How An Influencer Gets The Perfect Food Photos

Alex Jewell (@bestfoodalex) explains how he shapes his Instagram photos through his voice.

Alex Jewell is a Chicago-based lead software engineer in institutional blockchain, finance, and decentralized technology by day, but in his spare time, he's a local food influencer on Instagram who goes by the handle @bestfoodalex. He previously gave us the lowdown on how influencers make money, how much he makes, and how the finances work behind it all.

In this installment, Jewell told us what approach he takes with his photography, how he shoots in restaurants, and how he curates his style to meet the expectations he's set with his followers over the years. His photos are unabashedly of calorie-heavy food designed to make you drool, popping with color, and no matter how you feel about them, they are really hard to look away from. Here's how he hones his personal influencing aesthetic.

The Takeout: How would you describe your social media vibe? Who is your audience, and who are you?

Alex Jewell: In terms of my brand, what's always done the best is food porn. The ooey gooey messy, high calorie, not trying to cut things out-type stuff. Even in terms with how I shoot my content, the visuals align with that. It's very in your face, it's very bold. And in terms of my voice, I use a lot of innuendos, edgier jokes, and I tie all that together.

My audience is different categories of people who engage with that. I have everybody from people who have really strict diets, that follow me as sort of their porn, to people who actually eat like this every day. A lot of food industry professionals follow me as well. I have a lot of chefs and industry worker followers, I formed a lot of those great relationships throughout the way. What I post every day resonates with what they do every day, and their lifestyles.

And I also have sort of the Chicagoan who wants to rediscover their city to see what's out there other than like, the two places they go, and I have a lot of tourists. I have a lot of Midwestern tourists that come to Chicago, maybe on the weekend, and then I have sort of that outer circle of New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, those people from other cities that might make a larger journey to get here. They follow me for that content for when they do come.

TO: Do you edit your photos a lot?

AJ: Yeah, but it's all on my phone. I have editing down to a pretty quick science. Essentially what I'm doing is I'm brightening, I'm adding contrast, I'm increasing detail, and sharpening. Very rarely, I'll brush. If one part is overexposed and one part isn't, I'll lighten one part and darken the other. Most pictures I'm spending only a few minutes editing.

TO: Do you use special photography equipment so it's easier for you to not have to edit it later?

AJ: It's just my phone. Lighting is everything, though, and I'm using traditional photography principles. Where the light's coming from, the golden ratio, making sure how I'm framing things as to where the light is coming from.

In darker scenarios, if it starts to get to be winter and I'm doing dinner, I have handheld LEDs that are meant for DSLR cameras, but I bring just the LEDs and I use those with my phone.

TO: Do other diners get annoyed when you do that?

AJ: I'm really cognizant of other people at a restaurant, so I'll do my best. I won't shine a light in people's faces, I pay attention to where mirrors are. I'm sure it's caught a couple people off guard when they see me doing it [taking photos and video], but I'm looking for those corners where I can get a pretty good background.

I'm not usually doing this next to anybody else unless it's a smaller space. But it probably has raised questions in people's heads when they see it.

TO: How long does it take to capture what you want?

AJ: I try to move quickly. I take a lot of pictures, hundreds of pictures for one meal. But I've been doing it for so long that I know what I'm looking for.

My wife, Jordin, will help me. She does a lot of the magic of what I'm shooting in terms of the cheese pulls, she'll lift pasta up, she'll pull things apart. We'll look at the food as it comes to the table and determine in order what those actions are going to be. Then we'll take the still content before we destroy things, and then we'll take the content of destroying things, then we'll eat it. We have it down to a system. So it could be anywhere from five to 15 minutes of shooting content before we eat.

TO: Does your food get cold when you're out to eat at a restaurant?

AJ: [Laughs] does happen for sure. Sometimes it's embarrassing, where a chef or an owner will come out, and they'll bring you the food and won't realize you're about to spend a good number of minutes just shooting it. And then they're just standing there going, "Well, eat it soon!" You definitely get used to cold food sometimes.

TO: Do you get eye rolls from the chef, or do other people openly give you disdain?

AJ: Very rarely do you get that from the chefs or the owners, because they know what you're doing. You're doing it for them. Other patrons that will either are like, curious, or, like annoyed that you exist. It's usually one or the other.

The curiosity is sometimes good. Sometimes people will ask, "Are you guys influencers or something?" And then you open up a conversation, and they follow you, and grows audiences too if you're able to start a conversation with people around you.