When student Dan Seidman started taking pictures of the multi-layered burgers glistening with melted cheese and oozing egg yolks he cooked up in his Toronto apartment, it was mostly just for fun. Fast forward a few years and the 22-year-old now has a growing Instagram base of nearly 63,000 followers, a burgeoning food photography and recipe development business, and has become a staple on many top Instagram-feeds-for-foodies-to-follow lists.
The turning point for stepping up his Instagram game came about a year ago when he put up a photo of a burger he had made. The two halves were barely able to contain a hefty slice of beef, bacon, and melted cheddar, while it sat atop a wooden plate that caught the runny yolk surging down the side.
“That was the quintessential start for me. A few big channels reposted it and I got a few hundred followers. The more followers I got, the more I just kind of kept doing it,” Seidman recounts.
He is still growing his Instagram base (he gets about 100 new followers a day) and his own brand, which includes his website where followers can find many of his recipes. He’s also done work as a freelance photographer and recipe developer for a few food sites and corporate clients all while, unbelievably, attending his first year of law at university. (He was accepted and enrolled before the Instagram thing “took off,” he explains.) “I’d love to be able to do this full-time, I don’t know how realistic it is, but I don’t really have the passion for law.” Shooting sandwiches sounds better than serving court orders to us too.
If you’re looking to start indulging your inner food photographer, here are Seidman’s tips for making sure your photos look as good as they taste.
Pay Attention to the Plate
Seidman remembers when he first bought the square wooden plate he photographed that breakfast burger on. “Using that plate compared to just my regular dishes that had colours on them, made a huge difference,” he says. “It didn’t distract you from the picture and it left a very clean background. So be very conscious of what you’re actually shooting on. It can distract the eye from the food if you have weird plates.” Seidman’s personal preference is either natural wood or a solid white plate.
Default to Daylight
“Kitchen lights or any kind of artifical light like that creates a really dark and yellowish look and you get a lot of shadows which doesn’t really help with your photos,” he says. “The best light source you can use without buying special photography lighting is natural light, so try to make that magnificent-looking meal on Saturday afternoon rather than during the dark dinner hour. And if getting closer to a window means leaving the kitchen, by all means do it. “There was a really big window in the living room of my university flat, so I used to set everything up next to my TV during the day so I had tons of natural light coming in. And it worked.”
Build Your Dish With Your Photo in Mind
Don’t blow the presentation, this is one of the most important parts. “I usually get down to eye-level with the burger and focus on one side of it for the picture so I know how it’s going to look on camera,” explains Seidman. “If you just build it and then take a picture, it’s probably not going to be placed nicely and it’s probably not going to work. You just want to look at your plate first and see what the camera is going to see.”
But Don’t Be Too Perfect
Everything on Seidman’s plate isn’t scrupulously set with a pair of tweezers. “A part of getting a good picture is just randomly throwing something like berries down,” he says. “I don’t meticulously place each berry, I just grab a handful and drop them on and it seems to look better than placing everything exactly.”
Be Ready Before You Add Your Last Ingredient
If you’re including a dollop of sauce, a drizzle of syrup or trying to pull off Seidman’s signature runny yolk, get everything else plated first, have your dish in the spot you want to shoot it, and get out your phone. “I try to get it as prepped and set up as possible and have everything set up and my camera ready,” he explains. “The last thing you do is drip on your sauce or your runny ingredient. I don’t break the yolk until I’m really ready to take my picture. You’ve got to time it and take the pictures right when it drips. And then take a bunch of them.”
Unless You’re Really Into It, You May Not Need to Invest in a Camera
Yes, Seidman recently bought a “cheap, low-end DSLR camera,” but you certainly don’t have to. “The majority of pictures on my Instagram are my iPhone,” he says. “You can still get pretty good pictures on an iPhone.”