Food Photography: Lighting

One of the most important things in food photography, and making your food look better is the lighting.  You can see below to different samples of 6 images with different lighting in each.  In these photos I have changed the lighting direction or number of lights in each one to let you see what difference lighting can make.  I have not processed these images at all except to crop them and in all but one of the images the camera was in the same place. 

Please note when I say “lights” I am using natural light from a window and have opened and closed curtains, or used a reflector to add light.

Lighting Directions

Lighting from the front tends to make images very flat and dull and in most cases is not recommended.  (This also goes for lighting from the top as you would get from and over head light).  Although there are some cases this would be ok, it is best to be avoided.

Side Lighting
Using light from the side adds depth to your images and if used as only one light can lead to a dramatic feeling in the image with deeper shadows and more contrast

Side Lighting with Reflector
In this scenario a reflector or white board can be set up opposite the light source to add some light to other other side of the object and to soften the shadows a little

Back Lighting
Lighting your object from the back is often used with you want to highlight texture in your food.  You can see in this photo of the apple some condensation being highlighted which does not show in the other light directions.  On the dates it gives a defined edge instead of them blending more into the background.

Side and Back Lighting
A nice combination of lighting if you are setting up in your home is from the side and back.  All you need is a spot with windows on two adjoining walls.  I quite often use this set up and add the reflector if I need to get some light on the third side.

Flood Lighting
In this case you try to have light coming from as many directions as possible to have over all lighting around your subject.  This is a great option when you want to give a light and airy feel but will not work so well with darker images as you see with the dates

Blocking Light
One final point on lighting which can be used to your advantage in lighting is Blocking Light.  As you can see in the two examples below it can be used to make the “hero” of your image take the attention. You can see in the first image the plate and dates in the background are almost distracting where as in the second one the bring subtle detail that draw your eye into the image without taking away from the foreground.

I have given you some very simple examples of lighting your photos in this post, but next time I will have some photos of how I have used some of these different forms of lighting to create different looking images of the same product.  I encourage you to experiment with each of these options and see what different feelings and mood you can create in your images.

If you want to try the same thing yourself here are a couple of shots that show the setting in which I have taken these photos with a window to the left and a window behind the table and boards used for reflecting or blocking the light.

Other Posts on Food Photography
Food Photography Styles
Food Photography Set Up

Food Photography Props and Styling
Food Photography Setting the Mood
Food Photography Technical Tips

If you are interested in what gear I use check out the post on my kit


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