I’ve been doing a lot of googling lately. I always feel like I need more gear, more props, and more gadgets, to get the images I drool over online. In particular the trend of dark food photography, and the lighting style dubbed ‘mystic light’. Achieving this is no small feat. A solid half day playing with set up, camera settings, and light manipulation: and you’re only half way there. Having taken the shot is half the battle, and your post processing/editing is the other half. I love food, and I love photography, together they’ve become a little obsession (note: not so little). Days off are spent trying, trying, trying. I still can’t figure out exactly how to adjust lighting to get the ‘mystic’ look, but I’ll get there. What I do know is that you don’t need much fancy gear to get your started, just a little ingenuity and a knack for seeing the details. Get a reflector, play with the bouncing and filtering of light, and eventually you’ll grasp it. Having a reflector, a few pieces of interesting material for background, and some basic Photoshop skills, has made a huge difference in the images I produce. And I’m only scratching the surface.

Today I’m attempting the dark food photography style a little more in depth than usual. Playing with shooting angles and reflecting light with darker items rather than high sheen ones, to get a softer look with less intense highlights. 

For this shot I used a piece of scrap tile for the base and a black t-shirt stretched over a foot stool for the background. I diffused the light coming in from a window (on the right) and a cream coloured tile as a light bounce to bring up the shadows (from the left). Using a tripod I shot this image at f/5, 1/10 sec, ISO 100. Below shows the image OOC (out of camera) and how it looks after editing in Photoshop.





The set up here is as I mentioned above:




A great example of dark food photography that I aspire to is this image by Nadine Greeff, shot in the Chiaroscuro style, which uses the hight contrast of darkness and light to highlight specific subject matter in the frame. Similar to that of 



You can see more of her work on her website here:

Beth Kirby at LocalMilkBlog is another photographer who’s ‘mystic light’ photos I enjoy:


So in the meantime, for those of you trying to take it up a notch- keep experimenting!

I’m also looking to find a good website highlighting some of the techniques used to capture these ‘mystic light’ images, and I haven’t come across anything yet. If any readers have helpful links, I’d gladly sift through! 

So what do you think? What are your thoughts on dark food photography and food photography trends in general? I’d love to hear.


Ciao for now guys.






Posted by:Ashley

29 replies on “Experimenting with Dark Food Photography.

  1. You are so inspiring and I appreciate so much how you unselfishly share your knowledge and tips on photography! Nothing more beautiful and “drop you to your knees” than dark food photography. Recently while my cherry pie was in the oven I spent more time than I ever have styling with a little pile of cherries and a dark background “trying” to get that look. Although not perfect I was happy with one of two out of at least 50 or 60 clicks. Unfortunately my cherry pie didn’t turn out so nice looking…aced the post! 🙂

    1. Oh my! Thanks for such a nice comment! I’m always happy to share 🙂 …and I’m still learning! Now I have to go check out your cherry pie post! Don’t give up, keep learning!

  2. Lovely. I still don’t have the props (yet) and am still trying to learn about how to use light in a better way. I too love “mystic light” used in dark food photography. Dramatic, subtle and beautiful. So much still to learn. Daunting yet exciting! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Well done the cherries look good! Keep it up and eventually it will all fall into place…just pay attention to the LIGHT and SHADOWS. Regards, Nadine Greeff Photographer

  4. Hi! I am really eager to experiment mystic light on food photography. As I know, scandinavian photographers use a lot this style because of the available natural light they have, you know, midnight sun, northern lights, etc. Anyway, I am also trying to get into this style and your blog was part of my research. Here is a link of a video from that inspired me the most:

    PLEASE, if you find info and techniques, let me know, I will really appreciate it =)

  5. Could you please give a tip on the size of a reflector? I’m in love with Nadine’s work and your cherries look so perfect;)

    1. My reflector is a multiple-use one that is actually a dark, gold, and silver reflector as well as a diffuser- and it’s 30 inches (round). You can find them online for a good price, look under the photography section on or – we use both and both have proved reliable for this type of item! Good luck!

  6. This was so fun to see your setup, mine is almost exactly the same. I love the mystic light too. Love Nadines shot, so lovely, I think I’ve pinned it several times. Your cherries look great, I am always learning too.

  7. Hi Ashley, thanks for sharing. I’m trying to get into it myself. In january I have a food shoot for a big restaurant in Amsterdam. It needs to be different then all the rest. I’m thinking about the Mystic stuff. I need to practice a lot. Good luck with the practice!!

    1. Hi Ramon!

      Good luck with the shoot! It’s very difficult to achieve this mystic ‘northern’ light as they refer to it. Might have to spend some nice long winters in the far north, for real! I’ve been testing out some lighting gear and a new camera in recent weeks… and I’ve kind of backed off from the mystic idea…. I still can’t quite figure out how to achieve it, and I’m starting to realize most of the food photography I’m seeing that have the effect : are achieving it in post processing!!

    1. Thanks for commenting! I’ve noticed my style has changed to primarily aerial shooting as well. It’s interesting to see where our preferences end up taking us…

  8. This is gorgeous Ashley. I loved your choice of base tile. The cherries photo is neat n crisp. I am surprised that I didn’t find you earlier. Saw so many known faces here.
    The dark photography intrigues me as well!! The play if light and the darkness has it’s own mystical magic!

    1. Thank you so much, I appreciate that! I haven’t had much practice in the dark food photography arena since that post, I’ve mostly opted for aerial side-lit shots. I guess we all fall into our own niche after shooting for a while. Your blog has some great looking food!

      1. Thanks for the feedback Ashley!
        You said it right, we all find our niches after a while.
        I like to work in different environments and settings. Some posts are catered more than other posts…but it’s all about discovering something new..for the sheer joy of food and art!

      2. Agreed! Sometimes I get stuck in a rut and get tired of the same old style and aesthetic, so it’s good to try new things and change up your environment. This is what I need to do next!

  9. Very beautiful! Where did you get that black-brownish background? Is it like a foamboard? I could only find one colour foamboard…

    1. Hi Angie! This was just a black piece of paper, with a bit of editing in Photoshop to remove any little specks that may have shown up. The right angle assists with those issues!

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