Dark & Moody Food Photography Tips

If you follow my work, you’ll probably notice that I gravitate towards a dark and moody style. I love the depth and richness 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 with your own food photography.

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dark food photography tips

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 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 and this will differ per photo shoot.

For my photo shoots, no matter what the creative vision is, I have to make decisions about the following things:

  • CAMERA SETTINGS
  • WHITE BALANCE
  • TRIPODS
  • BACKGROUNDS & SURFACES
  • PROPS
  • LIGHTING
  • EDITING
dark food photography 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 blog post all about how to shoot in manual mode to help you get started.

Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode

shrimp on a seafood fork

Dark Food Photography Tip 2: Adjust Your White Balance

Your white balance is incredibly important, because it helps you create light that looks natural. If you shoot with natural light, you can’t assume the light will just look natural. Sometimes images look too blue or too yellow depending on the light and you’ll want to adjust your white balance to accommodate for one or the other. I will admit that I typically will shoot with Auto White Balance. It usually works out for me and if my images end up looking too warm or too cool, I can correct it during editing.

However, I also shoot tethered. This is when my camera is attached to my computer so I can see my images on a larger screen. This allows me to make changes to my camera settings, composition, color and lighting as I shoot so I have less to do during editing. I highly recommend shooting tethered so you can make any adjustments you need prior to getting to the editing stage.

Dark Food Photography Tip 3: Use A Tripod

MANFROTTO 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.

My simple overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful flatlay images of food, props and ingredients every time. Click to read more.

Dark Food Photography Tip 4: 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?

photo of eggs

Dark Food Photography Tip 5: 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 tips

Dark Food Photography Tip 6: 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

Pomegranate Salsa Flatbread

BACK LIGHT FOOD IMAGE EXAMPLE

Side Light Flatbread

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

Three pears with a dark background

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 tips

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 for only $9.99/month.

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.

ADOBE LIGHTROOM: THE COMPLETE GUIDE

ADOBE PHOTOSHOP: THE COMPLETE GUIDE

Dark and moody food photography is absolutely gorgeous, but it does require practice to create the mood you want. 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!

Happy Shooting!

Read More About: Light & 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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