If you follow my work, you know that I totally gravitate towards a dark and moody stye. I’m always trying to find a connection between food and art and with this style of shooting, I always seem to find it. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous and love the depth created through shadows, texture and contrast. Today, I’m sharing some dark food photography tips in an effort to inspire you to explore your own dark and moody side of food photography.
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Dark Food Photography Tips
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.
Since I shoot with artificial lights, I always have control of my lighting and have more than enough light to work with on set. In fact, I usually start with more light than I’ll need, focus it on my subject and gradually start taking it away. This helps me discover where I can emphasize shadows and still keep the food vibrant and colorful. Every photographer has their own process and different ways of approaching their lighting. The secret is that there is no secret. You just need to keep practicing taking control of your lighting.
TIP 1: SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE AND USE A TRIPOD
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 their images.
Working with a good tripod will definitely come in handy so you can stabilize your camera and have more flexibility with what settings will work best for your dark and moody shoot. I own and recommend this tripod by Manfrotto because it’s pretty sturdy for my home studio and also easy to travel with for location shoots. For overhead shots with this tripod, however, 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. AND, if you want a really cool overhead setup recommendation that doesn’t require a tripod, I use this setup.
Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode
TIP 2: USE DARKER SURFACES & BACKDROPS
An easy way to experiment 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. Isn’t it cool how just switching the surface alone makes such a difference in the mood of each image?
TIP 3: USE DARKER PROPS
Using darker props is another easy way to create moodier food images. Some foods (like salads, for example) are usually shot on lighter surfaces with brighter, more colorful 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 surfaces and props and still capture the beautiful colors and freshness of the food.
TIP 4: CONTROL THE LIGHT SOURCE
Whether you’re using natural light or artificial lights, there are three ways to control your light source for a dark and moody image before you get to the editing stage:
USING NATURAL LIGHT
If you are shooting with natural light, the light source is your window. Since you can’t move your window, you have to move the food according to how you want it lit. For example, a backlit image will create a different mood than a side lit image.
After your food is positioned to catch the light, you’ll want to adjust your camera settings to determine how much light to let into the image. And, depending on how powerful the natural light is, you can use different modifiers to diffuse and direct the light. I usually diffuse the light from the window with these types of diffusers and I use these dark foam boards to direct shadows and create extra contrast.
Read More About: Natural Light Food Photography Tips
USING ARTIFICIAL LIGHT
If you’re shooting with artificial lights, your light source(s) are your lights. Once your lights are positioned the way you want, adjust your camera settings and the power of the lights to get the mood juuuust right. Artificial lighting can be modified using soft boxes, umbrellas and a variety of diffusion papers.
Read More About: Artificial Lights for Food Photography
TIP 5: PLAY WITH YOUR EDITING STYLE
Editing is a very important part of the photography process. It’s so fun to see the image get adjusted to its final form. I typically use Lightroom and Photoshop for my editing and there are a variety of ways to approach finding your editing style. There are some amazing editing tutorials on CreativeLive and eventually, I’ll share my favorite editing tips in another post. In the meantime, here are a couple of great tutorials for learning Lightroom and Photoshop. One extra tip to make the editing stage easier is to shoot tethered. It helps you get to the final image faster since you are basically seeing the images as you shoot. Seeing the images on a larger screen helps you catch any composition or lighting adjustments easier.
In a nutshell, 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 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 and growing during each photo shoot. Keep practicing and reach out with questions anytime!
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.