Instagram Masterclass with Matt Inwood: Wednesday 24 May 2017
24 June 2017
This is a report written by Joan Ransley of the Guild’s Instagram Masterclass, which took place on Wednesday 24 May 2017, from 10am to 2pm in the Old Library Bar at The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BU
If you see someone taking a photograph of a delicious plate of food in a restaurant using a mobile phone, the chances are it will be uploaded in an instant onto the powerful social media platform known as Instagram. Instagram is where one billion mobile phone users share images and thoughts about anything from a beautiful cat to a freshly baked cake.
Instagram is an increasingly popular way for food writers to promote themselves and their work. It has the power to connect writers to publishers, agents, celebrities and food brands simply by posting images and words enticing enough to catch their eye. Interest in an Instagram post can be acknowledged through ‘likes’, ’comments’, ’reposts’ and ‘direct messages’ which provides the opportunity for connections to be made and relationships to develop.
Some users of Instagram have become so skilled at using the app it has become a key tool in their creative work. One such person is art director and designer Matt Inwood (@matt_inwood). Matt’s background is in book design, specifically cookery books, with over 15 years’ experience with one of the UK’s leading independent food publishers working with the best photographers and writers in the field.
Matt began his Instagram feed in 2013 and uses it to share his passion for food and photography as well as connecting with business clients. He has over 16,000 followers and most days he posts an image which entrances his followers. It might be an image of a dish he has just cooked for his daughters’ lunch, his gorgeous cat, some raw ingredients being prepped up for dinner or a favourite recipe cooked for friends. Matt’s set up is simple. He uses the native iPhone camera, a few well chosen props and some lovely backgrounds to create stunning images. His style has been described as moody, graphic and edgy.
Our workshop began with Matt delivering a well structured and beautifully illustrated presentation, which included an overview of the features of the Instagram app including why use it, how to develop a style, the best ways of styling, taking and editing images, before we moved on to a practical workshop and lunch.
Instagram is a beautiful visual medium, which works well with captions to accompany images. As food writers we should be quite good at composing the captions but creating impactful images is where many of us need help.
The majority of Matt’s images posted on Instagram are quick and easy to execute. They are shot directly overhead or front on to a scene. Drawing on his background as a designer Matt sees his photographs deconstructed into a series of shapes, for example, a plate of food is a circle inside a square, a tray of flapjacks is a series of tightly packed rectangles. This offers a strong template for a striking image. He also thinks carefully about the impact of using extremes of light and dark and contrasting colours and textures.
To create a good Instagram feed you need to be familiar with the features the app has to offer including the type of account to set up and the importance of creating an eye catching image gallery. For many visitors to an Instagram profile the gallery view will be the only part of the profile anyone looks at so a good name and biography are crucial. It is worth spending time on learning how to share posts from Instagram to other social media platforms such as Twitter, tag other people, add a Geotag and use ephemeral 24-hour Instagram stories. These are all ways to showcase your work and be visible to a wider audience.
Many food writers are very good cooks and have a deep appreciation of beautiful food. Images relating to food provide perfect material to share on Instagram enabling food writers to interact with those that share the same interests. Using Instagram can put you within reach of a wider community of family, friends, and other professional food lovers including your favourite food writers, food experts and TV chefs.
Finding your style
Having your own distinctive visual style is an important way of building up followers on Instagram. Exploring the work of other Instagrammers can also help you to develop this. Matt advised finding people whose work you like. Study it and try to work out how they have achieved the look they have and then try to emulate it.
The truth is you will never be able to replicate what you admire in others exactly because the light where you take your photographs will be different, you won’t have the same props, the way you prepare your food will differ but it will help you to explore what you like and to develop your unique style.
It is important to review the images you create so that you can improve the elements of the image you may not be happy with and to celebrate those elements you really like.
It is worth taking a look at the work of photographers that influenced Matt’s style including Christian Barnett (@crisbarnett), David Loftus (@davidloftus), Mike Cooper (@mike_cooper_food) and Jean Cazals (@jeancazals). For example, there is a lot to learn from David Loftus’s beautiful choice of colour, sharp detail and shallow depth of field and Jean Cazal’s heightened graphic look and razor sharp attention to detail, which produces a photograph akin to a finished work of art.
How to photograph and style food
One of the most important parts of taking a striking image is to find some good light. For most food photographers this means available daylight. Not too bright and not too dark – just enough to illuminate the food you are photographing. A great place is close to a window facing either north or south east.
If a plate of food needs more light you can make a simple reflector from a piece of card covered in aluminium foil and use this to bounce light back onto the plate, illuminating any details you want to show. Or if the light is too strong a sheet of greaseproof paper positioned between the window and the subject of the photograph can work well to diffuse bright light.
There are some really simple things that can be done to improve the look of a photograph including straightening up lines, holding the phone directly over the scene and making sure the vertical and horizontal planes are lined up correctly.
To get a perfectly focussed image the camera has to be steady. A simple tap on the phone’s screen to focus on a part of an image can make all the difference. Learning how to use the camera on a mobile phone can improve the exposure, focus and composition of the photographs you take.
Matt keeps styling food for his Instagram feed simple but beautiful. His food is well prepared, colourful and appetising. The food served is in proportion to the plate or dish it is presented on. He does not try to make the food look too perfect and explains sometimes a little mess can add to the ‘story telling’ of a photograph, for example, how a dish is prepared or eaten.
There are some composition ‘rules’ that can help to guide how food is placed within a the frame of a photograph, for example, the ‘rule of thirds’ and arranging components to be photographed in odd rather than even numbers.
Aged wood, slate, mid-tone grey surfaces, veined marble and metal can all provide a beautiful background for photographing food. Matt advised using plain backgrounds with enough surface texture to provide interest, but you can put to good use anything from an interesting old floor tile, a cushion and even a shirt if it fits the look of what you are trying to achieve.
Having taken a photograph on a mobile phone there is so much more that can be done to make the best of it. To begin, check to see if the image needs to be straightened. This can be corrected easily using the editing app that comes with the phone.
Then the image can be uploaded from your phone’s photo library to Instagram. From here it can be edited further. Matt advised against using the preset filters in the Instagram editing suite, but rather prefers using the individual controls in the editing section of the app, which enable an image to be lightened or darkened and a vignette to be added for example.
With each image posted on Instagram there is the opportunity to write a caption. There are some wonderful examples of Instagrammers doing this well. For example, Ros (@her_dark_materials) provides witty, evocative captions to her beautiful stream of dark-toned food images. Here food writers have the chance to excel.
Finally, Matt guided us through creating the best hashtags for images to help improve their visibility to a wider audience.
It takes time to find a style that works and to achieve consistent results. There will be a big gap between the number of photos you take and the number shared on Instagram. Matt advised sharing just the best images you take and saving others you like for another time.
Having listened to Matt’s inspiring presentation we all had the opportunity to put into practice what we had learned. The Cinnamon Club had prepared a number of beautiful, small dishes of food for us to photograph as well as a variety of interesting ingredients.
Sophie Purser of Woodrow Studios (@woodrow_studios) brought a range of lightweight backgrounds for us to use. These are also available online (details below).
Matt circulated and helped any of us that needed assistance he also answered any questions we had.
The images we took and uploaded onto Instagram during the workshop can be viewed by searching Instagram for the following hashtag #GFWMasterclass.
This was one of the best practical workshops I have attended with the Guild of Food Writers. Matt was an inspiring, engaging speaker and generous with his knowledge and experience.
Thanks also to:
Sophie Purser of Woodrow Studios for providing us each with a beautiful background board to take away; the committee members who organised this workshop and to the Cinnamon Club for hosting it.
To follow Matt on Instagram @matt_inwood
To follow Matt on Twitter @matt_inwood
To follow Woodrow Studios on Instagram @woodrow_studios
© Joan Ransley 2017
Photographs © Joan Ransley 2017