Finding the light – tips for photographing food

Natural light is always best

Don’t waste your time on expensive lights and flashguns.  Just choose a place with a decent sized window or an open door

Turn off any overheads electric light bulbs and get close to the window

Do not use overhead lights or lamps or your built-in flash. Ever! Daylight provides a much more neutral colored light.

Food photography for restaurants and cafes, Scotland

Scrambled egg and smoked salmon

Natural light brings out the true colors of food. The soft, dispersed lighting usually given by natural window lighting that casts very soft shadows works beautifully with a lot of food photographs.

Move your food to the light –  you will see  the HUGE difference it makes instead of taking the picture in the middle of your kitchen.  Move around to find the best light source. Don’t feel confined to taking photos in your kitchen. Perhaps the light is best in your bedroom in the morning, and in your living room in the afternoon.

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Mince pies with natural window light

When the light is too harsh, you might have to diffuse the light using a thin curtain or tissue paper. Alternatively you could try moving the food further away from the window, or use a different window on the other side of the house.

If the light is not bright enough and is casting too much darkness or too many shadows, you can bounce the light from positioning a white board directly across from the light source to help bounce the light back onto the food.

Rhubarb TartWhen the weather is warm, you could try photographing your food outside.   However, in most cases you should avoid shooting in bright sun as it can cause exposure problems and cast harsh shadows on your subject.    Overcast days are perfect for food photography because the clouds act like a giant diffuser, creating a soft light with more subtle shadows.

Beetroot surprise

Beetroot Rosti. Outside in the shade. The background are a pile of logs

Coffee – photographed outside on a nice dull day

“I don’t have enough light” is never an excuse.   If you can’t get enough light after you’re done preparing the dish, set aside a plate of food and photograph it the next day when you can access natural light.

Determine the light direction

Front lighting means that the light source is behind you when looking through the viewfinder of your camera. This type of lighting is the easiest to work with since you don’t need to worry about shadows and highlights.

Cheese cheese cake

Cheese cake – front lit from a window

My favorite lighting to use with food photography is side lighting. This type of lighting, in my opinion, adds so much depth, dimension, and detail.

Side lighting is when one side of the photograph is brightly lit leaving the other side darker. Side lighting helps add dimension.

Fish cakes - side lit from a window

Fish cakes – side lit from a window

Then there is back light –  but this is more difficult.  It can however produce a nice lighting effect

Petit Fours lit from behind

Macaroons lit from behind

Make natural light your best friend in photography by experimenting.

As they say, practice makes perfect … and natural light will help you achieve perfection in photography, even if your photos are perfectly imperfect.

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