I have been shooting food pictures for several years now, either for websites, stock photography or cookbooks. I want here to share some of my experience with you.
Having the last model of the most expensive camera or sophisticated lights is not necessary but of course may help your work. What you need is a good camera, not necessarily a reflex one. Today with the camera screen you can see exactly the results you will have with the final picture you are taking. For shooting food, this is easier than looking through the lens. For me, I find it is best to have the camera connected directly to the computer, while taking the pictures. This combination makes the composition of the photographs extremely worthy and much easier due to the size of the computer's screen, which is of course much larger than the camera screen. Do not be afraid by the price, today lots of cameras have this possibility as a build in function.
Start shooting. Arrange the food that you want to shoot on a table. Do not forget the background. It may be a natural background or anything you want to appear in the picture. If you are not satisfied with the existing background, a very simple way to change it is to use a large, strong sheet of white or colored paper.
Place your camera on a stable tripod. If you do not have one you can use a bag filled with sand on which you can arrange the camera the exact way you need. A plastic bag full of rice will work as well. One or two big books underneath if needed to elevate the camera and you are set. For the lighting, even without a light box you can have great results. A window will provide enough light and one or two white surfaces, such as a sheet of paper, can be used as reflectors to eliminate excess shadows. A mirror, or other metallic surface, may also be good sources of lighting if you use them to reflect the natural light. Here, only the result is important, use anything that may help you. Play with the curtains, roller or Venetian blind to create the desired lighting effect. If necessary, add paper sheets or anything that may help you to get a good result. An easy and very good way to have a great picture is to use the screen the way you would have done for a painting on a canvas.
Turn on your camera and arrange the food on the table, looking on the screen each time you add or remove something. Build the picture through the lens of the camera, with the exact point of view the picture will appear. You will realize how different the point of view of the camera is, compared with your own point of view. A composition looking perfect on the screen often look poor seen by human eyes. You can see how doing this with the help of your computer screen is even better. You have a large picture, the final picture, in an extra large size and lots of imperfection invisible on the small camera screen will be obvious. It will be before be extremely easy to correct. Start to shoot; I hope this will help you to improve your technique.
Jean-Louis Vosgien is a food consultant and food photographer. You can see some of his pictures here