6 Secrets to how to start an Instagram Food Photography challenge

6 Secrets to how to start an Instagram Food Photography challenge

Hello and good morning, friends!

What are Instagram food photography challenges? How do I create my own? Where to start, what to think of when setting a challenge up? Today I want to write a blog on ‘how to start a food photography challenge on Instagram’. Which secrets you should know, and the things not to forget when setting one up. Or tell you the time that it will consume and how to get ahead of problems.

And as challenges on Instagram always seem to pop up, you might be thinking to start your own, but where should you start and what do you need to do to have everything ready, and to be sure that people will join your challenge? One thing I can tell you for sure, be creative when thinking of a theme, but do not make it too difficult for people to join.

I wrote for you 6 secrets/tips for you, I tried to cover as much as I could, about the process, what to think of, which judges and sponsors to choose etc.

1 – Find a name, a theme, a date and a fitting hashtag

This is where it can get very tricky, finding a name and a free hashtag that fits! Here are some questions that can help you with this:

  • Do I want to create a monthly challenge or a seasonal one?
  • Which dates will you be hosting the challenge?
  • Do I want to host this challenge alone or with another host? Will this host recur or will I choose a new one every time?
  • Will I have a special set theme, or will I use one theme word that can be reused?
  • What is my goal with the challenge?
  • What do I want to offer to the winners?

Let me answer those questions with my own challenge #foodanditsseasons I started at the beginning of 2022.

When I started the #foodanditsseasons challenge, it was my idea to host this challenge every 3 or 4 months. When the seasons would be changing, and for every new challenge edition I would choose a new host. But in March when I was hosting the edition ‘Inspirational Women’ I met Birgit @createaplatephotography and I just loved working with her on the challenge so much that I asked her to become a host with me. To host new editions in the future. We clicked on so many levels, not only challenge wise but also in life and I am very happy that a friendship grew due to this challenge.

The idea was to think of a new (seasonal) theme for every new edition. Previous themes – Seasonal Still life and festive flat-lays, Inspirational women, Get fruity – and the one we are hosting right now is Get Cozy. Birgit and I fell in love with the ‘GET’ word and thought of many more challenges including this word. And that is the thing about Instagram challenges, the more challenges with different themes you organize, the more you learn about challenges. And just like this: you create your own challenge style. Cool, right?

When I thought of the name ‘Food and its seasons’, I immediately looked if the hashtag on Instagram, and it was so I chose to use this name. It’s also inspired to a challenge I hosted with Maaike a month earlier, the #foodanditspackages challenge. The #foodanditsseasons hashtag can be used for all the new editions, and that makes it easier for people to remember.

What was my goal when I started this challenge? To bring people together on Instagram, to jolt foodies their creativity into creating new images with crazy themes. And my idea always was: to ask two judges and two sponsors so we could have to have two winners. And the prizes should always be related to food photography.

We had very generous sponsors during the year, we had e-books regarding color theory, backdrop & props shops, and Lucia gave a one-month access to the Members Club. Read more about her club here. And this is what I like about a challenge, finding sponsors that fit the challenge and that give something that can help food photographers grow in their food photography journey.

See here a few examples of the challenges I hosted during 2022.

Left image: Poster made by me

Middle image: Poster made by me and picture used as background made by me, @casadelavida.nl

Right image: Picture made by Birgit from @createaplatephotography

2 – Find another person to host with you, judges, and sponsors

So when you are ready and you have an idea, it’s time to find another host if wanted. This will make it easier for you, you can divide tasks like creating posters, asking judges and sponsors, etc. And then it’s time to ask one of more judges, and sponsors. If you want to have one winner, ask for one judge and one sponsor. But if you want two winners, you will need to have two judges and two sponsors. This way one judge will get to judge one thing (like flatlays) and the other judge will judge something else (like straight-on). This way instead of having 4 finalists you will have 8 finalists, two different votes and two winners at the end.

Judges, who to ask? Find judges with a high amount of followers, this way you will increase the challenge visibility. But also ask judges that are willing to share the challenge in their stories many times and are willing to create a few posts to announce the challenge before. But that also can post during the challenge! This is also something for you, you will need to have at least 5 to 8 pictures ready to post that fit in your challenge theme.

Thinking of all of this is not easy at first, but as I said, these things you will learn with time. And in the end, it’s so fun to create new connections with new food photographers from all at first over the world, to think of creative ways to jolt foodies creativity. And to keep challenging yourself.

Make sure to explain the idea of the theme to your judges, so that they know what you are expecting of them: what to post for the announcement and during the challenge period. And for them to share the posters every so many day in their stories, tagging you the hosts, but also the other judges and the sponsors. Also, ask the judges to share their favorite posts once in a while. This is a good way to keep people interested in the challenge, and it motivates people to be featured in your stories too.

Sponsors, who to ask? One thing that is VERY important when asking sponsors is that they send WORLDWIDE. This actually has happened to me, I won a challenge with a very cool prize but the sponsor didn’t send it out of the US. Can you imagine how that was when finding this out, not only for me but also for the challenge hosts? In the end, the host offered me an alternative prize which was very nice and very thoughtful and I felt bad for the hosts. This is something you need to be clear about when asking someone to sponsor you.

Some sponsors will give you a discount code, a voucher or else to give to the winner or they will just say that the winner has to contact them once the challenge is finished.

3 – Prepare posters, find a date and create a mood board

Now comes the fun part: designing posters! The best free and friendky designing app to use right now is Canva, take my word on this. Start with something simple, add some colors matching the seasons and date, the theme, and gather all the information needed:

  • Introduction texts from the judges and sponsors
  • Profile picture of the sponsor and judges
  • Challenge rules
  • A text about the theme, what the challenge is about

Ask your judges and sponsor for a small text and a picture, so that you can create a poster introducing them to the participants. This is the posters you need.

  • One introduction poster, with a small text about the theme, the date and the hashtag, and the judges and sponsors
  • One poster for every judge and every sponsor, mention the prizes in the posters
  • One poster for the rules
  • One poster with a small mood board

Of course, you can introduce yourself as a host with a poster, but I never did that during previous challenges. And it is very important to add pictures to your posters, as they will show participants what they can expect from the theme. This is why including a mood board with pictures made by the hosts and judges is also a good idea. It will showcase what the hosts and judges are expecting of participants and what they should create for your food photography challenge.

Be sure to add in your rules that people tag you in the caption, and NOT in the picture as you will succumb under DM’s as Instagram send you DM’s every time you are tagged into the picture itself. To be very honest, it’s a HUGE task to read all DM’s and to send people a message explaining why to tag you in the caption and not in the picture itself.

And do not create groups, this messes with your Instagram algorithm and a poster with clear rules is just enough. Not to forget that people always will send the posts into the group and Instagram might see this as spam and will put you in Instagram jail. Been there, done that.

Left image: Judge is Suze from @gourmetglow

Middle image: Picture used as background made by judges are Lina&Leonie from @studiove_food

Right image: Mood board made with pictures from Alicja @twinsinmykitchen, Lina&Leonie @studiove_food, Lucia @healthygoodiesbylucia, Birgit @createaplatephotography and myself @casadelavida.nl

4 – When to announce the challenge and its duration

From what I have learned from the previous challenges is that announcing a challenge a month before the starting date is really too early. People will participate from the moment you start announcing and that is not what you want. The best is to announce two weeks to one week before the starting date. This way people still have some time to prepare and create pictures fitting your theme, and you will not succumb to being tagged in so many posts weeks before.

The best duration of a challenge is a week or a month. For a recurring weekly challenge make sure to include a weekend in the ‘week’, so start from Thursday and end the Wednesday after. Remember that not everybody has time to post during the week as they might have a full-time job next to their food photography. Or that people plan to shoot and post during weekends, some people plan and create their content 2 months ahead. I am one of those person, so that is why I cannot always participate last minute in challenges.

When hosting a ’30 days’ challenge, Birgit and I really loved the 15 to 15 dates, think September 125 to October 15. This way you cover two parts of a different month and more people will be able to join. And you might just have planned your challenge around other challenges.

Keep in mind that hosting during holidays and festive days (Christmas, new year, summer vacations) fewer people are likely to participate with challenges if you have a theme that is different than that time in the year. Do think that hosting a fruity challenge during Christmas might be a bit off-season, like hosting a pumpkin theme in the summer. So when hosting challenges during special festive seasons, keep in mind that a theme related to those seasons will bring me more participants.

Always keep in mind that a challenge is supposed to be fun and not stressful for people. And also for you the hosts, and the judges. Always follow your heart and your creativity.

5 – Time management & tasks during the challenge

When hosting a challenge, keep in mind that you will need to spend quite some time on your phone/laptop or else. From liking and commenting on posts, to actually be reading captions to give an accurate comment on them, sharing your favorites in your stories, and more. And the less fun part: sending messages to participants that wrote the judges, sponsors or hashtag wrong. Or keep posting after the challenge ended.

Do a few hashtag searches that involve your challenge hashtag, like mine: multiple times people have been writing #foodanditsseason or #foodanditsseasonschallenge. So when I became aware of this, I started sending messages to the participants making sure they updated their captions. Or think about this: people are posting Halloween pictures during a Christmas themes, or people keep tagging you in pictures and not captions. The best thing to do is: to take 5 minutes and send them a message about this. Because believe me it will annoy you in the end and you will still have to take care of it.

Or even worse, the challenge ends and people KEEP tagging you, posting under the hashtag… What to do? Well after hosting so many challenges, the best thing I can do is send them a kind message explaining that the challenge ended. And people react very kind or do not react at all. Well at least I tried, you know? Now I can let it go. I like to be there for the participants in my challenges, and I also like to make sure that people follow the rules as those are created to make the challenge fair to everybody.

Birgit and I developed the habit to check and comment every few days on at least 10 to 20 pictures. This way we don’t end up two days glued to our phones at the end of the challenge, liking, commenting, and sharing favorites in our stories. You will see that for 10 to 20 images, you will be busy for at least one hour, sometimes more.

6 – Choosing the finalists and announcing the winner

Finally when your challenge ends, there comes another part I love: announcing the finalists and posting a poll in your stories.

Ask your judges to choose their 4 favorite pictures, and ask the judges to write a small text per picture about why they chose these pictures. This way you will have everything ready, you can use this small text when announcing the finalists or when the winners have been chosen.

Take a screenshot of all the finalist pictures and make sure you have all the right Instagram names. First, announce with the poster that you are announcing the finalists, then go to every finalist’s post, share them in your stories, and tag the participant and the hosts, judges of the challenge. Then create a 4 picture layout, and on top of that add a poll, this function is for everybody different on your Instagram stories. See the image below for the process of how to do the poll as I cannot explain it in a clear way.

Left image: Share the finalist post in your stories, with a small text and tagging the finalist and hosts. Repeat for all finalists.

Right image: Create a 4 images layout and add screenshots of all 4 finalists and tag them. Then create a poll so people can vote.

So let me be very honest with you now, creating one vote on one of the host stories is the best thing to do to avoid any confusion in the end. I see so many hosts having two voting stories: one voting on each host’s stories. And this creates confusion, annoyance to the finalists, and more work for the hosts to count votes. And in my eyes, also is less fair for finalists. Just create one voting poll, tag the hosts and judges, and ask the other host to share this in their stories.

The nicest part of hosting a challenge? Announcing and congratulating a winner! I love sending personal voice messages to the winners and what I like about their pictures! Then you can ask them to reach out to the sponsors and they will take care of everything. But if the sponsors are very busy, you can take over this task. Remember that the sponsor is not going to do your work, as they only sponsor a prize for your food photography challenge.

In the end,

Food photography challenges on Instagram are so fun to do and organize. I love hosting them, thinking of new creative themes, and asking amazing talented creatives to host with me or to judge. And finding the right sponsors, which is not always an easy task! And I am planning more for the future as you will see soon.

But DO KEEP IN MIND that a challenge really eats up your time, especially if you want people to know and see you are putting effort into it. Because lots of things will go wrong, broken prizes or prizes being sent back by the transport company, taxes that the recipient needs to pay upon delivery and the list goes on.

What I am about to say is VERY important to remember: have a lot of fun when creating a challenge and make it easy for people to join. Find a theme that is appealing to people, find a prize that is related to food photography and be aware of all the obstacles the challenge will bring. And to be there for the judges, sponsors, and participants. And when people see you care, they will participate again. That is why being fair, nice, and pointing some mistakes out is better than doing nothing. But that is the way I see it, you might think differently and there is no judgment there.

Starting a challenge thinking it will be easy, is not and is a mistake, believe me there. I really hope this blog gives you some insight about Instagram food photography challenges and how to start one if you have any questions for me, you can always send me a DM and I will be delighted to answer them! Just remember, in the end, it’s better&easier to be a judge than a host, haha!

Thank you for reading, have a great day, and let me think about what you would like to read next time in my blog!


Food photography, one of my biggest passion that turned into my fulltime work. In the summer 2021 I started to hear a lot about a members club, where I could learn a lot about food photography. Of course I wanted to join, so when I participated with a free webinar given by the founder Lucia Marecak, I was given the possibility to join the members club!

I was so happy to come into a new world, where Food Photography is so well explained. The club contains so many masterclasses that keeps you on your feet, that motivates you to become a better photographer. And Lucia has a way to explain everything in such an easy way to understand it. She creates so many different courses and masterclasses every month. There is a forum where you can ask all your questions and the amazing community behind it helps you with those questions!

Every month she organises different calls: networking calls or with inspiring photographers and more! I highly recommend Lucia’s members club. She really has taught me so much and I grew a lot the last year! Lucia’s creativity is highly contagious, she motivates your creativity in a way that is scratches your brain and make you want to pick up your camera and take the pictures you exactly have in your mind!

It’s fun, interactive, there is always something new to learn and you will always be surprised with Lucia!

Are you interested to join the club? that is possible, just follow the link! There are so many possibilities in Food Photography, and every day new things to learn, friends!

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