I’ve had quite a few inquiries about my images and posts over the past few months, and I thought it would be a nice idea to post some of my set ups for you guys to see. There aren’t really ‘secrets’ to good food photography, but in the beginning I felt there was some kind of hidden information I needed to advance my skills. I kept hitting a metaphorical brick wall with my photography, and I just couldn’t seem to mimic those food photos I aspired to. I kept reading articles with titles like “secrets of food photography” and “all you need to know, blog food photography”. But the ‘secret’ is… there’s no secret. The three keys to producing enticing looking food photos are: a tripod, the right light, and some version of Photoshop for minor edits. With these three things you can succeed at the very least as a beginner.
The light. My favorite two things to play with these days are lighting and plateware. Lighting is the most important of these two, without good light you have nata. Natural light is my favorite to work with and it’s always your best option. This light is what you’re seeing with the naked eye most regularly, and it’s what will give your images the most realistic, natural quality. You can use it to create moderate to deep shadowing, or bounce it with reflectors to lighten up the frame. It’s versatile. Different times of day produce different shades and colors of light, something that is fun to play with. The only thing to note is that you never want to shoot your subject in direct light. Whether it’s natural sunlight or studio bulbs: always diffuse the light. White sheets, umbrellas, and photography diffusers will all help. I’ve recently aquired a small studio lighting setup with a light box, and I use this style of lighting when I need to shoot at night, but especially for product photography, which I’ll get more into later.
The tripod. A most necessary staple. You may think you’re holding that camera steady but trust me, you are not. The sharpness of an image depends on many factors but the first one is obviously camera shake. To get the absolute most out of your camera and lens of choice: always use a tripod. Not only does this remove any risk of camera shake blur, but it also allows you the opportunity to shoot your image with free hands for styling and the like. While my camera is shooting away on it’s tripod I’m usually holding up one of three other items: an additional light source with diffuser, a diffuser only, or a light reflector of some kind. Being able to shoot hands free gives affords you the opportunity to improve your image in other ways.
Photoshop. I don’t know what I did before I had it, I actually can’t remember what it was like… but I can tell you it’s changed my photography drastically. I’d say I only know about 20% of what PS is capable of, but even with that 20% you can really create effects that will wow your audience. My Photoshop automatic edits include noise removal, color adjustments, curves for exposure adjustment, spot/blemish removal, and sharpening. These edits have a major impact on your images. Being able to ‘clean up’ your photos can set them apart from the average snapshot.
***If you can’t afford PS or don’t know anyone who can allow you to use theirs, look for free editing software such as Gimp or Google’s own Picasa, or cheaper editing options such as Photoshop Elements, and Corel Paintshop Pro (both under the $100 mark). I’ve tried all four. My recommendation is PS Elements.
The look of natural light vs. studio lighting:
The first thing to know if you’re going to attempt artificial lighting is how to get the right bulbs! A quick google search will yield you tons of information, but look for mid-wattage bulbs with a K (kelvin rating) in the 5000’s that states ‘daylight’ on it. They’re usually a bit pricey, but if you get the good ones they’ll guarantee you several thousand hours of usage. A good investment. Consider the wattage of the bulb with your diffusing method of choice. A low wattage bulb diffused through an umbrella for example will be less powerful and requires your light source to be a bit closer to the subject. My bulbs are fluorescent daylight and range between 25-28W, and 5200-5500K. Both of these bulbs are diffused through thin, sheer fabric, and are placed quite close to the subject. Moving your diffuser from close to the bulb to further away from the bulb also has an effect on the shadows and light cast on your subject. Play with this a lot!
Natural light as stated above, can be left as is or reflected and controlled a bit. Most of my recent images are shot in aerial view, and for this I prefer to have light coming from one direction with only a slight reflector bounce coming from the opposite direction to uplift the shadows. Even leaving this shadowed area heavily darkened looks quite nice, again, the way your naked eye sees it usually is pleasing in photos so long as enough detail is still showcased. Reflectors come in different colors and sizes, but the best option is the multi-use version I was gifted, which is a 5-in-1 contraption. It has a black reflector for darkening shadows, both white, silver and gold reflector for cool and warm shadow lifting, and a light diffuser. They aren’t pricey and are absolutely worth sourcing out.
Once you have these three things sorted out: your tripod, some experience playing with lighting, and some form of editing software – the doors can really open up for you. Start playing with props, different angles to shoot your food from, and even the creative plating of the food itself.. and you’re onto something exciting.
Some example set ups from my recent posts – (header image courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo, check them out for free lifestyle stock images monthly!)
Image: slice of cake
Light Source: natural light, cloudy day, from one direction. Light source from top of image, bounced from bottom of image with silver reflector (just slightly).
Adjustments: cropping, noise reduction, color enhancement, sharpening, curves adjustments for exposure, and a few crumb spot removals.
Result: dynamic shadows, nicely lit with a natural looking quality, still bright enough to showcase details in the top of the cake and surrounding linens.
Image: poached pears
Light Source: natural light, bright day, from one direction. Light source from top of image, bounced from bottom of image with silver reflector.
Adjustments: cropping, noise reduction, color enhancement, sharpening, and curves adjustments for exposure.
Result: nice contrast between the stark white and colorful fruit in it’s liquids. Enough light bounced back as to minimize shadowing, allowing the subject to draw in your eye. Enough light to showcase details.
Light Source: artificial 5200K 28W daylight fluorescent bulb, diffused by white umbrella, close to subject from the right.
Adjustments: curves to bring down the background exposure, noise removal, color adjustments, sharpening, and a little vignetting with center brightening.
Result: a dramatically lit subject with heavy shadowing but bright clear colors and textures. It’s not a ‘natural’ lighting technique yet it has it’s perks and is very eye catching.
Image: chocolate bon bons
Light Source: three artificial lights- fluorescent daylight bulbs (specs stated above), one from left, one from right, and one from above, all diffused through thin white nylon.
Adjustments: curves for exposure, noise removal, color adjustment, and some sharpening.
Result: even light, accurate colors, not much shadowing, nice clear details.
I hope some of these pointers have at the very least inspired you to try pushing yourself in your blogging and photography experience, let me know what you think!
Click the links below, sources for some of the equipment mentioned above, and more:
Stay tuned for my next Behind the Scenes post, where I’ll be discussing props and food styling!