I love shooting all kinds of food photography. But, if you follow my work, you know that I totally gravitate towards a dark and moody style. I’m always trying to find a connection between food and art and with this style of shooting, I always seem to find it. There’s just something about how vibrant the food can be when surrounded by darker elements. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous and I love the depth created through shadows, texture and contrast. Today, I’m sharing some dark food photography tips and hopefully they inspire you to explore your dark and moody side of food photography.
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.
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 come in handy so you can stabilize your camera and have a lot of flexibility with what settings will work best for your shoot. I recommend this tripod by Manfrotto because it’s sturdy and is also easy to travel with. For overhead shots, I use this setup, however you could get this extension arm to use with your tripod.
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:
If you are shooting with natural light, the light source is your window. Since you can’t move your window, you’ll need 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. Depending on how powerful the natural light is, you may also want to use light modifiers to soften 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 help emphasize shadows and contrast.
If you’re shooting with artificial lights, your light source(s) are your lights. One of the main reasons I switched to artificial lighting was because I could move my light source to any position I wanted. Once my lights are positioned the way I want, I adjust my camera settings and the power of the lights to work hand-in-hand to get the mood juuuust right. I typically use softboxes with one or two strobes to balance and soften the light and use extra diffusers and reflectors when necessary.
Read More About: Artificial Lights for Food Photography
TIP 5: PLAY WITH EDITING
This is probably my favorite part of the process, because editing gives your images that extra boost of love that brings them to final form. It’s a super important part of photography and it’s so fun to see your images come together at this stage. I recommend shooting tethered so you can mess around with editing during your shoot to find that balance between what you want to do in camera vs. in editing. I typically use Lightroom and Photoshop for my editing and there are a variety of ways to approach finding your style.
There are some great editing tutorials on CreativeLive and eventually, I’ll share my favorite editing tips in another post. In the meantime, here’s a couple of great tutorials on Lightroom and Photoshop.
In a nutshell, dark and moody food photography is absolutely gorgeous and requires PRACTICE to create the mood you want. And, isn’t that the beauty of food photography? There’s always something more learn and experiment with… One of my favorite quotes is by Imogen Cunningham:
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 with each photo shoot. Keep at it and reach out with questions anytime!
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.