When you’re photographing a person or any other ‘obvious’ subject, it’s easier to decide where to place the focus than it is in food photography. In general photography you almost force someone to look at your photo in a certain way when using an unusual focal point. It can add a really artistic feel to it. In food photography the focal point is more difficult to establish and you simply don’t have as much artistic freedom there.
It’s food, guys, one reflection where it shouldn’t be and your photo is ready for the trash heap. A bad focal point and you’re not getting into foodgawker!
You could choose a very illogical focal point and see how it turns out. It can make your photo, but it can also break it. The latter is usually what happens. When people look at a photo, they expect the focal point to be in a certain place. When there is no focus there—or when there is a really shallow depth of field, that’s one my other pet peeves, people who do not know how to properly use depth of field and turn everything blurry—the photo instantly looks out of focus, bleary and generally not okay, while it could be a perfectly good photo it’s just the focal point that is off.
It is up to you to take a moment, look at your composition and decide what will draw the eye of the person who will be viewing it before you hit that shutter button. What is the most logical place their eyes will go to when they see your photo? That spot is called a resting place and that is what you’re looking for. You want to put the emphasis on that point.
Now determining where to place the focal point in food depends on different factors. Intuition is a big one, always listen to it. You can also come a long way using the rule of thirds, but since a dish is usually made of more than one ingredient, you also have to keep your main ingredient into consideration.
This, to me, is the most logical focal point for this photo and is also a perfect example of a focus according to the rule of thirds. Not only did I place the focal point at one-third distance from the edge of the frame, but I’ve also put the emphasis on the main ingredient of the dish, the sausage. This is the point that naturally catches my eye when I look at this photo.
And this is a very illogical place to me. I actually have to look for the focal point because it isn’t where I expect it to be when I see this photo. That, to me, is a bad photograph and I will immediately toss it.
Do yourself a favor and next time you shoot a dish, take a few shots using different focal points and see how that comes out, what looks the most natural to you. You’d be surprised what a huge difference it can make for your photo.