Lighting is one of the most important components 0f food photography. In this article I will cover different types of lighting for food photography and how to achieve them. This will help you better understand and control your light sources so that you can get the most out of them.
Natural lighting is considered the best and most accessible type of lighting for food photography, so where possible try and source natural lighting for your shots to get the best food photography results. It’s important to ensure that the natural lighting is indirect as direct sunlight is too harsh and will create shadows, reflections and washed out colors creating a non usable image.
An example of indirect natural lighting is though a window that does not get direct sunlight. This type of lighting is a perfect source of natural light.
This photo was taken on a patio using natural outdoor lighting.
Indirect and diffused natural light
To get indirect natural lighting you need to diffuse direct sunlight. This means that the lighting is softened by something between you and the lighting source. An example of diffused natural lighting is a cloudy day. The clouds block out the sun to create naturally diffused or indirect lighting. Other than clouds there are many different ways to diffuse direct lighting.
How to diffuse direct lighting
If you can not use indirect lighting you can always use props to diffuse the light by placing something that will soften the light between your light source and your subject.
Here are some props for diffusing light.
- Profession scrim
- White sheer curtain
- White bed sheet
- Large white cotton napkins
- Diffuse panel
To use these all you need to do is simply place them between your light source and your subject. An example of this is to hang a white bed sheet over a window that is getting direct sunlight.
When to reflect light
When you have a light source coming from one direction it can create harsh shadows on the opposite side of your subject. Reflecting the light will fill the shadows and soften them. This will also maximize the light falling on your subject and will result in great looking photos.
Reflecting the light also gives you a lot of control over your lighting. Here are some ways you can use reflectors
- Spot fill missing light in a specific area of your photos.
- Subtract light if too much is falling on a specific area.
- Highlight areas by using lighting.
- Remove glare or reflections on shiny surfaces.
Here are some props that you can use as reflectors:
- White foam board
- Reflectors (you should have both silver and gold versions of these in your photography toolkit)
- Glass jars
- White walls
- Small mirror
- White shirt worn by your photography assistant
- Foil both silver or gold.
Anything you can bounce light off of can be used as a reflector. So if you are in a pinch and need a reflector just have a look around and see what you can quickly grab and use to save your shot.
Photographing food outdoors and why you should do it
This photo was taken outdoors in a park using the shade from a tree. It was perfect for natural lighting.
Choosing the right time of day can play an important part in the type of light you have to work with. Early morning or late afternoon provides the best lighting conditions for outdoor food photography. Cloudy days are also great for favorable outdoor lighting conditions.
If it’s not cloudy then photographing on a covered patio is an ideal place to capture excellent food photographs. The cover will naturally diffuse the light making the light source indirect. You may however also need to use some reflectors or diffuse panels to control the lighting conditions as needed.
Flash, why you should never use it, and when you have no choice but to use it
Where possible never use the built in flash on your camera for taking food photographs as it will create direct lighting conditions. The only time it may be appropriate to use a flash is when you cannot source enough natural light so you need the flash to create the light. In this situation you need to do a few things to make the light usable.
Here is how to use your flash to get a use-able food photograph
Use an external flash and bounce the light off a reflector or a wall. This will diffuse and soften the light to create a use-able light source.
Quick tip: A light box can be used to create controlled lighting conditions. A light box is a box with translucent sides that diffuses light from multiple sources. You can use these boxes with many different types of lighting sources such as:
- Studio lights
- Natural light
- Flash photography
- Fluorescent lights
- Direct light sources
- And so on……
Light boxes create lighting conditions that are nearly shadow-less against a solid background. Here is a link for a reasonably price light tent.
In closing remember that natural indirect lighting (soft diffused light) is the best option for food photography. However you can make other types of lighting work as I explained in this article.