CityGirlConnects,  Travel

Guest Post: Gill Murray’s Smartphone Food Photography Hacks

Instagram has become more than a fun place to share photos. It has become a community. I know that social media has its downsides, but a fun part for me is connecting with people via the app and then having the opportunity to meet them in person.

The Blog Pod girls are an example of this and so is the lovely Gill Murray. Gill is a Scottish food photographer and blogger that I met a few years ago via Instagram when she liked one of my Scotland photos. We’ve kept in touch and I was so happy to meet her in person last year when I was back in Edinburgh. She is a gorgeous human being inside and out. 

Gill takes fabulous food photos both with her DSLR and her iPhone. When The Brit and I were planning our Seattle trip, I asked Gill for some tips for when I was going to be in photo-worthy Pike Place Market, and she did not disappoint! I’ve been applying her photo hacks to my snaps since Seattle (I’m getting better, slowly but surely!) and I’ve added my own comments in italics. I hope these tips are as helpful for you as they have been for me!

Gill’s Smartphone Food Photo Hacks

I love taking food photos, especially when I’m travelling. Arriving at a new destination and seeking out great restaurants, food markets, and general food experiences is something I’ll never tire of doing. Not everyone wants to carry about heavy camera equipment day-to-day, so I want to share with you some of my tips for taking great Instagram worthy food photography with your smartphone.

1. Lighting

One of the most important elements in taking good food photos is getting the lighting right. Always shoot in natural light and don’t use your phone flash. Using the flash will drown the natural ambient light and ruin your shot by bleaching out the colours. The best times of the day to achieve good light is earlier in the day or later before the sun sets, which is otherwise known as the golden hour. If you are in a restaurant and want to take photos of the food on your table try and secure a table near the window to maximise your natural light. You can always phone ahead and reserve a window seat. If you find yourself eating in the middle of the day and the light is harsh and casting strong shadows, hold up a white napkin as a filter to create a softer diffused light over your food.

The napkin trick blew my mind! I’m still working on the technique of this and convincing The Brit that we don’t look silly when doing this, so here is Gill’s example.

Before and after photo light trick
Using a white napkin to diffuse light and rid of shadows (Photo: Gill Murray)

2. Communication

If you’re heading to the local food market, try and get there early to avoid heavy crowds. That way you access the stalls easier to get great photos of the local produce on offer while it is also still in abundance and while the light is still at its best. It also allows time to strike up conversations with local stallholders. By showing interest in their products they may be more willing to allow you time to get the shots you want. They may even be happy to be included in some of the photos. Perhaps offer to tag their brand in your Insta post as a way of gratitude.

I’m not afraid to chat with people, but I will admit that I got a bit shy about this. Partly because some vendors were busy receiving and sorting stock (we go there very early), and I didn’t want to interrupt them. But they didn’t seem to mind me snapping away. 

3. Perspectives

Consider different perspectives when out and about. At a local food market hold your camera up high to get great aerial shots with impact looking down at grouped local produce. Or if you’ve managed to get friendly with one of those stallholders, see if they’ll let you pop behind the stall for a minute to get a photo looking out from their perspective to get a different viewpoint of the market action. Try and capture the moment and the human element in a scene.

As mentioned above, I got a bit shy when we were in Seattle, but I’m going to get over it for our next trip!

Aerial perspective market
An aerial perspective at the market (Photo: Gill Murray)
Taco perspective
The Brit dislikes cilantro. It usually makes for a good photo 😉

4. Styling on the go

Quick styling when out and about can make all the difference in your photos. If you are in a restaurant, move the cutlery onto the plate or scrunch up a napkin and place to the side of the dish to give a more natural look. Asking your dinner companions to dig into the food while you grab an aerial shot of what’s on the table, adds life to any scene. Or maybe you’ve stopped for a coffee break so open a book or the corner of a newspaper to create a cosy scene on the table next to your coffee and healthy snack and take a shot from above.

The Brit learned very early on in our relationship that I don’t care if his hands are in my food photos. Two and a half years later, many of my photos show him digging in while I snap away.

Wine flights cheese and charcuterie Seattle
Tasting local Washington wine, cheese, and charcuterie at Seattle’s The Tasting Room
French onion soup Seattle cafe
Cast iron macaroni and cheese and a French onion soup and sandwich combo at Seattle’s Tilikum Cafe
Beer and tacos Port Moody
Tasty eats and hopped delights at Port Moody’s Taps & Tacos

5. Use a smartphone photo editing app

Use good editing apps — I like Snapseed and Afterlight to move variables like exposure, shadows, and saturation. Avoid filters as they never look great!

Snapseed is amazing. I love it. Both Gill and another friend from Instagram,  @janellesaccucci (who has a beautiful feed), recommended this app to me and it has not disappointed. The Brush tool is my favourite. VSCO is also supposed to be a good app, but there are only so many I want on my phone right now.

Aerial perspective market artichokes
Using editing apps like Snapseed can give a different exposure or hue to your photos (Photo: Gill Murray)
Grapefruit before after edit
Before and after a Snapseed edit: Citrus delight at Seattle’s Pike Place Market
Before and after a Snapseed edit: Creamy Earl Grey tea latte with almond milk at New Westminster’s Great Wall Tea Co. I love to go there even just to look at all the teas on the wall!

A big thank you to Gill for sharing her tips and tricks! I have another post from her coming soon that includes a tasty recipe that I am very much looking forward to making and sharing with you!

Make sure to check Gill’s Instagram out as she is always posting gorgeous content!

Gill Murray / / Social: @gmmphotography


“You don’t take a photograph. You ask quietly to borrow it.” (Unknown)

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