Why smartphone food photos look horrible

Smartphone cameras are amazing these days. So why are food pictures so unappetizing?

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Martha Stewart wants to show you horrible pictures of nauseating-looking food for some reason.

I find this personally vexing. Why? Because I've always held up the Martha Stewart "brand" as the gold standard in beautiful food photography. Stewart's books and website show fantastically lit and photographed food shots like these, and they've done so for years.

My wife is a food writer and I'm her "staff photographer." I've always looked to Stewart for ideas in how to light and present my own food photography.

So why is Martha Stewart taking and posting pictures like this and this on Twitter?

Stewart's food photos on Twitter are so bad that one became an Internet meme recently.

But I've discovered that she's not alone. Another food diva, Nigella Lawson, is having her own struggle on Twitter, with food pictures like these.

I find it astonishing that two brilliant women whose reputations depend in large part on their images vis-a-vis food would post such horrible-looking pictures.

These TV chefs aren't alone. In fact, it's astonishing how bad some online food photos are, given the incredible tools most smartphone users have at their disposal.

The recent Thanksgiving holiday sent a torrent of unappealing pictures through the social networks.

I see a lot of people complaining about food pictures, with some getting really upset about it. I wondered if opposition was to the concept of food photos -- too trivial to merit attention -- or about the quality of those pictures. So I took a (spectacularly unscientific) poll on my Google+ page. The results, which you can see here, show that most people either like food photos in general or (with the highest response) only like the good ones and don't like the bad ones.

So let's share only good food photos. Because most people really do want to see them.

Here are my tips for taking better food photos for sharing on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and elsewhere.

Let's start by addressing Martha Stewart's problem: She uses a flash in dark rooms.

The key to great food photography with smartphones -- the key to all great photography -- is to remember that you can't take pictures of people and things. You can only take pictures of the light that reflects off of them.

Amateur photographers tend to focus on what they see in their minds, rather than what they see in their eyes and through their cameras.

When you're in a dimly lit restaurant, your amazing eyes and incredible brain can appreciate the beauty of well-presented food. However, your camera may be unable to convey to others what you think saw in person.

If you don't use a flash, the pictures can have almost no color. Even if you enhance the brightness later, it probably won't look good.

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