These days it seems as if everyone is taking photos of their food and uploading the images to Twitter – before they’ve taken their first bite.

While some of these pictures offer mouth-watering results, most are a mess, poorly lit and unappetising. Here’s how you can take a good food photo no matter what camera you have to hand.

Camera Settings

It’s a good idea to steer clear of using the auto mode. First, turn off the flash, and then practise manual focusing so that the target food item is the centre of attention. Finally, master the manual exposure control. Aperture priority is the preferred option for photographing food, and most cameras have automatic macro settings.

Try to use natural light instead of flash when documenting your meal for posterity (or Twitter). Natural illumination makes food look more appealing

Get the Right App

If you’re using an iPhone, find an app that will let you shoot and edit photos without applying retro or lo-fi filters. A good option is Tap Tap Tap’s 69p Camera+ (campl.us). After you take the photo, add the preset Food Scene option to warm up the colours and make the food look more appetising. The Depth Of Field option blurs out the plate’s distracting edges.

Vuzz’s free SnapDish (snapdi.sh), an app designed for enhancing food images, brightens your photo. You can then upload it to SnapDish or send it to Facebook or Twitter.

Choose Your Lens

A wide-angle lens lets you include more of the table, but can also add unwanted distractions. A longer lens can get a tight shot with a shallow depth of field, but might not be practical for a quick picture in a restaurant. A macro lens gets in close enough to capture delicious details, while speciality lenses like tilt-shift and telephoto make photos stand out.

Style and Perspective

Before you start, you should decide on the best composition for the plate. If the layout of items is interesting, go for an overhead shot, but if it’s stacked food a side shot will show off your meal better. To style a photo more energetically, try shooting a fork playfully stabbing pasta rather than a half-eaten plate of ravioli. If you’re preparing food specifically for a photo shoot, cook the veggies less so they retain their colour, thoughtfully shape the mound of rice, and plate your food with the entire scene in mind. A glass of wine and a few crumbs make it look more realistic.

Manipulate Lighting

If you’re taking photos at home – say, at a family meal – try these quick steps to attain natural-looking, appealing shots. Start by using an available window to cast light on your dish of food. Then use mirrors or white paper to reflect that light back on to the subject for even, consistent light colour.

A Pinch of Editing

Even if you’re not a photo-app pro, you can keep whites clean and bright with manual editing tools. In iPhoto, click the Adjust button at the bottom of the editing window. There, you can manually over- or underexpose your photo or change the colour temperature.

Lauren Crabbe is a San Francisco–based photojournalist.