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Here's My Lunch. Want to See My Dinner?

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Photograph by Evan Sung/Bloomberg
Photograph by Evan Sung/Bloomberg

Maybe it's you. Maybe the oversaturated Instagrams of your friends' food really are kind of interesting.

Or maybe your friends just need a little advice from a professional food photographer.

"It's easier to make food look bad than it is to make it look good," says Karen Schuld , who has worked for companies such as Starbucks and Kraft. "You have to have a good sense of what to look for."

Most important: lighting. "You need a single, really good-quality light source that's reminiscent of the sun," says an ambitious Derek Richmond , who is based in New York and Chicago. Trying to re-create sunlight through overexposure with a washed-out filter is less likely to make food look dreamy and sun-drenched than to suggest the moments after a nuclear explosion.

"There's really no replacing natural light, especially when you're shooting with an iPhone," says Daniel Krieger , who works with chefs including Tom Colicchio and David Chang.

Ambiance! Food needs context. "A great food photo is about the setting," says Penny De Los Santos , a senior contributing photographer for Saveur magazine. "I think most still lifes of plain, direct food are kind of boring." Which makes the better story -- the dinner menu or the dinner party?

"Back off a bit," says Richmond. "See the plate. See the experience. Is it a red wine? White? Are we drinking beer with this? That's what's seductive about it. The food is the star, but the photograph takes you to a place."

Yes, let's not forget about the food. "The food has to be beautiful to begin with," says De Los Santos. "Fresh produce, however it's prepared or cooked, is almost always going to be 100% beautiful." It's enough to make you wish you were fresh produce.

Krieger recommends pizza. "It's universal, and it's easy to photograph," he says. "You have symmetry. And then you can remove a slice a little bit to break it up."

So, shoot pretty food in good light from a step or two away. Send this to your friends. See if the Instagrams get better. Or if you have fewer friends.

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