When I’m not slinging snacks to the Curalate team, I’m writing, designing and developing recipes for a food/lifestyle blog called With A Grain of Salt. Spending so much time in the food social media space over the last few years has opened my eyes to what a huge role food photography plays in our day-to-day lives. The concept of “food porn” isn’t just a trend, it’s a lifeline that restaurants and brands need to use to engage customers and keep them coming back for more. Like dipping your hand into a bag of chips, a photo of a meal can keep you coming back for seconds or even thirds. In a city like New York, where people order takeout more than they cook — an image can inspire someone to go to the grocery store and start making a fantastic meal.

Think of the last time you were looking for a new recipe to try or restaurant to visit. Did you open the newspaper? Or did you tap into your Instagram, Facebook or favorite blogger’s page? Chances are, it was the latter. The landscape of how consumers approach food has completely changed in the few years since social media and visual imagery have started to dominate the market. The days of the New York Times food critics dictating what people eat and cook are long gone.

“There are people who decide on where they want to go out to eat by their Instagram feed, and that’s a fact that we in the hospitality industry just cannot ignore,” Helen Zhang, Director of Media Strategy at LFB Media Group, told the Wall Street Journal. Consumers are engaged with restaurants and food brands on an individual level in a way that has completely revolutionized not only how people eat but how they interact with their food. A good picture of a hamburger isn’t just a photo: It’s a strategy for a restaurant, a grocery store, or even the beef manufacturer to ensure that the next time someone wants a hamburger, they buy that brand’s product.

Below are three best practices for restaurants and food publishers to harness the power of food in pictures.

Take a great photo: This probably seems basic and straightforward, but it’s surprising how few brands fully recognize the power of food photography when it’s taken correctly. The right light and angle can make all the difference in how a customer reacts to a picture of soup, fruit or cookies.

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Photos by Tatyana Fey.

Aradhna Krishna of the University of Michigan School of Business told Quirk’s Marketing Research Media: “Even if you can’t embed the smell of a food in the ad, like scent marketers do with a scratch-and-sniff, merely asking consumers to imagine what the food smells like, along with a strong visual, can be very effective.”

Here are a few tips for taking an engaging food photo:

  • Make sure you have good light and a crisp, clean image. Natural light is a food photographer’s best friend. Taking photos with the actual iPhone camera and not the Instagram camera makes a huge difference OR use a digital camera then edit, and upload the photo to Instagram.
  • Consider doing something outside of the normal overhead/bird’s eye view photo. “Appealing photography is crucial,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “Many Instagram foodies said they sought a balance between artsy overhead shots and evocative ‘food porn’ images like melting ice cream or oozing egg yolks, which tend to generate the most responses.”
  • Negative space highlights the individual food item you’re trying to showcase. Make sure the food is the primary focus of your photo.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Use apps like VSCO Cam, Camera +, or the Instagram edit functions to make your images look natural and bright. You want people to look at your photo and even if they just ate a full meal think, “I want that, now!”

Publish on the right social media platforms: Taking great photos of food is not enough to keep consumers interested in a product. The product has to be published to the right platform. There’s a reason restaurants are hiring social media influencers to promote their food: millennials and foodies alike are constantly drawn to try new restaurants and recipes based on their favorite blogger or Instagram celeb’s recommendations. Curalate can help promote your food posts with tools such as Like2Buy. Use the shoppable Instagram feed or link in a bio to drive people back to your site! If you have a blog, you can show off certain aspects of the meal once you publish your photo. Use Reveal to make it easier for people to find out more information. While these photos are specific to the products, food publishers can make it about the ingredients.

Keep your audience engaged: More than anything, people want to be engaged in a brand’s story. Food imagery is a great way to do this. Take advantage of the food Instagram trend by creating a hashtag that your consumers can use to be part of your brand story. Publish that hashtag not just on your Instagram feed, but on your blog, Facebook and Twitter feed, in email marketing campaigns, even on the menu! You can then regram the content created by your loyal customers and collect it on a Fanreel. This makes your customers feel special and connected to your brand, while you reuse and publish those images to even more of your customers. You’ll end up with a collection of authentic, unique images that become a chapter in your brand’s story.