Nicko has been asking me to write something about food photography to assist the chefs here in presenting their food on the photo galleries. I've started formal articles several times and never been happy with my prose, but since you are asking here in the forums, I'll try to help as best I can if you can forgive my writing.
Now, I am not a food photographer, only a food stylist, so I really don't know much about lenses, f-stops, particular light settings, light boxes and such. But what I do know, I'll share with you here. This is only a start and I'll elaborate on certain topics as need be. I hope that if some posters agree, I can use some photos posted in the galleries as visual aids to comment on and explore alternative treatments.
One of the first things you must do when considering photographing food, is define for yourself what you want to achieve with the photograph. Why are you taking the photo? Who do you hope to show it to and for what reason? Is it to document what your kitchen produces? Show off your decorating or garnishing skills? Create desire for the dish represented? Teach how to make a dish by showing the specific steps? You don't have to be too specific, but having a general idea will help with your approach considerably.
Next, you should really LOOK at the food closely and let your imagination run wild. What does it really look like? Do you really know at first glance that it's a chicken wing? Or does what you "know" is a shrimp wrapped in a soft rice sheet really look like something that washed up on he beach? Look at it from all angles-above, below, over your shoulder, down on the same level, close and far away. Try to distance yourself from culinary knowledge and technique, tastes, flavor profiles, ingredients etc, and just think visually. This can prove difficult for chefs because they are trained to consider foods mostly from a taste, aroma and textural perspective. Also, specific techniques for cooking become ingrained by repetition, habit and tradition. Effective food photography often requires you to think outside the box and prepare the food differently from the normal approaches.
Now, write this down and pin it to your forehead--- STAINLESS STEEL, FLORESCENT LIGHT AND FLORESCENT LIGHT REFLECTED FROM STAINLESS ABSOLUTELY SUCKS THE LIFE FROM ANY AND ALL FOOD! Food looks best, no matter how you photograph it, lit by natural sunlight. The colors are true, shadows are cast in the same color and textures are highlighted beautifully by natural sunlight. So whenever possible, try to find a sunny window to photograph in front of, or take your food outside and photograph it there-even if it's a cloudy day as the light is diffused through cloud cover and it does not cast harsh shadows.
Here's another important fact-the human eye can discern over 300 gradations of light---the camera sees about 9. This explains why so many food photos just look like a jumbled mess of stuff heaved onto a plate. The camera wants to show the brightest spot in the field of view, even though what you might want it to see is the deep brown caramelization of a piece of meat, or the speckley spots of pink on a red apple. If a bunch of ingredients are all covered with the same sauce, the viewer will not be able to see the different components of a dish, just a mass of various shades of brown, or white, or whatever. The camera cannot easily define the subtle difference between the green that shines through a sauce as opposed to the orange. This will become very important later when I get to the subject of arranging food for the photo.
Think carefully about what props (dishes, linens, cutlery, glassware) you use in your photo. Make sure they coordinate sensibly with each other and your food. You wouldn't arrange a beef wellington with chopsticks and soy sauce, right? So why would one use a gold rimmed plate with a blue shellfish print napkin to show a pastrami and cheese on rye with a wine goblet? Overuse of props distracts the eye from the food itself and contributes to a confusing photo. Best to edit yourself too severely than to not do it enough. Think of props as reinforcers of the main subject matter more than items with a roles to play.
This leads to background. DO NOT TRY TO GET CLEVER WITH A BACKGROUND. Setting mood is best left to the experts who paint with light (pro photographers). Keep backgrounds simple with easy on the eye colors-no patterns or bright colors. Get rid of any distracting stuff lying around. A helpful trick, though cliche, is to make your hands and fingers into a frame and look through it ----like directors are shown to do when depicted in movies. This technique helps to block out all the peripheral stuff and focus on what the camera will see. You will quickly see what background will show up in the photo---and what other stuff will too. This will also help you frame your photo to best show off what is really important.
This leads to camera angle. Most food photos taken by food service professionals show the whole plate of food taken from either a standing, or sitting position-standing above the food as you have just finished preparing it, or seated in front about to eat. Even though this makes sense to you as a diner or cook, it looks kind of boring and static. Try lifting the plate to just about even with your nose and then look at the food. It has more life, movement and dynamism. There's an immediacy to this angle that really makes you want to look at the food more and see what it really is. Don't get TOO close, you want your viewer to be able to know on first glance what it is. You don't need to show everything that's on the plate. Focus on what is really interesting about it-the juiciness of the fruit? The crispiness of the crust on a pie with cherry sauce flowing over it? the delicacy of the chocolate piping on the creamy pink fondant? or the variety of colorful vegetables that compose a salad? This is also important when photographing buffet service. Don't try to get the whole mirror with 10 pounds of sliced and folded ham, turkey, beef, salami, cheese, olives, mayo and mustard and cocktail bread. I know, as a viewer, that it's a deli display, that it will have condiments and garnish. What I care about is that is available for ME to eat what my choices are and how fresh and tasty it is, not that I can pig out on 10 pounds of it if I want to.
Ok, that's a start.
I'll add more later if it helps.