All images were taken with a Nikon Coolpix L4 (in fact, the same camera we gave away in a previous contest here). The Nikon is a low to medium range digital camera and can probably be found for around $100. I choose to use it to demonstrate the quality of pictures possible with an affordable camera using my setup.
Undoubtedly, the pictures could have been better through the use of different equipment, different lights, or a more experienced photographer -- consider this an introduction for you to improve on.
Step 1: Motivation, Parts, and Estimated Cost
scrap wood from a dumpster - free
12 x 24 inch light tent - $35 or make your own bigger, better, and cheaper one here or here.
tripod - $30
5 clamp-on lights - $6 each at Home Depot, but you know you've got at least two sitting around somewhere
5 compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) - $10+ depending on rebates, energy star discounts, and whatever governmental price discounts are available. I've paid as low as $1 per CFL at times!
extension cords - $5
Including my purchased tripod and light tent, I spent around $100 in addition to the camera for this setup. If you built your own light tent and used a bunch of milkcrates and chairs as a tripod, this could easily be a $25 project consisting of a few new lamps and CFLs.
Step 2: Build a Frame
Step 3: Clip on Lights
Step 4: Arrange Bulbs and Power It Up
On this first pass, I aimed more for the white / blue end of the spectrum knowing my halogen-lit pictures always turn out too red/yellow and have to be color corrected before they get posted to Instructables.
Step 5: Take Pictures
Each of the following steps shows the same plate of fruit under a different configuration of lights. The five clamp lights are always on and the camera is always held in a tripod, to keep it from wiggling, while I cycle the halogen task lights and camera flash on and off. The camera was in automatic mode and the only thing I adjusted was whether I allowed the flash or not. If you're not using a true tripod, set your camera for delayed shutter, press the shutter button and take your hands off to achieve wiggle-free pictures.
Step 6: Light Tent, No Flash, No Halogen
Step 7: Light Tent, Flash, No Halogen
Step 8: Light Tent, No Flash, Halogen
Step 9: No Flash, Halogen
Step 10: No Flash, No Halogen
Step 11: Flash, No Halogen
Step 12: Conclusions / Get Laughed At
We almost always have guests over for dinner, and my food photography antics, especially the tension between getting the perfect shot and eating dinner before it gets cold, are a source constant amusement. A giant crane-looking thing that sits over my dinner and points lights at it only takes this amusement to the next level.