If you want to be good in food photography, then you can only have one goal; make your food look delicious. It does not matter what purpose you are doing it for, or who you are selling it to, if the food does not look delicious then it’s not correct food photography.
When you think of food photography, there are 4 general rules you should remember:
Never use a flash. Flash makes your food look very dull because the flash washed out the “bright spots” that would normally make your food look fresh and delicious
Never allow the whole dish to look yellow green. You can still use yellow and green color, but only as a form of contrast. (you can either fix your white balance control or cook the food again) Having the whole dish look yellow and green implies moldiness, and lack of freshness. The exceptions to this rule are green curry, which has a saucy look and looks appetizing, and fried rice, because the rice is naturally white which implies a specific taste instead.
Never stack soft foods together. When you stack soft food together, it starts to look like “you know what” when you go to the bathroom. If you are taking pictures of soft foods (like cooked eggplants for example), use minimal amounts and separate the pieces on a giant white dish.
Beware of backgrounds that is similar to your food. Your food should look separate from your background. If your food is dark then your background should be bright. If your food is red then your background should not be red. When I say background I mean your walls, tables, plates, utensils, or anything that’s not the food itself.
It’s not always about the dish. The dish can actually get in the way of your food presentation because it looks too flashy. Unless you really feel that the dish complements your food, use a plain dish or a plain bowl. You can also try leaving your food in the cooking tool you used, like for example, your frying pan. This implies freshness, and can stimulate appetite.
Now that we got those general basics out of the way lets talk about the actual preparation to take your photo of delicious food. Before you begin, mentally divide your food into three general categories; wet foods, dry foods and fried foods. Wet foods are any foods that will look mushy after you finish cooking it. For example, wet foods would be like eggplants, or dishes with more sauce than food, like curry. Dry foods would be like steaks, and cakes.
How to Handle Wet Foods
Wet foods should look glossy, and the sauce should look “thick” and not watery. Glossy implies freshness. Thick sauce implies the richness of the taste. Fresh vegetables should look bright light green (with little to no yellow) and has hints of bright white spots reflected on it. As a general rule, start your camera in manual mode and experiment from shutter speed of 6 – 80. ISO speed should stay around general 100 – 400. If you can help it, take your photo during the day next to a window with natural sunlight shining on your food. Use any kind of white board, or white piece of paper to reflect the sunlight back onto dark side of the food to avoid too much contrast and create nice soft shadows.
How to Handle Dry Foods
Dry foods should look solid but remain moist looking. It should never look soggy and retain a specific shape. Since dry foods have obvious shapes, you should play around with different angles to see if you get what you like. Dry foods can also be stacked together to form patterns unlike wet foods. If you can use more than one color, then by all means do that. For example, fried rice looks terrible with just rice alone. If you add some glossy looking vegetables on it, then it looks very delicious. Just like wet foods, experiment with shutter speeds 6 – 80, and ISO 100 – 400. Calibrate your shutter speed first then do minor adjustment with ISO later.
How to Handle Fried Foods
Fried food should have more light on it to enhance it’s golden yellow look. That’s why your shutter speed can not be set too fast. Fried foods are very dry by nature so it might lower a person’s appetite. That’s why if this dish involves any sauces, by all means add it into the photo or leave a cup of sauce nearby. If your sauce looks glossy, use that sauce. Fried rice is different. Even though it is fried, because it is moist and sticky by nature, so it actually feels more appetizing by making look dry, and spread out.