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5 Tips for Taking Stunning Food Photos from an Instagram Star

Bon Appétit logo Bon Appétit 1/11/2017 Ashley Mason

© Courtesy of Nate Appleman/Instagram There’s something about Nate Appleman’s Instagram that makes you want to cook a really healthy meal for dinner. There are no technicolor grain bowls for Chipotle's director of culinary, though. Appleman’s feed is an ode to what home cooking can be, marked by platters of sautéed vegetables layered with roasted meats and topped with paper thin scallions or radishes. His signature overhead shots bring all the components of his dish together in one vibrant and dynamic frame.

Instead of the complicated—borderline art-directed—displays that often dominate our Instagram feed he opts for one stoneware dish filled with many flavorful ingredients. It’s simple, but the melange of colors and textures in his photos have earned the adoration of his 13,400 (as on today!) followers. His process is equally simple. “I’m not willing to go to great lengths to get a good picture,” Appleman says. “I usually take three pictures of what I’ve made, but then I want to eat.”

He took a few minutes to share with us how he makes his everyday home cooking on Instagram look dreamy and bright.

1. Edit Yourself

While every snap on Appleman’s feed looks like a stunner, only 10 percent of his shots make it on to his account. His trick is quantity: For every meal he cooks at home—which is at least twice a day—he takes a few quick pictures, then pares it down later. “The good shots become more apparent when I have a lot of different pictures to choose from," Appleman says. When he spends too much time on one picture, he hands the phone to his nine year-old son Oliver. "His pictures usually turn out better any way," he says.


© Courtesy of Instagram/@nappleman

2. Shoot in Natural Light

“If you don’t start out with decent lighting, it’s hard to fake it,” Appleman says. In the summer, taking those glowy, just-descended-from-heaven shots is a piece of cake, but dark winter months are more challenging. “I move around my apartment to find the best light,” he says, which is usually on the terrace at lunchtime.

© Courtesy of Instagram/@nappleman 3. Put All of Your Ingredients on One Plate

Beautifully composed platters with lots of components are his signature for a reason. “I truly want someone to have the best bite,” he says. Rather than filling the frame with lots of little vessels, he builds his dishes how he likes to eat them: piled with different textures and tastes. The result is one dynamic plate in the center of the shot.

© Courtesy of Instagram/@nappleman 4. Cook for Flavor, Not Visuals

“Usually I just open up the fridge and see what inspires me,” he says. His dishes take form as he add different elements, like tart currants or pungent shallots, to balance out richer flavors. Raw vegetables thinly sliced on a Japanese mandolin, his favorite addition to salads, bring crunch and freshness.

© Courtesy of Instagram/@nappleman 5. Use Fewer Filters

Because his dishes are already packed with color, Appleman doesn’t need much saturation to make his photos pop. He uses Snapseed to “clean things up,” which for him means sharpening the edges, upping the brightness, adding a touch of contrast. “My process is always evolving,” he says.

© Courtesy of Instagram/@nappleman

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