Natural Light Food Photography Tips

I was a natural light food photographer for a long time before I switched to artificial lights. Natural light is really beautiful, but it can be tricky to work with without some tools to help you out. 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

Natural Light Food Photography Tips

Natural light is beautiful and incredibly convenient when you’re starting out in food photography. It’s less gear to work with and it can quickly become a comfort zone for a lot of photographers. But, because it has a mind of its own depending on the time of day, season and weather, there are some helpful tips that can help you take more control over your natural light.

Tip 1: Adjust Your Exposure (DSLR)

If you are using a DSLR camera, you’ll want to start learning how to adjust the exposure settings of your images. This means you need to stop shooting in Auto Mode and start shooting in Manual Mode. When you learn how to adjust your aperture, shutter speed and ISO interchangeably, you’ll have a lot more control over how your images are exposed. In fact, learning manual mode will be one of the biggest game-changers for you and your food images.

READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE

How To Adjust iPhone Exposure

If you’re shooting food images with your iPhone, you adjust your iPhone image exposure. Simply tap the screen and you’ll see a yellow box with a sunshine icon next to the box. Move the sunshine icon up and your image will get brighter. Move it down and your image will get darker. It’s a really convenient tool to play with so you can practice adjusting your exposure with your iPhone.

iPhone Exposure Adjustment Tool

Tip 2: Set Up By A Window

For natural light food photography, your window is your primary light source. In order to get the best natural light on your food images, you can’t just be near a window, you need to physically set the food next to a window. The overhead lights in your home cause unwanted shadows and inaccurate color temperatures. In fact, if you’re next to a window and still getting unwanted shadows, turn your overhead lights off.

Tip 3: Use A Diffuser

Diffusers are amazing tools to have to help modify the natural light you’re working with. They’ll sit between your light source (your window) and your subject (your food). They help soften and spread the light more evenly over your food.

You can get a variety of different sized diffusors depending on the size of your window or you can use white bed sheets for diffusing the light too. It’s totally ok to get a little creative with the type of light modifiers that work best for your space and budget.

Tip 4: Get Black & White Foam Boards

Who would have thought that white and black foam board could be SO useful in food photography? They may be cheap boards, but they’re 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 backdrop when needed too.

WHITE FOAM BOARD

The behind the scenes setup below 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 the right side.

I shot two images: one without the white v-flat one with the white v-flat. Notice how using the white v-flat helps add some brightness to the right side of the image?

CAMERA & SETTINGS: Nikon D750; 105mm; 1/6; f14; ISO 100

NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

BLACK FOAM BOARD

The next behind the scenes setup below 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?

CAMERA & SETTINGS: Nikon D750; 105mm; 1/6; f14; ISO 100

NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Tip 5: Use A Tripod

I always recommend using a good tripod to stabilize your camera. This helps you avoid any camera shake when you’re taking pictures. Holding the camera is ok, but it can be hard to avoid blurry images depending on what camera settings you’re using.  

In the scallions example, I used a high aperture of f14 to keep the food nice and sharp, a low ISO of 100 to avoid any grain or noise in my image and a slow shutter speed of 1/6 to let in more light. This slow of a shutter speed definitely required a tripod.

READ MORE ABOUT: THE BEST CAMERA FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

There are several different editing techniques that can help correct the challenges of using natural light. 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. 

Adobe Lightroom Photoshop Bundle

I highly recommend checking out these two workshops listed below by CreativeLive to learn some really cool tips and tricks for editing your images.

  1. LIGHTROOM
  2. PHOTOSHOP

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.

virant image before and after
Green onions on a light surface

Natural light is a beautiful light source to use for your food photography. Learn how to adjust your camera settings, get a diffuser, 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 with questions anytime!

Happy Shooting!

SUMMARY OF TOOLS FOR NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

READ MORE ABOUT: GETTING STARTED IN FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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. Matt says:

    This is awesome! Very straightforward – sometimes these kind of posts get so technical – it’s refreshing to see and I learned a lot!

    • Regan says:

      Awesome, Matt! So glad you found this post helpful!

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