#avlfood: Instagram showcases Asheville’s food photography

PICTURE THIS: For local food businesses, Instagram can be an easy and compelling way to connect with the local community. Posting photographs on social media feeds also serves as an accessible means for businesses to expand their marketing beyond the Asheville area. Photos, from left to right, by Sarah Nicole Snyder, Jordan Hughes and Sam Moody

With Instagram being dubbed the most influential social marketing tool in 2015, it’s no wonder that Asheville’s most social media savvy businesses and individuals are photographing their most mouth-watering work and sharing it for the world to see. We spoke with professional photographers, bakers and social media masters to get the skinny on what goes into making a successful, food-focused online persona — and why being on Instagram matters.

Getting the shot

We’ve all seen those unappetizing pictures of food that were taken with a not-so-deft hand. So what is the secret to making that plate of pasta look as good on camera as it tastes? Sarah Snyder, photographer, baker at Old Europe Cafe and blogger at formationsofmentalobjects.com, says that photographing food isn’t all that much different from photographing a face, in that not all angles are going to work. “I think the key is daylight,” she adds. “I’ll put the food up to a window and let natural light show how the bread is caramelized and how the colors naturally look.”

Photo taken by Nicole McConville for Tara Jensen's Instagram feed, @bakerhands.
Photo taken by Nicole McConville for Tara Jensen’s Instagram feed, @bakerhands.

Composition is also a consideration. “I think also putting the food in context is important,” Snyder says. “You aren’t just photographing a muffin on a plate, but you’re photographing it with the knife placed there and with the coffee cup in the corner.”

Professional photographer Johnny Autry focuses primarily on food photography and has had his photos published in Bon Appetit and Cooking Light magazines. His Instagram feed features photos ranging from professional shoots to what he’s eating for dinner. “My interest in food has changed a lot since I started,” he says. “I’m really focused on the stories surrounding our food culture. Why people do what they do, how they are influenced and how their experiences affect their craft. Food is really just calories, but it’s become a huge part of the way we communicate — especially in the social media age.”

Building a business

While most people use social media for fun, for businesses, it’s often their biggest marketing tool. Tara Jenson, owner of Smoke Signals Bakery in Marshall, can testify to the efficacy of Instagram in terms of bringing in customers and connections. “I teach workshops, and I generally only post them to Instagram,” she says. “People from all over the country have been coming out to Marshall, which is really exciting. So I think having a national and even international reach has really been great as a business, and personally too.”

Similarly, Vortex Doughnuts in Asheville uses social media as its sole form of advertising. Sam Moody, Vortex’s social media coordinator and barista, says the strategy has worked well. “I think it’s incredible how many people we are able to reach via social media,” he says. “It’s a sort of magical thing when we have people walk through our door for the first time who live on the other side of the country, and they recognize our employees, our products and already have a good sense of our business. All from our Instagram.”

Jordan Hughes, creative director for Wicked Weed Brewing, points out yet another reason why businesses should be making the best of their Instagram feeds. “Today’s craft beer drinkers use social media as their newspaper,” he says. “The biggest news, the coolest posts, the craziest beer news bombshells are all dropped into social media accounts.”

Finding community and best practices

In addition to drawing in customers and admirers, foodies make friends on Instagram. Because of Jenson’s rural locale, she says, Instagram is the primary way that she ends up talking with people on a day-to-day basis. “There’s a pretty strong culture of bread bakers on Instagram, and we all keep in touch,” she says. “Often if there is a problem going on with my bread, I can post something and immediately get responses from people who are in the UK or in Australia.”

Snyder points to Asheville Folk, a local Instagram powerhouse and social-meetup group focused on the arts, as a big source of the community she has found on- and off-line. “It’s kind of like having a little cheerleading squad,” she says.

Photo by Johnny Autry for his Instagram feed, @thieving_photons
Photo by Johnny Autry for his Instagram feed, @thieving_photons

Whether they are running a business or simply sharing their art, most of those interviewed had some guidelines. Jenson advises that Instagrammers keep their photos focused. “Stay authentic to the content of your life,” she says. “Post primarily about your goods, so it’s not all over the place.”

Moody confirms that consistency is key. “You want people to recognize your photos before they even read who is posting them,” she says. “I try and do this for Vortex by using the same photo filter and editing process for every post made. You can make people feel welcomed into your establishment from five states away, all from the tone of your Internet presence.”

Hughes reminds people that it isn’t all about your number of followers. “The word I use most often is ‘engagement.’ It does not behoove anyone to have hundreds or even thousands of followers and not provide them with content that is worth their time,” he says. “You got them to follow you, now make it stick. As it relates to Instagram, content is king, if your photo or video is well-done, you’ve won half the battle.”

The beauty of Instagram, says Hughes, is that it is accessible. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of money, a fancy camera, Photoshop programs or anything like that to create interesting and engaging content for your followers,” he says. “All that it takes is some wherewithal, and to actually care about the work you’re doing, because it’s very important.”

And Autry rightly points that half the fun of Instagram is seeing what others are up to. “I use Instagram mainly for my own personal inspiration,” he says. “I don’t spend any time thinking about getting followers or what people might like. I’m still blown away at the access you have to people you admire. There are amazing artists using Instagram. It’s fascinating to see what interests them.”

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About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is a freelance writer who likes to write stories about music, art, food, wellness and interesting locals doing interesting things.

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2 thoughts on “#avlfood: Instagram showcases Asheville’s food photography

  1. OGB

    Tara Jenson’s instagram is @bakerhands (not @bakershands, as it was written in the Feeds to follow section). She has a beautiful gallery, and shouldnt be missed!

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