Below are five things that are ruining your food photographs! Take note of these helpful tips in the second part of the post...
#1 - Lighting
Lighting is the single most important aspect of food photography! I only shoot during the day and next to a large window in my kitchen. No exceptions! For home operations, there simply isn't another alternative. Flash lighting will give you harsh shadows and bright, blown out highlights, so don't bother!
The biggest tip I could give you is to shoot next to a window, during the day, and USE A REFLECTOR! A reflector can be as simple as a piece of white cardboard. You place the reflector OPPOSITE of the source of light, and reflect light back onto the food to fill the shadow areas. The reflector will also diffuse the lighting which will make it softer and more appealing.
#2 - Distracting Setting
The setting of the photograph will largely be determined by the amount of light, but if you have many options for locations, the best locations are often the simplest. I shoot on my white desktop right next to my window in my kitchen. The desktop is very deep and clutter free so it allows me to have clean looking backgrounds. My aesthetic tends to be very minimalist, so this works well for me, but it also serves to draw attention to the food! The more you draw attention to the food, and not distracting backgrounds, the better!
#3 - Too Far Away
I almost always shoot really close to the plate of food. This accomplishes a few things that are key to a successful photograph. Getting close to the food focuses attention on the food and not the background(which reinforces tip#2)but it also tends to BLUR the background and parts of the food, adding amazing depth and atmospheric space! This is what distinguishes amateur looking pictures from professional pictures! I always try to shoot slightly above the level of the food. This tends to produce the best angles for food.
#4 - Distracting Plates
Again, the focus is the food, not the plate. Even though it's easy and tempting to use that fabulous Jonathan Adler platter you just purchased, it will most likely distract from your food. Keep it simple. I almost always shoot on a simple white plate. If I want to mix it up, I place a vintage napkin on the table and then place the white plate on top of it, making sure that very little of the napkin shows up in the picture.
#5 - No Garnish
Garnishes make all of the difference when shooting food. These are not just afterthoughts! Garnishes can pull a plate together and really add an air of sophistication and professionalism to your photos. For desserts I tend to use mint, sliced strawberries, and powdered sugar. For savory dishes I use chopped parsley, basil, or cilantro. Try sprinkling it all over the plate, or try placing one single leaf on the plate. Experiment!