Dark Food Photography Tips To Improve Your Food Images

Dark food photography images are beautiful and can really add a dramatic look to your food images. So, how do you achieve a dark and moody food photography style? This post shares approachable dark food photography tips so you can start exploring a dark and moody style in your own food images.

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dark food photography tips

What is Dark Food Photography?

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 dark is the opposite of light, photographers still need light to see the subject. It’s how you control the light that creates the mood.

dark food photography tips

How To Shoot Dark Food Photography

Tip 1: Use Dark Surfaces & Backdrops

An easy way to get started with dark and moody food photography is to get some darker boards, also known as surfaces or backdrops. Surfaces are what sit beneath the food and backdrops are what sit behind it. By simply using darker boards, you will start seeing a dark and moody food photography style come to life.

To demonstrate this, see the bowl of eggs images below. I shot the same bowl of eggs with the same camera settings and the same lighting on two different photography surfaces. One board is dark and one board is light. Isn’t it cool to see how using two different surface colors can change the mood of the image so drastically?

READ MORE ABOUT: THE BEST BACKDROPS FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

photo of eggs

Tip 2: Use Dark Props

Another easy way to start bringing your dark food photography to life is to use dark props. Some foods – like salads, for example – are typically shot on lighter surfaces with bright props to highlight freshness of the food. Although “bright and fresh” is a beautiful look, it’s expected.

Try not to get stuck in one way of seeing things.

In the salad image below, I wanted to demonstrate that you can also create a dark and moody salad image simply by using darker props (the black plate) and and a dark surface (black foam board). I love how the colors pop off the black and despite the darker style, I think the salad still looks incredibly fresh.

dark food photography tips

Tip 3: Adjust Your Camera Settings

Your camera settings play a big role in the exposure of your images, which in turn helps with a dark and moody look. When you control the aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you can create with a variety of different exposures that will help you get the mood you’re going for.

USING A DSLR CAMERA

If you have a DLSAR camera, I always urge photographers to shoot in manual mode so they can take full control of the exposure and sharpness of their images. Manual mode allows you to control your aperture, shutter speed and ISO interchangeably. If you’re not shooting in manual mode yet, I have a blog post to help you get started.

READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE

USING AN IPHONE

If you are using your iPhone to shoot food images, I recommend downloading the Lightroom Mobile app. It’s free and this app gives you access to different camera settings within your iPhone – very similar to a DSLR. It’s pretty awesome. I have a post that talks about the Lightroom Mobile camera app, so be sure to check that out!

READ MORE ABOUT: LIGHTROOM MOBILE FOR IPHONE PHOTOGRAPHY

shrimp on a seafood fork

Tip 4: Use A Tripod

Using a good tripod will definitely come in handy for your food photography. Stabilizing your camera on a tripod helps you have more flexibility over your camera settings without causing camera shake (or blurry images). And, for dark food photography, you’ll want that extra flexibility for your settings.

TRIPOD FOR DSLR

I own this tripod by Manfrotto. It’s a sturdy tripod so the camera is nice and secure, but it also packs up well for traveling to different locations. You might need to get an extension arm to be sure your camera is stretched far enough over the table, but test the tripod out first to see if it’s something you’ll need.

TRIPOD FOR iPHONE

I actually use the same Manfrotto tripod for stabilizing my iPhone. You’ll just need one extra piece of equipment called a super clamp. This helps hold your iPhone in place. This tripod setup for the iPhone allows you to shoot all the popular food photography angles: overhead, 45 degree and straight on. See the image below and check out more iPhone tips in the link below.

READ MORE ABOUT: IPHONE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Tip 5: Experiment with Lighting

How to light dark food photography can seem challenging at first. But, whether you’re using natural light or artificial lights, there are three ways to control your light for a dark food images.

1. CAMERA SETTINGS

Just like I mentioned in Tip 3, adjusting your camera settings allows you to control the exposure of your food images. Don’t be afraid to play and see how different settings affect your food images.

2. LIGHT MODIFIERS

Similar to how you can use different lenses on your camera, you can use different light modifiers on your light source. Light modifiers help you control how the light hits your subject.

Think of it this way:

The larger the modifier, the more soft and spread out the light will be. The smaller the modifier, the more direct the light will be causing strong shadows and contrast.

Some examples of different light modifiers include:

  • DIFFUSORS
  • REFLECTORS
  • WHITE FOAM BOARD
  • BLACK FOAM BOARD
  • SOFT BOXES
  • UMBRELLAS
  • SNOOTS
  • GRIDS

3. LIGHT POSITIONING

Where your light source is coming from and how close it is to your subject will affect the mood of the image.

If you’re using natural light, your light source is your window. You can’t move the window, but you can move the food.

READ MORE ABOUT: NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

If you’re using artificial lights, your light source is your light. You can position the light wherever you’d like.

READ MORE ABOUT: GETTING STARTED WITH ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS

In the flat bread example below, the overhead image was lit from the side and the angled image was lit from the back. Notice how the different placements create a different look and mood for the images?

dark and moody food photography tips

Tip 6: Find Your Editing Style

Editing is a very important part of the photography process. Without editing, images can appear flat. I use Capture One, Lightroom and Photoshop for my photography editing. I recommend starting with Lightroom and Photoshop if you’re unsure what editing software to use.

Photography Editing Tutorials

There are some amazing editing tutorials on CreativeLive. Below are a couple of great tutorials to get you started learning how to edit in Lightroom and Photoshop.

ADOBE LIGHTROOM: THE COMPLETE GUIDE

ADOBE PHOTOSHOP: THE COMPLETE GUIDE

Tip 7: Shoot Tethered

Shooting tethered is a great way to improve your food images and experiment with how a dark and moody look comes together on set. This is because your camera is connected to your computer through a tether cable and you have an opportunity to see your images on a much larger screen. When you can see your images as you go, you can make adjustments right away and discover what works and what doesn’t work much faster.

READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT TETHERED FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

Dark and moody food photography is absolutely gorgeous and the photography tips I shared should be a good start for you. Just remember that we all started as beginners and we’re all still learning something new with each photo shoot. Don’t be afraid to play and always ask questions! I’m happy to help!

Happy Shooting!

READ MORE ABOUT: LIGHT AND AIRY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

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.

Comments +

  1. Mario T says:

    As strange as it may sound, I never really thought about using dark surfaces & props to darken my photography… I always just struggled with the lighting! Thank you – this is really helpful!

    • Regan says:

      Oh, I’m so happy that you found that tip helpful! Best of luck as you grow into your “darker side” of food photography! 😉 Cheers!

  2. Thank you for sharing these tips! I always thought it was all about the technical aspect/ camera settings when shooting moody images, didn’t realize that it can be as easy as getting dark colored props.

    • Regan says:

      Hi Lauren! There’s always some technical aspect to any style of photography, but yes! Using darker surfaces and props will definitely help bring a dark and moody look to life! Happy shooting!

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