Back when Instagram was still fresh, people who felt that the app was below them loved to lambast the platform by claiming that it hosted too many “pictures of food.” People were posting their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to the grid, not yet understanding that what gets engagement are photos of your slightly edited face.
Naysayers made the point that no one cares about the cinnamon roll you ate, or the branzino you grilled in the backyard. They felt that the app inflated people’s senses of what their friends cared about to the point that they would want to randomly see when you ate anything, like a panini. I actually wish that all my friends texted me whenever they ate a particularly delicious panini, so long as there was no photo attached. Every photo of food is disgusting, they should never be taken, and if I had my way they would never be posted. But if you’re going to post them at all, save it for the close friends feature on Instagram, so that a smaller, more forgiving group of people will see your nasty-looking attempt at an Alison Roman recipe.
I believe it is impossible for most people to take an appetizing photo of food. Many who post these images make the grave mistake of using the flash, which not only gives you a low quality image, but turns any moisture on the meal (a sauce, the natural juices of a steak, etc.) into a reflective surface reminiscent of shiny plastic.
Take this photo from The Atlantic staff writer Elizabeth Bruenig.
I never want to look at macaroni salad (or is it macaroni and cheese?) this close up. The bright red of the barbecue sauce is reflecting the lights from above and just looks so… wet. What are the flecks of green in the macaroni? Do I want to know?
Now look at this video of Chrissy Teigen handling a big hunk of pork belly.
The camera flash highlights how glaze gloops off the meat, down onto the pan. Never have I been more aware of the fact that meat used to be alive than while watching this video.
Of course, these two are not professional photographers or food stylists.A restaurant, on the other hand, is in the business of making their product look tasty .
A restaurant’s Instagram is a perilous space. Even if I know and enjoy the establishment, I can’t help but be disgusted by what they’re purporting to be a wonderful dish. I know they’re trying– many of them even use an actual camera to shoot their photos. However, even restaurants fall victim to the fact that there is no good way to visually capture how good something tastes.
Take, for example, The Fly in Clinton Hill. A great restaurant that I’ve been to many times, a restaurant that I would recommend to anyone. What I would not recommend is looking at photos of the food online, which make even the most delicious-sounding dishes look both slimy and dry at the same time.
Fried corn and shishito peppers? That sounds amazing, and yet this photo makes me want to consider switching to an all-Soylent diet. What is that sauce on the corn? It reminds me of a toy that’s been slobbered on by a dog or a toddler.
Even fine dining establishments like the three Michelin Star Eleven Madison Park cannot escape the perils of people taking gross-looking pictures of their famously delicious food. Perhaps they know this, because their Instagram features few photos of actual dishes, instead focusing on the elegant dining room.
When they do post images of food, it’s done very professionally, and all the dishes look clean and edible. Look at this tomato salad. It looks completely fine, which is a huge compliment coming from me. It helps that the picture is being taken from far away.
Look at the same dish, photographed by some guy.
Lighting? Dim. Tomatoes? Veiny. Composition? A mess. This photo conveys nothing to me, and the salad now looks like something I would throw together after looking into my refrigerator and realizing I have no other options. Nothing about this is appetizing, which is maybe why it only got four likes.
If one of the best restaurants in the world can take an only okay image of their food, how was a normal person ever going to capture what I’m sure is its in-person beauty?
Of course, most of us are not restaurants. We are human beings who might want to share an image of a meal we cooked with our friends and loved ones. If you find yourself in that situation, I have news for you: this is what the close friends feature was made for. Close friends is a place where presumably everyone loves you enough that they will not mind seeing your god awful attempts at food photography. Do not subject me, someone you met at a party once three years ago, to your damp-looking fish tacos or your giant pan of chicken casserole. I do not want to see it, and I bet most of your followers don’t want to either. We want to see your beautiful, smiling face, not what you’re about to shovel into it.