5 things I learned from an Instagram photo challenge

From the top left all the way around are my 12 photos chronologically from this challenge.

I stopped photographing food a few months ago. I was exhausted, frustrated, and felt like giving up completely. I almost completely stopped cooking.

One day, as I scrolled through my Instagram full of pretty food images, I saw The Little Plantation’s post about a month-long 3 times per week Instagram challenge. I signed up and committed to posting three times every week, based on each post’s theme.

 My expectations

I expected to be challenged and work on my food photography.

I didn’t expect it to be one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever been a part of.

I didn’t expect most of the other participants to be professionals. Their composition, staging, and storytelling far exceeded mine. Frankly, it was terrifying.

I also didn’t expect to feel like part of a community. I began following some of the participants, commenting on their images, and receiving nice, supportive comments in return. Everyone was incredibly supportive.

So what did I learn after taking pictures three times a week for a month?

What I learned

After I posted the chili image and viewed the other’s posts, I knew I had to step up my food photography game. After the first week, a dear friend of mine lent me her Canon EOS Rebel T3. Up until that point, I had been using my LG G4 set to Manual camera mode. Using this DSLR camera was tricky but it helped my photography immensely.

The biggest lessons I learned throughout this challenge:

  • Conscious planning
  • Angles are important
  • Don’t rush it
  • Rule of thirds
  • Multiple takes
  • Above all, application of theory and tips

Conscious planning

Before this challenge, I picked up and read a few food photography books like “Food Styling,” “Food Photography for Bloggers,” and countless online articles. Theoretically speaking, I knew a fair amount but I hadn’t yet translated that knowledge into my photos. With this challenge and this article, I began consciously planning and imagining how I could plate and set the scene for each photo. With this plan in mind, I decided on an angle to begin with and props to use.

Angles are important

It continues to amaze me how much the correct (and incorrect) angle can affect a photo and how tasty the food appears. Once I began thinking about the food I was shooting and its best parts, it became easier to choose the proper angle. For high foods like tiered cakes, burgers, and beautifully decorated cupcakes, a straight on angle will work much better than an overhead shot. Overhead shots work when you have many elements in a photo or when you want to shoot an “ingredients/process” photo like my Kale Salad photo.

Don’t rush it

On the days when I had time to play around during the shoot, choosing different angles, trading out props and finessing the layout, my images turned out much better. Every image in this challenge that was completed quickly suffered for it. Some of these images took me 3 hours from food prepping and cooking to shooting. But they are some of my best images, like the cheese board and book photo, the lemon dessert, and the Kale salad photo.

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most important (at least for beginners) rules in photography. This 9 square grid imagined over photos should help with composition. The four intersecting points in the middle of the grid are where the eye naturally looks. Using this rule, one can begin styling the photo in an appealing way. Most food photography tips will tell you to imagine this grid over your subject. I personally have a difficult time imagining this grid. Instead of trying to imagine this grid breaking up my photo into separate parts, I turned on the grid setting on the camera’s screen, instead of looking through the viewfinder, to help me better visualize and practice this rule.

Multiple takes

It can be so easy to become stuck on creating the image you imagined in your head that you stop looking for alternatives. Shooting images with a variety of angles and props can help you see what works and what doesn’t more clearly. When I became stuck and frustrated, I forced myself to step away, take a break, and try again in an hour or two. Usually I was able to see the dish from another angle. Not every take or angle will be glorious but being able to see the dish from multiple angles helps create something truly original.

Above all, I am grateful I took part in this challenge. It helped me apply the theory and tips I had read countless times. The theory and tips don’t help unless you practice applying them yourself; that was the hardest lesson for me.

Check out some of my new Instagram friends: @zuzazakcooks, @simplyveganblog (also here), @theflouredtable, @sandywood. To see other participants’ images, type in #12gridproject on Instagram.

Have you taken part in a photography challenge before? If so, what did you learn?



10 Comments Add yours

  1. Great lessons! I think it is important to practice things regularly to get better but give yourself a break if it becomes too much. Learning should be challenging and fun but not stressful. Thanks for sharing your tips and learnings. I think we can all benefit from them.


    1. Tiffany says:

      Thank you! This challenge was incredibly helpful.


  2. Such a sweet blog post Tifanny. Thank you for participating and for sharing your learning journey. Big hug,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your blog is amazing I love it.


  4. Jere Cassidy says:

    Thanks for this helpful post. Photographing food is a challenge, you has really good pointers.


    1. Tiffany says:

      Thank you, it certainly is difficult.


  5. inspiredmrsb says:

    Love this post. An instagram challenge sounds fun. I feel like it would motivate me to step my game up. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tiffany says:

      You’re welcome! I really enjoyed the challenge!


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