Nick Anderson, aka @forkinpancakes - the popular breakfast-centric Instagram account - tells #EnsemblExchange to turn off those horrible yellow kitchen lights when taking food photos, how to bring out the beauty in food, and why cinnamon rolls will be the last breakfast he eats.
A few years ago, in our eternal quest to find beautiful food, we stumbled across Nick’s Anderson’s work, and we’ve been inspired by his mouth-watering photos of breakfast classics ever since. Ensembl was lucky enough to sit down with Nick, an engineer-turned-photographer and the creator of the blog and Instagram account Forkin’ Pancakes, to chat about his journey from engineer to photographer, his work today, and the rise of Insta-food. He also shared his top five tips for taking better food photos.
Tips from Nick Anderson.
Better food photography in five steps.
1. Get the right light. Turn off your kitchen lights (the yellow light will negatively impact the photo every time) and consider using a light box.
2. Clean up. To make the dish look as neat as possible, so make sure you clean the edges of your plate, wipe up any spills, get rid of crumbs, etc.
3. Eliminate distractions. Try not to have too many distractions in the photo – like too many cups or dishes, non-essential utensils, or crumpled clothes. You want the focus to be on the food.
4. Perfect composition. How much of the photo includes the food versus an empty space? Play around to find the right composition and balance.
5. Practice. Practice as much as you can. Shoot every day. Ask questions. And then focus on your skills and what can make you better and better each day.
Our conversation with Nick.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started Instagramming food?
I’m from Chicago, and currently living there, but I started by food experience in Colorado.
I studied mechanical engineering in college, and got my first job in Colorado. I found the day to day work of an engineer to be filled with more monotonous tasks than exciting problem solving, and so I looked to photography as a way to challenge myself every day and pursue something creative. I’ve been a bit of a photography nerd since college, and I wanted to get more into the hobby.
I started to get into landscape photography, as Colorado has beautiful landscapes, but I found that it was more challenging than I expected to capture the shots I wanted. I really wanted to work on shooting sunrise and sunset, but I found I was spending more time racing through traffic trying to catch the right light: timing can be rough, traffic can be bad, where you’re getting to is challenging. It hurt inside when I would miss that golden hour, and more often than not, I would see the perfect light from the car and know I was not going to make it to get my shot.
I started to think of other things I could photograph, and decided to turn my attention to something I could do every single day within the confines of my own home – so I started shooting food.
When I started posting, my goal was to post something every day. In the course of two years I’ve been able to figure out what I like shooting, what works and what doesn’t, and how I can make things better. I’ve not taken a single class in photography, so I’ve use the Instagram community, plus video tutorials and technique blogs to get help and tips.
Since I started sharing photos on Instagram, I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, and I kept thinking I didn’t want to wait until I was retired – probably 40 years from now – to do what I really want to do. Why couldn’t I just do that now? So I decided to take a huge leap – photography makes me happy so I left engineering to pursue photography full time. The company I work for, Greenridges Farms, actually found me through Instagram, and I now work for them in Chicago doing full time food photography and videography. And I’ve kept my Instagram and blog going for fun.
That’s an incredible story. In your switch to food photography, what made you decide to focus on breakfast food?
You can have pancakes for dinner, but not spaghetti for breakfast.
My mom has cooked breakfast for since I was little, and I now really enjoy making a good breakfast, sitting with a good cup of coffee, and enjoying the morning. I don’t think I’ve missed breakfast in 28 years!
Why does sharing photos of your food make you happy?
I definitely get a feeling of satisfaction from posting something, but also because I can look back and see how I have improved and how I can improve. The way that sharing helps me to constantly improve my photography makes me happy to keep sharing photos.
Why do you think people like to look at pictures of food on Instagram? Is it just that they like seeing pretty pictures? Or is there something there that is more intrinsic?
It gives them an idea of what a dish could look like, and provides inspiration.
I think there is also a productive value to scrolling through Instagram, as it can help you decide what to make that night for dinner, or give you ideas for meal prep.
When you’re creating food to share, how much focus is put into making something that tastes great, vs making something that looks great?
When I’m making food for my blog and Instagram, my goal is to make it taste and look good – and that starts with using good ingredients, and making sure I’m using a good recipe. Of course sometimes I make delicious food that doesn’t look as picture perfect – but I don’t share those photos on my account!
What do you do if you want to improve the aesthetic of a photo?
To improve the aesthetic, try to make the dish and its surroundings look as neat as possible. Try to get rid of distractions, like utensils or a crumpled cloth. Make sure you clean up the plate; get rid of crumbs or any spills. The goal is to focus on the beauty of the food.
Some feel that Instagram has downgraded the cooking/dining experience. People are more obsessed with taking a picture rather than eating the food. Your thoughts?
I think on Instagram you need to catch someone’s attention very fast, so you need to capture one spectacular shot. But in doing that you miss out on the process of cooking and you lose some of the cooking experience. I think it’s important to remember the journey you take to make that dish.
It feels like food porn is a phrase that has become popular in the Insta-era. But watching porn has negative connotations associated with it. Like something you should not do but you do anyways. How do you interpret the phrase “food porn”?
I think of the term food porn is used as a way to describe food that looks beautiful and mouthwatering that is made with decadent and indulgent ingredients. For example, a massive stack of pancakes served with warm butter and a cascading flow of maple syrup – that’s not a healthy breakfast, that’s food porn.
What is your favourite Insta-post? What makes it your favourite?
I love making cinnamon rolls – the entire process of making cinnamon rolls is so great, and it makes your house smell good. On August 3 I did just the cinnamon rolls, all in a circle, and that photo is perfect. The swirls provide a lot of detail, and there is a drizzle on top. There are no distractions at all, just a photo of cinnamon rolls in their entirety. I love that.
What makes a really good Instagram food post?
It’s got to be delicious. It needs to look good. It’s got to be mouth-watering. It needs to tell a story.
Like, if I’m drizzling chocolate, I’ll leave a spoon in the bowl, I’ll show the berries and whipped cream. It needs to feel natural and you need to see that there is a real process, using real food and quality ingredients.
What are the things you care about when taking the photo?
Try not to have too many distractions in the photo – like too many cups or dishes, you want the focus to be on the food. You need to focus on the detail of the food.
Next, really think about composition – how much of the photo includes the food versus an empty space. I don’t know what the exact ratio is, but that’s something I play around with to find the right composition and balance.
What are strict no-nos of Instagramming food?
Don’t use your kitchen lights – turn those off! It’s yellow, nasty light. Don’t use them.
Any words of advice on how to become an Instagram food photographer?
Practice as much as you can. Shoot every day. Ask questions – there are no dumb questions. Ever! And then focus on your skills, focus on the little things that can take you to the next level, and what can make you better and better each day.
Final question - It’s your last breakfast on earth: what are you making? And what does the photo look like?
I’m for sure making cinnamon rolls. It’s the last breakfast, and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of the morning and make my house smell amazing. I’m going to enjoy all of it. The taste, the gooeyness, the softness of the roll – all of it. And of course I’ll be taking a photo for Instagram.
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