As I began writing this post I realized that as of this month, I’ve been blogging for five years now. Isn’t it crazy how time flies? It seems like just yesterday when I started this blog for a grad school project and was reading every book I could possibly get my hands on to learn more about our food system. (Note: Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle are must reads!)
Over the last five years it’s been a pretty cool process to watch my diet and eating style evolve and my food photography improve. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going back deep into the archives, but if you did you would definitely find some pretty unflattering photos taken under a kitchen light and without any photo editing. Eek.
If you’re a food blogger, I’m sure you already know how important good lighting is in food photography and natural light is always best. As a result of this, my life for the past four and a half years has revolved around daylight and specifically, the sun. (Which, if you know anything about Seattle, you know it’s hard to find!)
This means that I spent all sunny afternoons… in my apartment. Cooking, plating food, and taking photos. Which, believe me, I love doing, but I was also tired of feeling like my blog was ruling my life.
Evidence: It’s a beautiful Saturday in August and I’m… taking food photos… with my cat.
So, when this fall rolled around and I moved into a different apartment, I found myself in a bit of a panic. Not only were the days getting shorter (which every food photographer dreads), but due to the angle of the building, I couldn’t get good natural light from either of the windows. Ahhh!
That was when I had to turn to artificial lighting and, much to my surprise, it has made my life soo much better. I’m really excited to share this tutorial with you on how to use artificial lighting in food photography because if you’re a food blogger, I swear this is going to change your life too.
Tip #1: It’s time to get a good artificial light.
If you’re going to attempt taking food photos indoors, you’ve got to use a light that’s made for photography. I’ve tried the DIY lights from the hardware stores and I’ve tried several large professional lighting kits – yep, the ones with the big white umbrellas – and I have to tell you that none of them compare to this Lowel Ego Digital Imaging tabletop light. I bought this back in September and this has since become my favorite go-to light. It’s compact, fairly affordable ($125 is actually pretty cheap when it comes to artificial lights), and is somehow brighter than the larger lights I’ve used in the past. (You can find the Lowel Ego Digital Imaging light on Amazon.)
Tip #2: Reflect the light!
I always use a reflector (even when I shoot in daylight), but when using artificial lighting, it’s essential to have a reflector because it reduces harsh shadows.
I have a stack of white poster boards from the office supply store I keep around to use as backgrounds and reflectors as needed. (Note: the Lowel Ego light comes with the stand-up reflector you see below)
Tip #3: Turn off all other lights!
Wait, I want as much light as possible, so… shouldn’t leave other lights on?
A good artificial light will mimic daylight so it’s important for all other lights to be turned off. (Otherwise, your photos will get a weird yellow/orange tint that isn’t very attractive for food photos.)
Tip #4 Move around and play around with angles.
The beauty of using artificial lighting is that you can shoot anywhere in your home so use this to your advantage! It took me awhile to realize that I no longer had to shoot right next to the window and recently the floor and my desk have become my two favorite photo spots.
You can also play with different angles and move the light where you want it. Every food photographer has a different style, but I’ve found that putting the artificial lighting source to the side of the food yields the look I like the best. I then will use several reflectors (behind the food, on the other side of the food and sometimes at the front of the food) to reduce harsh shadows and soften the light around the dish.
P.S. If you’re a blogger or food photographer and need more help getting started with artificial lighting or food photography in general, I would definitely recommend checking out Tasty Food Photography. It’s such a great resource for anyone looking to take their photography to the next level!
I hope this inspires you to try shooting with artificial lighting! And, if you have artificial lighting tips of your own, please share them in the comments below!1