Silver Lining: Food Photography Lighting 101

May 24, 2016

Food Photography Lighting 101

When it comes to food photography, there's a lot to learn (and a lot I'm still learning!). There are lighting techniques, camera settings, and food styling guidelines. Today I wanted to talk about the first of those: the best type of lighting for food or other "still life" photography. These are guidelines I use every day to get bright, crisp, clear images with lots of white light.

These pictures were taken by myself for the amazing Fearless Confections. All credit for these mouthwatering desserts goes to her!

1. Find the brightest spot in the house

Seriously, spend a day figuring out when and where you get the best light in your house. Is it in the morning on the back porch? In the evening in the kids room? I use these two examples because 99% of my food photography happens in the morning on the back porch, or in the evening in my daughter's nursery. I almost never photograph in the actual kitchen because it doesn't get enough natural light. You're looking for lots and lots of sunlight, and that beautiful glow.

2. Work that indirect sunlight

You do NOT want direct sunlight or harsh shadows on your food photography pics. If sunlight is flooding a room, set up your photography station just barely out of reach of the direct light. Or, place it right next to a bright, large window when no direct sunlight is coming in. North- and south- facing windows are great for this.

3. Soften the light

If you have direct sunlight, diffuse it by hanging a semi-sheer white curtain or a white bed sheet from the window. If you want to get fancy, you can buy a scrim, which does the same thing. Anything that turns direct sunlight into soft white light will do the trick.

4. Use white backdrops and backgrounds

I have several cheap white posters that I use for the backdrops and backgrounds a lot. I also love my white faux-marble backdrop (tutorial here) and use it all the time. If you have a brightly-colored wall, you'll want to cover it with something white so the color of the wall doesn't reflect onto your food. Plus, these white posters will bounce more light onto your subject.

5. Turn off the lights and close the flash!

Once I took an entire set of pictures, and then discovered they all had a gross yellow tinge. Why? I forgot to turn off the overhead lights. You want all your light to be coming from the window, which provides a pure white light, and not from the manufactured bulb above your head. And I promise you do NOT want your flash on! Flashes create harsh shadows and uneven lighting. Unless you're going for a very specific type of artistic food photography, keep that flash off.

You may also like: 5 Shots to Take When Photographing Absolutely Anything

And there you have it! I'm planning on posting soon about the best camera settings for food photography, and maybe a post about food styling as well. What would you add? Anything that I'm missing? Favorite tips and tricks for great food photography lighting?

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