Photographing food is challenging, and if you ever meet someone who says it's a breeze than I'll bet you a big bowl of mac and cheese that they're photos look terrible. acknowledging it's hard is the first step down the path to food photo salvation, so swallow your ego and take a deep breath, because you're going to have to start from square one.
1. Lighting is (almost) everything
Oh, you already knew that? Put it next to the window and the sun'll do the rest, right? Well yeah but there's a little more to it. The size of the light source, in this case the window, is part of what affects how dark and prevalent the shadows are. Let me back up a bit, you want just ONE LIGHT SOURCE. Turn off your lights, pull down the other window shades, and put up some light blockers (I use folders or even picture frames, literally whatever you've got) around your photo area just to stop any other light from polluting your one beautiful window light.
Don't put your food too close to the window, then too much light will be hitting too much of the food, and it wont have any contrast. Have the food be around 6 feet away, but play with it and see what looks nice. You can also use your light blockers to narrow the amount of light coming from your window light source. I usually photograph my food about 90 degrees from the light source, if the food is the center, so the light is hitting it from one side. you can also shoot from 180 degrees opposite or anywhere in between, it all depends on the food. You can also hang a white sheet over the window if the light is too intense and bright, softening it. Play with all your variables, see what looks good to you, but make one change at a time, so you can control for each variable.
2. Your food photo has a subject
Just like with a portrait, your food photo is about one dish. You'll see food photos with a bunch of dishes but they're always best when you can clearly see which dish the photo is really about, it's the one that grabs your attention first. To do that, decide which is the main dish. Sometimes it's obvious: your photographing spaghetti on a plate, what the subject? One of those delicious meatballs. Oh sorry, did you think it was the whole plate of spaghetti? That meatball needs to be to the left or right of center, maybe a little closer to the top of the photo, definitely placed towards the front of the plate. When the subject is in the right place the photo should suddenly start to just feel right to you.
3. One thing at a time
Come to think of it this should be the very first bullet point. You'll get overwhelmed if you try to figure out every aspect of the photos composition at once, and you need to stay zen.
– First what is this photo about. This is when you decide what the subject is, before even turning you camera on. Lets say it's a bowl of spaghetti to stick with our thread. Don't make it yet, just pick the bowl it's going to go into and put it on the table (choosing your table is technically the first step but thats semantics)
– Now, where are you shooting it from? From above? From the side? From slightly above? figure out what looks best and move on, seriously don't overthink it, you'll be here all day
– What goes with your spaghetti? This can be tricky and can take some thought. Maybe a fork? A napkin? Some tomatoes? Things that are related, or that simply look nice. There's a lot of room for creativity here, but remember not to go too overboard!
That's it! Have fun with it and comment with any questions. Happy shooting