There are three main types of food photography: Packaging, Advertising, and Editorial.
Packaging tends to be the most technical, tedious, and anal-retentive type of food photography. Product packaging shots need to show whatever the subject is in the best possible light. The food should be as clear and should have as much detail as possible. Since the photograph is used on package of a product, it is important to show exactly what is in the box and nothing more. The color, the number of pieces and the product itself should be shown as realistically as possible. Lighting must be relatively flat to show maximum detail and there is definitely not room for special effects. Most details of the shoot regarding cropping, propping, and backgrounds will be pre-determined. Your input and creativity will be put on the back burner. Most of the time at the shoot will be spent poking very small details and dropping images into layouts to see if everything fits just right. Legal technicalities are carefully considered here and being aware of laws and legal issues is helpful. This kind of work is the toughest.
This type of photography is not just used for ads but also for menus, brochures and bill boards. Props, supporting objects can be used more generously and creatively. This type of food photography tends to be less tedious than packaging, but still can be quite restrictive because of layout parameters. There is usually a layout, and everyone expects that the final photo to end up looking very close to the Artist’s illustration. There is usually some room for taking advantage of unforeseen opportunities such as props or lighting special effects, but the end result must communicate the idea behind the photograph. There are some constraints here but not as many as in Packaging type Food Photography. In addition, not all the food in the shot needs to be real. Since these photos can be used on bill boards and large ads in the magazine, the quality of photograph needs to be very high. This translates to high megapixel and high-end cameras.
This is my favorite one and of most photographers. Food photographs for editorial are often more about cooking-related products than food itself, giving the stylist and photographer a lot of freedom. Editorial photography has broadly saying no limit to creativity and the most important thing is “making a beautiful image”. This kind of shot usually makes “lighting” the big issue of the photo.
There are also the other types of food photography: recipes, restaurants, stock photography, video and television websites, blogs and eBooks.
This is the most common form of food photography. The shots require an edible finished dish and should represent the best representation of the recipe. They are for magazines article, cookbook or website.
This shots tend to be for editorial purpose : feature in magazines, advertising or menus. In most of the shots the chef prepare the food and you don’t use a food stylist.
6. Stock photography
There is a good market for this type of food photography. Can provide a modest income. You can use images which were not used for a commissioned shoot. Stock agencies are looking for images that follow popular trends, and they have a “which list” for their contributing photographers.
7. Video and television
This days, a photographer can use his DSLRs with all their lenses, to record short, HD video for all different kind of food subjects.
8. Websites, blogs and eBooks
This is very similar to editorial photography and in fact can be called as a subset of editorial type of food photography. Most of this photography is done at home without much pomp and show, by the amateur. Is usually taken in natural light, is focused on the food and attempts to make you “eat the food off the screen”. This days there is a new market for professionals for food blog photography.