When college 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 breakfast burger he made, its two charred English muffin halves barely able to contain a hefty beef patty, bacon slabs, and a gooey slice of cheddar, while sitting atop a wooden plate that’s catching the runny yolk surging down the side of the sandwich.
“That was the quintessential start for me. It got reposted by a few big channels and I got a few hundred followers. As I started growing followers 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 school. (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 viable it is, but I don’t really have the passion for being an attorney.” Shooting sandwiches sounds better than serving subpoenas to us too.
If you’re looking to start indulging your inner food photographer, here are Seidman’s tips for making sure that the grilled-gruyere-and-preserved-tomato-on-a-pretzel-roll you just spent the last two hours concocting actually looks as good as it tastes.
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 colors on them, made a huge difference,” he says. “It didn’t distract from the picture and left a clean background. So be super conscious of what you’re actually shooting on. It can distract from the food if you have weird plates.” Seidman’s personal preference is either a natural wood or a solid white plate.
Default to Daylight
“Kitchen lights or any kind of synthetic light like that creates a really dark and yellowish look and you get a lot of shadows and it doesn’t really help with your photos,” he says. “The best light source you can use without buying special photography light is natural light, so try to make that magnificent-looking meal 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. In my living room at my apartment at university there happened to be a really big window and I used to set 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
Once you’ve gotten to the plating part, don’t just throw it together. “I usually will get down to eye-level for the burger and focus on one side of it for the picture so I know how it’s going to look on the 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 Picture-Perfect
Everything on Seidman’s plates isn’t being scrupulously set with a pair of tweezers. “A part of getting a good picture is there’s something to be said about 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 Camera 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 component. I don’t break the yolk obviously until I’m 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.”