Heidi Robb has styled images for big clients, including Vitamix and Nestlé. Now, she’s here to help you take swoon-worthy Instagram photos. By Janet Lueken
Photo: Nathan Dreimiller
Peek at Heidi Robb’s Instagram feed and you’ll be drooling—food pun intended—over her photos within seconds.
Robb, a professional food stylist based in Cleveland, has the gift of making the simplest food items look like a work of art: A close-up of a cup of lobster stew from a recent trip to Maine, for example, attracted more than 200 likes. The image captures red hues and meatiness of the lobster, while a single spoon rests against the white bowl, perched atop a blue tabletop.
That kind of eye for food imagery comes naturally to Robb after more than 30 years in the food industry. When Moxie opened in Beachwood, Robb served as its pastry chef before starting a catering business with Karen Gorman, owner of Chagrin Falls’ Crumb and Spigot.
Ten years ago, Robb had the chance to work with Michael Symon on his cookbook, “Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen,” and to later assist a food stylist who was working on a Food Network show, Dear Food Network, with the Cleveland-based chef.
“Honest to goodness, I had no idea what a food stylist was [at the time],” Robb says with a laugh. “I always worked in the food industry and yet, I didn’t know. I never thought beyond the picture. I thought the chef was always there—I never realized a food stylist was a job.”
After working with the food stylist for a week, Robb says she knew it was what she wanted to do forever. Robb would go on to move to New York, working on the Martha Stewart’s “Mad Hungry,” and later, move back to Cleveland while continuing to work with clients such as Vitamix, Nestlé, and Steelite International, to name just a few of them.
But you don’t have to work with big clients—or have all-star experience—to style and take images like Robb. Here, Robb shares her top five tips for Instagram-worthy food images.
- Use natural lighting.
Robb recommends taking advantage of natural light and photographing food near or beside windows whenever possible. Move around with the plate of food and take multiple pictures of it in different lighting to see what works best. (And try to snap shots in the early morning or evening light, Rob instructs, when that natural light is at its softest and most diffused.)
If you’re in a restaurant and you know you want to take pictures, then ask to be seated next to the natural light source, says Robb. “It doesn’t do anybody any good to take a picture of their food in terrible lighting,” she says; restaurants will usually, happily accommodate you.
- Follow other food feeds to gain inspiration.
You can hone your foodie photography eye by following other feeds you like for inspiration, Robb suggests. Compare the sites you follow and see if you’re attracted to a certain style—and if so, try to figure out what kind of lighting or filter the photographer is using, she says.
Robb says she follows many New York- and U.K.-based feeds to “keep on trend.” And she adds that, “what I like from the U.K. [feeds] is that the food feels more real and natural.”
- Introduce cooking techniques to your photos.
Instead of just focusing on the finished product, mix in some photos of the cooking process, Robb suggests. Set a goal to post one or two of your best photos a day—and take advantage of the slideshow option or post more of the spontaneous moments to your stories, she says.
“The storytelling is more interesting than the finished item,” Robb says. So, “if you’re making pasta, show how you’re making it—the ingredients or the mess left from prep.”
- Take photos of food at its peak.
Make sure the food you are photographing is the best version of itself—when it’s freshest. So, if you’re taking photos of hot food, make sure the food looks hot—with steam or other signs of heat, Robb says. For example, she says, a photograph of cheese on a burger should look gooey and melty, not congealed, while a photo with oil should look glossy, not flat.
“The best food photo is food that is appetizing at its peak, luscious moment,” explains Robb.
- Use dishware that complements your food.
Food always looks good on a white plate, says Robb. (You should think of a white plate as a blank canvas for your food.) Then, additional interest around the plate—such as a sprinkle of salt or smattering of fresh herbs.
“I don’t use a lot of cutlery in my Instagram,” Robb says. “Focus [instead] on the texture in the food. Know who your hero is, which is your food.”