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The Power of Positive Lighting for Food Photography

Posted by on June 7, 2015

food photography tipsIf you were to ask a thousand professional photographers about the most important thing of all for good food photography, chances are 999 of them would tell you it’s the lighting. According to the experts at, there’s literally no point whatsoever in investing in the highest-end equipment or even going to town with ingredients and food styling if you don’t have the right lighting to play with. Food may appear to be an easy subject to work with, but when you consider there are often thousands of different colour tones and hues to pick up along with unique shadows and so many layers, you start to get the idea it’s not in fact as simple as it seems.

Of course, once you get the hang of things as far as lighting is concerned you’ll find yourself in a prime position to deliver the goods with consistency. Nevertheless, there’s quite the learning curve to negotiate first and more than a few commonly perpetuated bad habits to steer clear of.

So, in order to give those still finding their feet the very best chance of making a name for themselves, here’s a brief introduction to some of the most pivotal food photography lighting tips of all:

1 – Pretend Your Camera Doesn’t Have a Flash

It really doesn’t matter how great your camera is or how much you paid for it, the in-built flash is all-but useless when it comes to taking great shots of food. The reason being that if you are using your camera in the ideal way at the ideal distance and from the ideal angles, your flash will be too direct and too bright to possibly yield great results. The very nature of food is such that this kind of direct lighting is completely wrong for the job, so it’s worth pretending that your camera doesn’t in fact have a flash at all.

2 – Never Overlook White Balance

Amateur photographers never fail to drive themselves up the wall by fighting long and hard to capture those amazing colours and tones, only to produce poor results every time. There could of course be a fair few reasons why this is the case, though more often than not it tends to be a simple case of overlooking the importance of white balance. If your white balance is off even slightly, so too will be every single image and colour your camera picks up. And of course, the fact that white balance is so easy to control and correct makes it a pretty simple box to tick…so no excuses!

food photography tips

3 – Mixing Light Sources Is for Professionals Only

Seasoned professionals at the very top of their game know how to take more than one light source and pull them together to create stunning pictures. However, to say that pulling this off is tricky would be an understatement…it’s somewhere between a nightmare and nigh-on impossible. In the case of the amateur therefore, it’s the kind of thing that should be avoided altogether as it’s more likely you’ll end up wasting your time and ruining your shots. Choose one good source of light and stick with it.

4 – Avoid the Brightest Hours of Daylight

Natural light is always the best way to go, with the only slight downside being that you of course have no real control over it…which is a shame. However, it’s important to remember that in order to make the best of the natural light available, you might want to avoid the peak hours of brightness when the sun is at its strongest. More often than not, the nicer ambient light of the morning and late afternoon work best – as can moving indoors and using the natural light of a nearby window.

5 – Experiment with Light from All Angles

Last but not least, it’s always worth remembering that no matter what it is you’re trying to take a great photo of food-wise, every imaginable angle you can think of will produce a slightly different result. This goes for both the angle of the camera and the angle of the light to boot – the latter allowing you to play with shadows and dimensions with near-limitless freedom. The trick therefore is to keep playing with all manner of angles making small changes at a time until you find what looks to be the perfect shot. Even the slightest of changes can make the biggest of differences. You never know – that incredible shot you’ve been waiting for could be no more than a quick 1cm turn of the bowl away!

food photography tips