Snap first. Scoff second.

Snap first. Scoff second.

Food photographer Sherlock Yiu shares his top tips for making your plate pics look delicious

Most Hongkongers live by the rule that when their food arrives at the table, no matter how long it took or how badly their stomach is grumbling, the first thing to do is take a photo of it. Only then can you chow down.

But to the Instagram community's disappointment, those photos don't always live up to the mouth-watering descriptions that accompany them, nor do they do justice to the chef's mastery.

Your smartphone won't produce the same results as a digital camera, but there's a lot you can do to improve your photos.

Here, professional photographer Sherlock Yiu shares some useful tips. He's the man behind the cookbooks written by Lisa Fong - better known as Fong Tai in her popular cookery show - and local pop idol Stephy Tang Lai-yan.

Know the star of your dish

You have to recognise what makes the food special, then make that the focus of your image.

For example, Yiu says, when you're photographing a chocolate lava cake, you should cut into the dessert and capture the delightful moment when the warm chocolate sauce oozes out. If you're having Chinese soup, make sure the bowl is only half full so you can still see the ingredients - such as the pork ribs, carrots and wood ear fungus.

Soupy, mushy or brown-coloured foods make even the pros miserable. Yiu's trick is to garnish Indian curries with coconut milk and herbs, to form a contrast with the plain colour. Another good idea is to shoot cream-based soup dripping off a spoon, so there's a focal point.

Get the light right

Indirect natural daylight is a photographer's best friend.

"The sun makes your food look soft and elegant," says Yiu. "That's why it's always a good idea to place your dish by the window."

But sunshine can also create harsh shadows. Professionals place reflectors on the other side of the light source, to bring the light back into the picture. But Yiu says anything white will do the same trick - be it a piece of paper, a napkin or your friend's white shirt.

If you're dining in a dimly lit Italian bistro, don't use the flash on your phone's camera. Instead, Yiu suggests asking a friend to aim their built-in torch at the food from behind, at a 45-degree angle.

"This will mimic sun rays coming in through the window, and add texture to your food," he says. "If you shoot with a flash, your pictures will likely come out foggy."

Think about the angle

With smartphones, Yiu suggests doing close-ups of your food to make the details stand out, while the background is blurred. Says Yiu: "The impact is greater [than it would be with a] wide shot."

And don't limit yourself to one angle. Shoot overhead when you're eating something well-arranged and decorated, like airline meals and multi-course Japanese dinners with a dozen side dishes. Tall dishes such as parfaits, burgers and pancakes look best from the side because you want to see the height and layers.

Stage your food

Use props - or whatever you have on the table - to fill the negative space, add colour and give your dish some character. If you're eating out, arrange candles, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers and your drink around your dish. If you're at home, add extra garnishes (such as fresh herbs) or raw or whole ingredients - for example, a pumpkin behind a bowl of pumpkin soup.

Remember, though, the focus is always on the food. Don't let the props steal the limelight.

Last but not least, keep the backdrop clean and simple.

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