2015 Best Nine on Instagram | Behind My Best Nine


I almost didn’t finish writing this post because I found myself critiquing every flaw in my 2015 best nine photos on Instagram–it was starting to read like a list of my 2015 worst nine. Eek! However, one of my personal resolutions is to accept my mistakes and go forward from the experiences, instead of obsessing, and to focus on the positive!

My 2015 best nine was all photos of food, which came as no surprise to me. Since I get asked about my photo process pretty often, I decided to share some notes about my photo set ups and styling for each of my top nine photos. I don’t claim to be an expert and there’s always room for improvement, but hopefully these notes will be useful to somebody out there! 🙂 

I don’t remember everything about each photo set up, but I’ll share as much as I can recall. I generally use Lightroom to edit my DSLR photos, and Snapseed (and some of Instagram’s editing features) for my phone photos. As for food styling, I usually try go into a recipe shoot with a clear vision of the scene/mood I want to convey, but also, half the time, I don’t know what I want to do until I’m looking into the camera.

My best advice is to always try to be prepared with ideas and a sense of the feeling you want to convey, but also be open to making styling changes up until the last minute! Sometimes it’s that last drizzle of sauce or sprinkling of herbs that pulls the elements together. Then again, sometimes you have too much going on and you have to wipe up some sauce or what-have-you. I don’t know what’s going to work until I try it, so I often try a bunch of things and look to my camera for feedback!


Autumn Apple Pesto Pizza // my recipe 

SHOT WITH // iPhone 6

SET UP // old baking pan for surface / late afternoon / indoors / across from a north-facing window / diffused natural light (partially closed shades)

STYLING NOTES // Not much styling done here–I just cut the pizza and slightly rearranged the crumbs! I started experimenting with using old baking pans for my photos in 2015 and I just fell in love with the rustic surface they provide. The rustic feel was perfect for the autumn vibes I had going with this apple pizza.

POST-SHOOT EDITING // Snapseed + Instagram


Kimchi ‘Bella Burger // my recipe

SHOT WITH // Canon Rebel T5i / Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Lens

SET UP // white coffee table for surface / white poster board for background / late afternoon / indoors / across from a north-facing window / diffused natural light (partially closed shades)

STYLING NOTES // I cut my burger in half so that the filling could be emphasized. These things were LOADED–perfect food porn material! To keep them from falling apart, I used toothpicks. After securing each burger half, I stacked them on top of each other, and used another toothpick to secure them. Final step: drizzled avocado sauce and sprinkled toasted sesame seeds and scallions.



Kimchi Tofu Lettuce Wraps // my recipe

SHOT WITH // Canon Rebel T5i / Canon EF-S 18 – 55 mm (Kit Lens)

SET UP // white coffee table for surface / late afternoon / indoors / across from a north-facing window / diffused natural light (partially closed shades) / white poster board to reflect light

STYLING NOTES // My sister’s hands really make this shot. Some people don’t like having hands in frame, but I love them–it adds a sense of warmth and movement to the scene, and tells a story. These wraps are to be assembled as you eat, so it was important for me to show hands preparing them. Also, I took this while standing on a chair.



Homemade Granola + Parfait // recipe in progress

SHOT WITH // Canon Rebel T5i / Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Lens

SET UP // early afternoon / indoors / natural light

STYLING NOTES // This was a collab I did during my summer LA trip with my friend Krystle (The Minty Anne)! I learned from her that strawberry tops are totally edible, and they added fresh pops of green to our fruit parfait. This whole trip was like a dream…so wonderful! I think the vibrant colors and bokeh (achieved through my lens) reflect that. Shout out to my friend Lamson for hand-modeling with his luminous nails!

OTHER // Krystle and I took a ton of photos and even made a couple of videos for this collab. We had soo much fun hanging out and working together. We’ve had to put our collab on hold because we both have school and other more pressing projects, but we will be sharing our project in 2016, so stay tuned!



Berries + Chocolate // Rabbit Food Grocery

SHOT WITH // Canon Rebel T5i / Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Lens

SET UP // concrete floor surface / my studio classroom at UT Arlington / early evening / indoors / natural light

STYLING NOTES // This was taken for Vegan Mofo, and that day’s prompt was to post food inspired by a book. I knew I wanted to post something Harry Potter-related, so I chose Remus Lupin’s favorite food–chocolate. I was munching on berries and chocolate while working on a project at school, and I happened to have my whimsical giant tea cup with me to hold my snacks. Since I was going for a magical Hogwarts feel, I decided the floor reminded me of a castle, so I set my cup on the floor under my desk (to avoid direct light).

OTHER // I was actually surprised this photo was so well-received, because it was literally just berries and chocolate on the floor! It just goes to show, anything can be magical if you set your mind to it…or I guess I have a lot of fellow Harry Potter fans on my Instagram. 🙂 Funny story: a campus police officer walked in while I was taking this. He was concerned I had hurt myself, since I was crouched on the floor (under my desk). The chocolate was delicious, by the way–not too sweet, with a satisfying gooey center!

POST-SHOOT EDITING // Lightroom / I usually don’t mess too much with changing the colors in photos, but for this one, I turned up the blues and violets to get a magical feel.


Kimchi ‘Bella Burgers (again!) // my recipe

SHOT WITH // Canon Rebel T5i / Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Lens

SET UP // white coffee table for surface / late afternoon / indoors / across from a north-facing window / diffused natural light (partially closed shades) / white poster board to reflect light

STYLING NOTES // Again, to show the filling of these burgers, I cut them in half, and used toothpicks to keep them intact while shooting. Since the burgers themselves were messy enough, I wanted to present them minimally. I chose to put them on my white coffee table and placed some key ingredients around them to hint at the process of making them.

OTHER // Fragrant basil blossoms are edible (!), and they are lovely for styling too. Basil blossoms are only found on Thai basil, as far as I know.



Coconut Curry Quinoa + Mushrooms + Lemongrass + Roasted Cauliflower // my recipe

SHOT WITH // iPhone 6

SET UP // old baking pan for surface / early evening / outdoors

STYLING NOTES // I had a difficult time deciding how to style this one. I wanted a rustic fall mood, so I chose my old baking pan as the surface. I was inspired by The Minty Anne to add pomegranate arils to my curry dish, to add a surprising bright flavor and liven up the appearance. The drizzle of lemon coconut cream was a last minute decision, to balance the vibrance of all the other colors.

OTHER // It got too dark in my house on this day, so I moved my shoot to a shady spot outside. Luckily I had set up on my old baking pan, so the scene was quite portable. I used my Canon for most of the photos for the recipe, but I also like to use my iPhone to take test shots (especially square shots for Instagram), and I ended up liking this one a lot!

POST-SHOOT EDITING // Snapseed + Instagram


Vietnamese Vegan Feast // D’Vegan in Dallas

SHOT WITH // iPhone 6

SET UP // restaurant table for surface / late afternoon / indoors / artificial light

STYLING NOTES // When it comes to eating out, I’ve come to really love overhead food spread photos, with a variety of dishes and some hand modeling action! It makes things fun and tends to capture the atmosphere well. Here, my sister is digging into her bún bò Huế (spicy Vietnamese faux beef & lemongrass noodles). I told her to keep eating like normal, while I looked through my phone camera and arranged the surrounding dishes to my liking. If I’m with my sister or a close friend, I typically ask them to pause at least once so I can have a safety shot. Then I also continue to take several shots without interrupting the eating (LOL), with the hopes that one of them will turn out nicely. I’m often surprised with the results!

OTHER // I forgot to mention this previously, but with overhead shots, you can bet I was standing on my chair–I know it looks funny but to me, it’s worth it for the shot!

POST-SHOOT EDITING // Snapseed + VSCO (S2 Clean Filter)


Shredded Mushroom Bánh Mì  // my recipe

SHOT WITH // Canon Rebel T5i / Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Lens

SET UP // bamboo cutting board for surface / early afternoon / indoors / across from a north-facing window / diffused natural light (partially closed shades)

STYLING NOTES // I wanted to emphasize the bounty of fillings in this sandwich, so I chose to do a close up, rather than an overhead shot. I added some extra herbs and pickled carrots and daikon, and a small extra smear of paprika mayo on the edge of the sandwich. Some of the fillings spilled out while I was cutting the sandwich. I let them be and embraced them–messes can be beautiful! I think the messy abundance of the ingredients made the scene more believable and inviting. The cutting board appears partly damp because I had used it to cut my cucumbers. I hadn’t planned on it, but that aspect also added some depth to the photo.

OTHER // I didn’t plan to shoot these sandwiches or write a recipe but they were so gorgeous, I just had to. However, I’m cringing right now because this particular photo from IG wasn’t in focus…I really should have stabilized myself with a chair for this one. I urge you to check out the better photos in my recipe post.


Hopefully you got something out of my notes and enjoyed this “behind-the-scenes” post about my 2015 top nine! In the coming year, I would love to do an actual behind-the-scenes post and share photos of what my set up typically looks like, outside of the final food photo (kind of like this, or the photo below from Vida Vegan Con, haha)! Please let me know in the comments what you think and what else you’d like to see. 🙂

Pictures of food bloggers, food blogging. #wormhole #vortex

A photo posted by Vegan Bros (@veganbros) on


And here are the results from the above process.


What a year, 2015! I had many ups and downs but overall I think I had more ups than I did in 2014, and I can only see things going up, as long as I keep things in perspective and continue working hard. How was your 2015? I hope the last year treated you well, and I wish you all the best for 2016. I have tons of recipes and travel posts planned for the blog–stay tuned!

My recommendations for more photo tips // Ten Household Items That Can Improve Your Photography (Pinch of Yum) / Setting up a Photo Studio on the Cheap (apartment therapy) /  16 Instagram Tips From Margaret Zhang (she’s one of my idols!) / More Photo Advice From Margaret Zhang

4 thoughts on “2015 Best Nine on Instagram | Behind My Best Nine

    • missannmai | plantcrush.co says:

      Thanks so much, Karissa!! I appreciate that so much from a photographer like yourself! 🙂 And omg I know, my iPhone is one of my favorite tools, of course! haha. It goes to show, the camera type doesn’t have to hinder the quality of a photo! It’s all about the conditions. Plus, post-editing makes such a difference, as you must know! 🙂 Happy new year, my friend!! Here’s to many great things coming both our ways!

    • missannmai | plantcrush.co says:

      Christina!! Thank you so much for checking out my post! 🙂 I’m glad it inspired you. Food-styling is super fun; I hope you have a blast with it. I still need to get a copy of The Taco Cleanse! I’m glad we connected on #veganfoodchat and I’m so inspired by your plunge into video content!!

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