Let’s talk about artificial light! I’ve been excited to start this conversation with you, because switching from natural light to artificial light was a huge game-changer for me. I love natural light, but artificial light is all about control, my friend! And, the more control you have with your lighting, the more creative you can get with your images at any time of day and in any location. Not to mention, knowing artificial lighting is a big confidence booster behind the camera. This post shares three different artificial lights for food photography and behind the scenes images of each setup.

artificial lights for food photography

Why I Switched to Artificial Light

Like most food photographers, I started off shooting with natural light and became very comfortable with it. In fact, I am not a technical person at all and the idea of learning flash was intimidating to me in the beginning.

But, after I booked a shoot with a restaurant that was located in a BASEMENT with NO WINDOWS (gasp!), I was faced with the reality of needing to learn artificial light. After a slight meltdown, I decided to buy an online class through CreativeLive and bought my first speedlight.

Setting up the light wasn’t complicated at all and it was actually FUN to start manipulating the light to do whatever I wanted. Discovering that my images could still look like they were shot in natural light was also very exciting for me. I wish I had switched much earlier.

Check out this OLD behind the scenes pic from that basement shoot back from 2014!

basement shoot

Myths About Artificial Light

Myth 1: It’s too complicated.

It’s really not. There’s just a little extra setup involved. No matter what light(s) you get, there are three things that you’ll learn which will come naturally after the first time you do it.

1. Setting up your light(s).

2. Getting your camera and lights to communicate together using a sync cable or wireless trigger.

3. Setting your camera’s shutter speed for the correct sync speed.

Myth 2: My images won’t look natural.

Yes they will. You can create any kind of light you want. Your camera settings, light modifiers and the placement of the light(s) will help you achieve the style of lighting you want.

Can you tell which image below was shot with natural light vs. artificial light?

natural light vs. artificial light

Six General Tips for Artificial Lighting


Light modifiers are diffusers, reflectors, umbrellas, softboxes and grids. Having a variety to work with will allow you to manipulate and shape the lighting style that you want.


Think of your light as your window. The beauty is, you can move your light whereas with natural light, you can’t move your window. Moreover, your light positioning will affect the mood of the image. For example, you can backlight the image by positioning the light behind the image or side light the image with the light on the side.


My first speedlight didn’t have wireless capabilities, but my strobes do and it’s so nice not to be bound by a sync cable. I highly recommend making sure your light can work with a wireless trigger so you can move things around more freely.


CRI stands for color rendering index. A good strobe or continuous light will have a CRI that is greater than 90. So the higher the CRI, the better the color rendering ability. This varies per light and is listed in the product description.


Certain speedlights don’t always work with certain types of camera models. So be sure that the speedlight you are considering is compatible with your camera model. The product description will have this information and you can always reach out to customer service to be sure.


Recycle time is important when considering a speedlight or strobe. Recycle time basically means how much time the light needs to reboot before it can fire the flash at full power again. This varies per light and is listed in the product description. You don’t need to worry about recycle time with a continuous light since these lights do not flash.

Artificial Lights for Food Photography

There are a variety of lights out there and I remember feeling overwhelmed trying to figure it out. I’m listing three different lights for you to consider in an effort to help you navigate the world of artificial lighting for food photography. In addition, you can use my recommendations and do some comparisons online to find what will be best for you and your space. While I do recommend having at least two lights, it’s totally ok to start with one to see what you think before investing in more.

The images below were shot with one speedlight, one continuous light and one strobe light.

artificial lights for food photography

One Speedlight

A speedlight is a great place to start before diving into strobes, especially if you’re new to artificial lighting. In addition, speedlights are a more affordable setup, smaller in size and great for smaller spaces. They can also be pretty powerful little lights. CreativeLive offers a great online class about speedlights.

What You’ll Need:

1 speedlight compatible with your camera model (wireless capabilities recommended)

1 lightstand

1 mounting bracket

1 softbox

I’m sharing my first speedlight kit, but I highly recommend getting a speedlight that can work with a wireless trigger. My first speedlight required a sync cable and could not work wirelessly. This was fine to start with, but it can be limiting if you want more flexibility to move around.

artificial lights for food photography

The Setup

I setup my tripod and camera at an angle using my 105mm 2.8 lens. My speedlight is positioned behind the glasses for a backlit look using a 16″ softbox. I had to use a sync cable with this speedlight that connects from the light to my camera. The power of the light is set at 1/2 power (almost the strongest power setting for this speedlight). My camera settings were: 1/200; f10; ISO 160.

Speedlight Gear


Promaster speedlight for Nikon (no wireless capabilities)

Promaster Light Stand

Mounting Bracket

Softbox 16″ (includes a mounting bracket)

Also Recommended:

Godox V860II-N with Trigger for Nikon (wireless capabilities)

Octogon Softbox 32″

Softbox and Mounting Bracket Bundle

Check out the final image shot with ONE SPEEDLIGHT.

artificial lights for food photography

One Continuous Light

Continuous lights don’t flash. They are constantly on. This allows you to see how the light is hitting your subject in real-time and you adjust the power as needed. Because they don’t flash, you don’t need sync cables or wireless triggers to make these lights work with your camera. These lights are used to shoot both stills and video, so if video is on your radar, this is something to keep in mind. In addition, these lights are bigger and require larger modifiers and mounts in comparison to speedlights. They can also be more of an investment.

What You’ll Need:

1 continuous light

1 modifier with compatible mount

1 light stand

artificial lights for food photography

The Setup

I setup my camera on my overhead setup. I started the shoot using my 35mm 1.4 (which is pictured), but ended up switching to my 105mm 2.8 lens for a closer view of the details of the squid. My continuous light is positioned to the left of the image with the bulb exposed rather than shooting through a softbox. I did this so I would get more power from the light and used a translucent diffusor to keep the light soft. The power of the light was set at 75%. My camera settings were: 1/13; f14; ISO 200.

Continuous Lights Gear


Genaray Monobright Daylight LED

Light Stand


Reflector Holder

Also Recommended:

Large Diffuser

Soft Box for Genaray with Bowen’s Speed Ring

Godox SL Series SLB60W

Diffuser and Grids for Godox with Bowen’s Mount

Softbox with Grid

Check out the final image shot with one CONTINUOUS LIGHT.

artificial lights for food photography

One Strobe Light

Strobe lights are my personal favorite to use for food photography because I love how powerful they are. They will require a wireless trigger like Pocket Wizards or a sync cable to communicate with your camera. They are about the same size as continuous lights and can also be more of an investment.

What You’ll Need:

1 strobe light

1 modifier with compatible mount

1 light stand

Pocket Wizards (for wireless setup)

Sync Cable (non-wireless setup)

Hot Shoe Adaptor (some cameras require this to connect to your sync cable)

overhead setup

The Setup

I setup my camera on my overhead setup. I used my 105mm 2.8 lens for a closer view of the roasted tomatoes. My strobe light is positioned to the right of the image with a softbox. I wanted to keep the light soft and even on the tomatoes. The power of the light was set at 1/3 power with a lot of power left to play with, if I needed it (unlike the speedlight where I was almost at the max power at 1/2). My camera settings were: 1/200; f14; ISO 160.

Read More About: How to Shoot and Composite a Bottle | Studio Lights Demo

Strobe Lights Gear


Paul C. Buff Strobe Lights (X1600)

Paul C. Buff Soft Box

Light Stand

Pocket Wizards Plus X

Also Recommended:


Large Diffuser

Hot Shoe Adapter for Nikon (if shooting with a sync cable)

Check out the final image shot with ONE STROBE LIGHT.

image shot with ONE STROBE LIGHT

In conclusion, I just want to emphasize that artificial lighting doesn’t need to be intimidating. I wish I would have switched much sooner, but it’s easy to get in our own way especially when it comes to breaking outside of our comfort zone. I get it, believe me.

Once you learn how to setup your light and get your camera and lights working together, the fun begins! Getting an online workshop is super helpful too. Knowing how to shoot with artificial lighting elevates your abilities as a photographer and opens the doors to a lot more variety of client projects. Give it a try… I have a feeling you’ll love it.

If you have any questions, please comment below or email me directly.

Happy Shooting!

Read More About: My Current Gear for Food Photography

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click or make a purchase through my site, I might make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only promote products that I actually use and support. 

All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.

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