I was a natural light food photographer for quite a while before I switched to artificial lighting. And, although I highly recommend artificial lighting now, some food photographers and bloggers prefer to stick with natural light. In this post, I am sharing natural light food photography tips that will help improve your food images.
This post contains affiliate links. Read the affiliate disclosure.
Natural Light Food Photography Tips
My reasons for loving natural light were that it’s beautiful, it’s less gear to work with and it was simply a comfort zone for me. However, natural light is also tricky to work with because it’s constantly changing and there are only so many daylight hours to work with… so let’s discuss how to take control of natural light.
Tip 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
Tip 2: Set Up By A Window and Use Diffusers & Reflectors
I can’t emphasize this enough… setup near a window that has beautiful natural light pouring in. Don’t depend on your home’s overhead lights to capture the beautiful colors of your food.
The next thing you’ll need are diffusers and reflectors. Diffusers will soften the light and will sit between your light source (your window) and your subject (your food). They help you avoid hot spots and soften areas of your image that might look overexposed. Reflectors will bounce light back to your subject to help avoid parts of your image from getting too dark.
I have a variety of different sized diffusors and reflectors in my home studio and sometimes I simply use a sheer white window curtain. I have seen photographers use white bed sheets too. It’s totally ok to get creative with your modifiers of choice. Use what works well with your space and your budget.
Tip 3: Use 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 oh-so-effective for shaping light whether you’re using natural or artificial light. I recommend having a variety of sizes on hand. They can also work as a surface or background for your food photography.
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?
Tip 4: 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 5: Editing Techniques
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 (one of my all time favorite resources) to learn some really cool tips and tricks.
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.
Read More About: Getting Started in Food Photography
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.
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.