Food photography is a balance between art photography and informational photography. You want the viewer to know what it is you're showing them, and portray it in an attractive way.
The goal is to artistically and appetizingly portray a realistic representation of the food.
An informational photograph will show you what the food is, nothing more. A grainy picture of your homemade burger will impress, it doesn't necessarily entice the viewer.
But what if you stacked the cheeseburger high and showcased the vibrant purple onion, the juicy tomato, the green lettuce, and gooey, melting cheese all between a sesame seed-flecked bun? Then, take a bite out of it to expose the pink interior. Now, snap the photo. The result is a stomach growl-inducing glory. Of course, keep in mind the advice from my previous posts: focus is everything, and shoot in natural light.
Many photographs of food contain stylistic embellishments that don't directly link to what you would eat, but serve to make the photograph more attractive and artistic. Everything counts in the food shot: the plates, the linens, the surface the food and plate sit on, and what is in the background of the shot. For the burger, you might want a rough wood surface, a rustic looking plate, and a plate of sliced yellow and red tomatoes in the background. Crumbs look good, natural looks good. You're recreating a feeling and experience of eating a juicy, delicious cheeseburger. Think about what would make you want to eat that, and what feelings are associated with this meal. I think of a summer gathering, around a grill, with beers. Okay, so maybe you see the grill in the background, or a glass of frothy beer.
Instead of a simple shot of just a cup of eggnog, I jazzed the photo up using composition, the fresh nutmeg for beauty, and nice linens and props. I took extra care to dollop the whipped cream neatly inside the glass, and to garnish the peaks with freshly grated nutmeg, even grating loosely to dot the fabric with nutmeg. Of course, a camera-phone shot of eggnog would get the information across, but the point is to make it beautiful and enticing!
It's all about making the person who looks at your photography crave the food. Food is beautiful, so make it look that way!
I'll be discussing the more technical aspects of food photography in the upcoming weeks, including perspective, aperture and depth of field, food styling, composition, and food photography influences.