(Alexandra Wee / MJ)
(Alexandra Wee / MJ)

BY ALEXANDRA WEE, Staff Columnist

Among my guiltiest food pleasures—any kind of chocolate pie, Starbucks Blonde roast and thin crust margherita pizza—is my obsessive habit to visually document what I eat. Everyone who knows me knows it and I have no shame in admitting that, yes, I am one of those self-proclaimed food photographers.

Before you get annoyed, let me just say that I totally understand why many may roll their eyes at folks like me. With a rising number of insta-photo fanatics, it’s no surprise that many faux fans have, frankly, ruined the food photographer’s name.

(Alexandra Wee / MJ)

Nobody loves under-exposed, over-saturated, obnoxiously filtered food photos. Whether I’ve got my Nikon L120 on hand or a subpar camera phone, there are four tricks my inner foodie always keeps in mind. So the next time you see a pretty platter, don’t ruin it for your Facebook friends with another crappy food pic. Follow these tips to do it right or at least learn how to fake it:

1. Opt for natural lighting. You don’t need fancy light boxes to snap a good food photo. Just remember, when possible make the most of natural light. The softer the lighting, the more realistic the food looks. Bright artificial lights can often overpower the most tasteful details. Your camera phone’s flash will turn that pasta primavera into a greasy looking plate of nothing that resembles noodles. Even if you’re just looking to Tweet a drool-worthy shot of your lunch, avoid over-saturating photo app filters (no-no’s to Lo-Fi and Hefe.) Melted cheese pizza should never become a grainy dark brown.

2. Know when to focus on the whole or on parts. To choose between zooming out and zooming in, figure out how much detail you want to capture. Details will help create texture and texture brings your pictures to life. In most cases, photographing an entire roasted chicken or a plate of lemon squares showcases size more than, say, the perfect crispiness of the chicken skin or that sweet (sweet) line where buttery crust meets gooey lemon filling. If you’re photographing smaller foods like grapes, berries, or cookies, try grouping them together—berries in a bowl, cookies in a stack—to fill out your frame then zoom in on a cookie or two. Use the “many” to draw focus to the few.

(Alexandra Wee / MJ)

3. Keep backgrounds clear. When taking any photograph, determining your focus is a must. That said, to truly spotlight a scrumptious meal, clear your backgrounds of any clutter (cutlery astray, crumpled napkins, wrappers, your friend’s hand). If you’re serving up the food yourself, choose solid colored dishes over that adorable plate with the little roosters on it. The fewer distractions the better. Most point-and-shoot cameras have automatic focus features you can nail just by playing around with them. Focus features can help give your photos that professional looking close-up effect (clear focus, blurred background).

4. Off-center often. With a few exceptions, most photos look best with a slightly off-centered focus. Play around with angles depending on what food you’re photographing keeping in mind the ideas of whole versus parts. Think about what part of the food makes your taste buds tingle the most (hello, molten chocolate cupcake filling) and adjust your frame to bring attention and dimension to the food’s most flavorful features.