Welcome to Eat Sleep Instagram , our weekly series of conversations with photographers behind the most drool-worthy Instagram accounts about how they’re navigating the digital age, deliciously.
This week, Taste Talks contributor Amanda Odmark caught up with digital branding maven and food writer/photographer Marisel Salazar ( @breadbutternyc ) , over matcha almond lattes and banana bread at Cafe Henrie in the Lower East Side. She spills on working smarter as a full-time freelancer, drawing inspiration from Japanese aesthetics, and the art of chatting with strangers.
Taste Talks: How much time do you spend on social media?
Marisel Salazar: I spend at least 3-4 hours on any given social media platform every day, both personally and professionally. I manage social media for several restaurants and food brands, so a lot of my day is spent managing my clients’ brands online. I dedicate a small part of my day to keeping in touch and connecting with my personal following, mostly on Instagram @breadbutternyc, and I’ve slowly been making my way onto Snapchat (breadbutternyc) where I mostly post about laundry and food (hate doing laundry, love all things food).
Taste Talks: What draws you to the food/Instagram space?
Marisel Salazar: Sometimes, I can’t wait to go to sleep, because I know when I wake up, I get to eat all over again. The social component of sharing a meal is so bonding—it appeals to me from satiating a physical hunger as well as a human interaction standpoint. The visual nature of Instagram is key: for many of us, we eat with our eyes first, so food and Instagram go hand-in-hand. I love exploring the next bite I will take through Instagram and connecting with the person that snapped the dish or restaurant. It’s a sort of icebreaker.
TT: How did you get interested in food photography? Do you use iPhone or camera or a mix for your Instagram shots?
MS: By trade, I am first a food writer. I love creating an image with words, sensual verbal constructs that appeal to our senses. I got into food photography almost by force—many publications I wrote for wanted a writer who could also shoot. I wanted to make my images just as appealing as my words, so I practiced food photography daily, from styling a dish or set, perfecting my composition, knowing my camera and all the elements that make a stunning photograph look easy but are really thoughtful. I use iPhone on my Instagram (subject to change, haha) and DSLR elsewhere.
TT: Do you think you’ve had to work really hard to get your following, or has it been organic? What’s your method?
MS: The original point of my Instagram was to serve as an extension of my portfolio and client work. It progressively grew more personal. I started my Instagram account in April/May of 2015 with less than a thousand followers and grew it to over 10k in less than a year (currently at 12k+!). I grew my account very strategically and thoughtfully. In a past life, I used to be a web analyst, so I took A/B testing and all the knowledge I had as a digital marketer and applied it to my Instagram. My method is beautiful, quality photos—images that will resonate with my particular audience (hopefully), witty captions, and posting at key times during the day. Work smarter, not harder.
TT: What was your journey to the world of food media? Has Instagram helped play a role in your journey?
MS: I’d always been a writer, but the focus of my work shifted to food after studying and eating in Spain. I also studied nutrition in college, so I come at food from a health perspective as well. After school, I wrote for various food magazines while working as a web analyst. Through my story interviews and research, I met more and more restaurateurs, chefs, and industry folk and eventually made enough connections that I was able to quit my corporate job and transition into a life as a full-time freelance food writer, photographer and event coordinator. Instagram has served as my own mini-PR agency, showcasing the work that I do.
TT: What inspires your food photography style?
MS: I’m inspired by two things: the feeling of serenity (also an amazing movie for all you sci-fi nerds) and the Japanese concept of wabi sabi (beauty through imperfection and transience). I seek serenity in all aspects of my life: I practice a lot of yoga, healthy eating, and can’t leave the house without making my bed. This goes for my food photography—I want it to be peaceful and enjoyed. As humans, we are imperfect, and are drawn to the imperfect because it is more understandable and humanistic. That something off-centered in a photograph, a cleverly cropped image, a shattered biscuit—all slightly imperfect and wildly appealing.
TT: I have discovered some great spots through your Instagram! You’re posting from all over the city— how do you discover new places to try?
MS: Since I am running around all day, I am constantly discovering new places on foot . I make a mental note to check out a menu to go there later (I see you Soho Tiffin Junction , Mother of Pearl , and Kopitiam ). I also rely on the advice of trusted friends and colleagues that work in food, rigorous reading of top food publications, and what I see on Instagram of course! Although my favorite way to unearth new finds is to ask someone (a total stranger!) that lives in the neighborhood—that’s how I came across Casa Adela , an amazing Puerto Rican place in Alphabet City.
TT: What do you think is NYC’s most Instagram-able place? / What’s one trend you’re ready to stop seeing on Instagram?
MS: Everyone has lost their minds over Sel Rose , Maison Premiere , and Two Hands (I am guilty as charged). I’m also absolutely done with publicity food stunts, i.e. gimmick-y food like rainbow bagels and saccharine-sweet, oversized milkshakes.
TT: Do you have any rules or advice for folks who are working to develop their social platform?
MS: Learn the ins and outs of the platform’s function, be it proper hashtagging or a particular filter, and post consistently. It doesn’t have to be every day; it could be a couple times a week. Engage with your followers! Social media isn’t a one-way platform—it opens up a dialogue and allows for connections. But above all, live the life you share on social media. So many people are consumed by social media. Don’t just do it for the ‘gram.
TT: Any rules for instagramming while you’re out to dinner with friends?
MS: If you’re going to ‘gram, do it quickly (this is a valuable skill to learn)! And judge the atmosphere—some dining environments are more acceptable than others. It is a tragedy to let the food get cold. And let the conversation get cold.