A number of you have asked me how I take my food photos.
I am not a photographer. I'm barely able to shoot manually with my DSLR and am still more comfortable snapping away on auto.
But there are lots of things you can do to help your pictures look better, even with your point-and-shoot.
The first rule about restaurant photography is to have no fear and be confident. I am shameless, as any of you who have dined with me can attest.
To me, two things are most important -- lighting and a steady hand. If you have these two things, you're almost guaranteed a good shot.
What do you do in a dark restaurant, though?
This troubles me all the time. From more experienced photographers, I've learned that cranking up your ISO helps a lot, but a high ISO can result in a lot of noise in the picture, which is not so great either. I've also learned that the right lens is key, although I haven't invested in one yet.
Erin gave me these suggestions:
(a) Get a 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 lens.
(b) Use ISO 400 or 800 if it's really dark, even ISO 1600 is better than not getting the shot at all.
(c) Keep the camera on Av mode on the largest possible aperture (f/1.8 or f/1.4 on the 50mm, f/3.5 on the kit lens).
(d) Take a few shots in a row on "continuous" mode so that one is hopefully clear.
This is all well and good if you speak photography, but, if that made no sense to you, allow me to share my very primitive tips that you can apply to both your DSLR on auto and your point-and-shoot.
(1) When you arrive at your table, grab the seat that has the most light. If the whole table is in darkness, ask for another table. Crazy? Maybe. Good for pictures? Definitely. Natural light is best. For this reason, I really love shooting breakfast, brunch, and lunch. These are your best chances to practice if you are still nervous about shooting poorly lit dinners.
(2) If the restaurant is really dark, and you have a candle on your table, move the candle next to the food you want to photograph. Again, this may sound odd, but it makes a really big difference. Try to move the candle to the side or to the front of your subject, or else your food will simply be a backlit shadow.
(3) Out of simple courtesy, take pictures of your willing companions' meals first. Snap quickly and let them enjoy their food while you take your time with your own dishes. If you look carefully, you will notice that the photos of my own food usually look better than the ones I take of others' food. This tip doesn't really improve your photos, but it does improve the quality of your companions' dining experience!
(4) If you are really ballsy, use a tripod. I have a little Gorillapod for my point-and-shoot, which is perfect for keeping your camera absolutely still. This goes back to the importance of a steady hand -- nothing's steadier than a tripod! Admittedly, if I pulled out a tripod for my DSLR at a restaurant, I think my ever-understanding Mr. Monkey might reconsider our relationship. We'll see when I actually get a Gorillapod for my DSLR.
(5) Capture your food from different angles. Don't be afraid to rotate your dish. This way you will have a variety of pictures from which to choose.
(6) Do your best to focus on just one portion of your dish. My favorite shots are ones in which the main part of an entree is sharp, and everything else in the background is blurred. When you are using your DSLR in auto mode or using a point-and-shoot, this effect is best achieved by shooting on your digital "macro" or "close-up" preset. The logo for this is usually a little flower. Use it!
(7) Even when it goes against logic, shoot without your flash. The flash on your camera is rather harsh on its own, and your photos will be warmer without it. I almost never use my flash, even in the dimmest settings.
(8) When all else fails, cheat and tweak. If you have Photoshop, use it to your heart's content. I am a cheap-ass amateur who doesn't even have Photoshop, so I just tinker with the basic free features on Picnik, which you can access through Flickr. With my really dark restaurant photos, I tend to increase the exposure and contrast a bit. Sometimes I have fun with other features, too, but I generally like to keep things natural-looking, at least when it comes to food.
Good luck, and happy food blogging!