If you follow my work, you’ll notice that I gravitate towards a dark and moody style. I’m always trying to find a connection between food and art. With this dark style of shooting, I always seem to find that connection. I love the depth created through shadows, texture and contrast. This post shares my favorite dark food photography tips and I hope it inspires you to start exploring a dark and moody style of food photography.
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Dark Food Photography Tips
First, I want to clear up a little misconception about dark food photography. “Dark” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re shooting in the dark or with “low light.” While we think of dark as being the opposite of light, photographers still need light to see the subject. It’s how you control the light that creates the mood.
I usually shoot with artificial lights, so I always have full control over my lighting. If you shoot with natural light, you also have the ability to control the light by adjusting your camera settings. Every photographer has their own process and different ways of approaching their lighting. The secret is that there is no secret. You just have to practice and discover what works for you and your style. So, let’s dive into the tips!
Dark Food Photography Tip 1: Shoot In Manual Mode
Whether you’re shooting with natural light or artificial lights, your camera settings play a huge role in how the image is exposed. I always push photographers to shoot in manual mode so they can take full control of the exposure of their images. I have a full post all about manual mode to help you get started.
Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode
Dark Food Photography Tip 2: Use A Tripod
Using a good tripod will definitely come in handy so you can stabilize your camera and have more flexibility with adjusting your settings. I own and recommend this tripod by Manfrotto because it’s sturdy for my home studio and is easy to travel with if I have to shoot on location.
EXTENSION ARM FOR OVERHEAD SHOTS
For overhead shots with this tripod, I highly recommend getting this extension arm, because the center arm on the tripod isn’t very long and may not extend far enough over your table.
MY FAVORITE OVERHEAD SETUP
If you want an alternative (and really cool) overhead setup recommendation that doesn’t require a tripod or an extension arm, check out my post that shares my simple overhead setup for food photography. It results in gorgeous overhead shots every time.
Dark Food Photography Tip 3: Use Darker Surfaces & Backdrops
A fun and easy way to start experimenting with dark and moody food images is to use darker surfaces and backdrops. To demonstrate this, I used the same bowl of eggs with the same lighting and set them up on two different surfaces. One is dark and one is light. Isn’t it cool how just using two different surface colors can affect the mood of the image?
Dark Food Photography Tip 4: Use Darker Props
Using darker props is another easy and fun way to create moodier food images. Some foods (like salads, for example) are usually shot on lighter surfaces with brighter props to emphasize the freshness of the food. However, in the salad image that I shot below, I wanted to demonstrate that you can also use darker props and still capture the beautiful colors and freshness of the food. In fact, I think the colors in this salad pop even more on the dark plate.
Dark Food Photography Tip 5: Control The Light
Whether you’re using natural light or artificial lights, there are three ways to control your light for a dark and moody image before you get to the editing stage:
1. ADJUST YOUR CAMERA SETTINGS
Adjusting your camera settings allows you to control the exposure of your food images. For example, in the spinach salad image above my camera settings were f14, 1/200 shutter and 100 ISO. Your camera settings will vary depending on if you’re using artificial or natural light and how powerful the light source is.
2. USE LIGHT MODIFIERS
Light modifiers will help you control how intense the light is when hitting your subject. For example, in the spinach salad image above I used a large soft box on my strobe to spread out the light and keep it nice and soft. If I was using natural light, I might use a diffuser over the window to soften and spread the light over my subject.
3. ADJUST YOUR LIGHT POSITIONING
Where your light source is coming from and how close or far away it is from your subject is really important. For example, in the spinach salad image above, I used one strobe and positioned it towards the food from the top of the image. I kept inching the light away from the salad until it was hitting it just right to keep the surrounding areas dark and the food bright and colorful. You’ll notice how you can see the light hitting the black plate in two spots to see the direction the light was coming from. Move around with your light source and see how the light hits the food differently creating a different mood.
For example, a backlit image will create a different mood than a side lit image. See the examples from my Easy Pomegranate Salsa and Ricotta Flatbread recipe below. The first image is lit from the sides and the second was lit from behind. Notice how the position of the light creates a different mood for the image?
SIDE LIGHT FOOD IMAGE EXAMPLE
BACK LIGHT FOOD IMAGE EXAMPLE
USING NATURAL LIGHT FOR DARK FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
If you are shooting with natural light, the light source is your window. Depending on how much light is pouring in, you will need to adjust your camera settings according to the type of exposure you want. You will have to adjust your settings as you shoot since natural light is constantly changing. You may want to diffuse the light from the window if it’s too bright. I usually diffuse the light using these types of diffusers. Then, I can use these dark foam boards to direct shadows and add contrast. And, since your window can’t move, you will need to physically move around and adjust the position of the food so the light is hitting the subject from the side or from behind.
Read More About: Natural Light Food Photography Tips
USING ARTIFICIAL LIGHT FOR DARK FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
If you’re shooting with artificial lights, your light source(s) are your light(s). When you adjust your camera settings with artificial lighting, you usually don’t have to change them again. This is because artificial lights are consistent, unlike natural light that is always changing. You can modify the lights using soft boxes, umbrellas and a variety of diffusion papers. Then, you can position the lights as you want. Lights can be moved around really easily, so you’ll have more flexibility in deciding how to light your subject.
Read More About: Artificial Lights for Food Photography
Dark Food Photography Tip 6: Shoot Tethered
I highly recommend shooting tethered. This basically means you have your camera connected to your computer and you can review images as you shoot. It helps you review the image on a larger screen so you can see any adjustments that need to be made. Tethering helps you capture the final image faster since you can review as you go resulting in less images to edit during post production.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to get a tethering cable that is compatible with your camera and computer ports. For example, I shoot with the Nikon D750 and use this tethering cable to connect to my computer. Your tether cable will vary depending on your camera model.
Dark Food Photography Tip 7: Find Your Editing Style
Editing is a very important part of the photography process. It’s so fun to see the image reach its final form. I use Capture One, Lightroom and Photoshop for my editing and there are a variety of ways to approach finding your editing style. Use the banner ad below to get Lightroom and Photoshop bundled together.
PHOTOGRAPHY EDITING TUTORIALS
There are some amazing editing tutorials on CreativeLive and eventually, I’ll share my favorite editing tips in another post. Here are a couple of great tutorials to get you started learning how to edit in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Dark and moody food photography is absolutely gorgeous, but it does require practice to create the mood you want. And, honestly, that’s the beauty of food photography. There’s always something more learn and experiment with – which reminds me of one of my favorite photography quotes:
“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
No matter what level you’re at, just remember that we all started out as beginners and we are all still learning something new during each photo shoot. Keep practicing and reach out with questions anytime!
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.