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Dark & Moody Food Photography Tips

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. 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 in an effort to inspire you to explore your dark and moody side of food photography.

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Three pears with a dark background

Dark & Moody 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 over my lighting and have more than enough light to work with on set. In fact, I usually start with more light than I need 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.

dark food photography tips

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 the exposure of their images.

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 pretty sturdy for my home studio and is 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 or an extension arm, I use this setup.

Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode

TIP 2: USE DARKER SURFACES & BACKDROPS

An 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. Isn’t it cool how just switching the surface alone makes such a difference in the mood of each image?

photo of eggs

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 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.

dark food photography tips

TIP 4: 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:

Camera Settings

Light Positioning

Light Modifiers

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 add contrast.

Read More About: Natural Light Food Photography Tips

Dark Food Photography Tips

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

dark food photography tips

TIP 5: EDITING

Editing is a very important part of the photography process. It’s so fun to see the image come to 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. 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.

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 my favorite quote.

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“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

–Imogen Cunningham

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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!

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!

    • reganbaroni00 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!

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Gear Recos

Dark & Moody Food Photography Tips

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01

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I’m a food photography guru who turned my weekend hobby into a career-changing business. I’m also a cat lover, a moto rider and truly don’t think bay leaves serve any purpose whatsoever.

Hey, I'm Regan.

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