I was a natural light food photographer for quite a while before I switched to artificial lights. And, although I mostly shoot with artificial lights now, I still see so much beauty in natural light photography. In this post, I am sharing my favorite natural light food photography tips that will help you improve your food images.
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Natural Light Food Photography Tips
I stuck with natural light for a long time because it was beautiful, less gear to work with and it was simply a comfort zone for me. However, even though natural light can be beautiful, it can also be tricky to work with because it’s constantly changing. It’s important to be able to analyze the light and manipulate it to work for you. So, let’s dive into the tips!
1. Shoot in Manual Mode
First things first, are you shooting in manual mode yet? If you’re not, it’s time. Shooting in manual mode was one of the biggest game changers for me as a photographer. It’s all about controlling the exposure of your images which will vary a lot when using natural light. Natural light is constantly changing, so you’ll need to adjust your camera settings a lot more often to accommodate to the light. The camera won’t be able to make the best decisions for you, so turn that dial to “M” and start taking control of your images.
Read More About: How To Shoot In Manual Mode
2. Set Up By A Window
It’s very important to setup near a window that has enough light coming in to light your subject. For natural light photography, the window is considered your light source. Don’t use the overhead lights in your home, because they will distort the colors of your food. Not to mention, the lights in your home aren’t considered natural light. 😉 Consider where you want your light source to come from… do you want it to sit behind the food or to the side of the food?
3. Get Diffusers & Reflectors
Diffusers and reflectors are amazing tools to have to help modify your lighting.
Diffusers are more sheer and will sit between your light source (your window) and your subject (your food). They help soften and spread the light coming in from the window so it’s not too bright on the food.
Reflectors are solid colors (usually white, black, silver or gold) and will bounce light back to your subject. If your window is on the right side of the food, the left side could potentially get a little dark. Using a reflector on the left side facing the light source will help bounce the light back into the dark areas.
You can get a variety of different sized diffusors and reflectors in one or you could just use a sheer white window curtain. I have also seen photographers use white bed sheets for diffusing the light too. It’s totally ok to get creative with your light modifiers of choice. Use what works well with your space and your budget.
4: Get Black & White Foam Core
Who would have thought that white and black foam core could be SO useful in food photography? Whenever I pull these bad boys out on a shoot, sometimes people look a little confused. They’re cheap boards, but super effective for shaping and directing the light from your light source. I recommend having a variety of sizes on hand. They can also work as a surface or background for your food photography too.
Foam Core Demonstrations
This behind the scenes setup demonstrates setting my camera up on my overhead setup and using natural light from a window on the left with a sheer window curtain to diffuse the light. I also have a white v-flat (two pieces of foam core taped together) on the right to bounce the light back to the scallions so the image doesn’t get too dark on one side.
I shot two images: one without the white v-flat one with the white v-flat. Can you see how using the white v-flat helps add some brightness to the image?
This behind the scenes setup demonstrates setting my camera up on my overhead setup and using natural light from a window on the left with a sheer window curtain to diffuse the light. This time, I used black foam core on the right to bring out the shadows between the scallions.
I took two images: one without the black foam core one with the black foam core. Can you see how the black foam core helps bring out the shadows a bit more?
5: Use A Tripod
When you shoot with natural light, you’d be amazed at how underexposed your images can start to appear. I always recommend having a good tripod for food photo shoots to stabilize your camera. This allows for more flexibility with adjusting your camera settings and using a slower shutter speed if needed. I try to avoid bumping up the ISO if I don’t need to, so being able to use a slower shutter speed is key.
A tip I have is if I have to use a shutter speed slower than 1/100, I will pull out my tripod to stabilize my camera and not capture any camera shake/blur.
For this photo shoot, I used a high aperture (f14) to keep the food nice and sharp, a low ISO (100) to avoid any noise in my image and a slow shutter speed (1/6). This slow shutter speed definitely required a tripod and allowed me to compensate for the other two settings not letting in much light.
Best Tools for Natural Light Food Photography
- DIFFUSERS & REFLECTORS
- WINDOW CURTAIN
- WHITE BED SHEET
- BLACK FOAM CORE
- WHITE FOAM CORE
- MANFROTTO TRIPOD WITH BALL HEAD
- OBEN CT-3535 FOLDING CARBON FIBER TRAVEL TRIPOD
Tip 6: Play With Editing
Editing is a big part of the photography process. When you look at images straight out of the camera on your computer, they can appear kind of flat because they haven’t been edited yet. It’s important to shoot RAW so you have full editing capabilities during post production.
There are several different editing techniques that can help alleviate some of the struggles with using natural light that you can’t necessarily solve with your camera alone. I use Capture One, Lightroom and Photoshop for my editing. You can get Lightroom and Photoshop bundled together which is a great package for photographers. Capture One isn’t a part of the Adobe Creative Suite, so it might make sense to start with Lightroom & Photoshop and then move into Capture One down the road if you want.
I highly recommend checking out these two workshops listed below by CreativeLive to learn some really cool tips and tricks for editing your images.
Compare the before/after image below. Notice how the edited image on the right appears more vibrant and more colorful with a little extra contrast in the shadows in comparison to the flat, unedited version on the left.
Natural light is a beautiful light source to use for your food photography. Learn how to adjust your camera settings, gather some diffusers and reflectors, stock up on black and white foam core, use a tripod and practice your editing skills. I can’t wait to see what you do! Feel free to reach out anytime with any questions.
Read More About: Getting Started in Food Photography
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.