between the dark and light areas.

Clarity set to +1.0, +5.0, +10.0

Food photographs with extremely high clarity look unappealing and amateur. For this image, +1.0 is enough.

(e) Highlights & Shadows Tone

For a more subtle look, I set the Highlights to +5.0

(f) White Balance

The most crucial step for this image is white balance. White Balance is a feature that allows you take control of the colour temperature of your photo.

This shot has a strong yellow overcast due to the yellow lighting of the restaurant and not enough sunlight.

The goal of white balance is to make white look white, not yellow or blue

To balance the colours of this image, I reduced the temperature to -2.2 and adjusted the Tint to +3.5

(g) HSL

The HSL tool gives you control to adjust the Hue, Saturation and Lightness of a specific colour in the image.

I love using this tool to make specific colours pop – such as green grass and red fruits.

For this image, I adjusted the greens to accentuate the salad leaves.

Step 4: Choose an appropriate filter

Filters (also known as presents) can make or break your final image. They can be garish and overpowering, which ruin rather than enhance your image.

Each filter has a particular set of edits. These include colour tints, saturation, brightness, contrast, and vignette.

There is no right or wrong filter. It depends on what mood you are going for.

I finalised on A5 with a strength of +3.0

Step 5: Finishing touches on Snapseed

Snapseed is ideal for:

  • Removing marks on the plates using the Healing tool
  • Adjusting white balance further by using the Saturation brush (-10)

Tip: Keep the “eye” sign on for easier correction

Final Result

The stark difference between the two images comes from white balance

Concluding thoughts

Once you are comfortable with this level of editing, you can start incorporating more apps to further enhance the aesthetics of your image.

Many popular accounts on Instagram follow themes throughout their profile to secure a consistent feed. An Instagram theme makes your profile more aesthetic and can possibly attract more followers, but they can also get boring and difficult to maintain.

If you have any questions regarding photo editing, leave a comment below!