How To Take Control Of Natural Light with Any Camera

I'm your food photography guru sharing photography tips, equipment ideas and business advice to help you improve your photography skills and navigate the world of food photography a little easier.

Hey, I'm Regan.

Natural light is very beautiful in food photography, but it also has a mind of its own. It’s constantly changing, you’re dependent on daylight hours and you need to be set up next to a window. These limitations can make it tricky to work with – unless you have some tips and tricks up your sleeve. 😉 Whether you use a DSLR, Mirrorless or your iPhone camera, I am going to share some game-changing natural light food photography tips so you can take more control over the exposure of your food images.

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natural light food photography tips

Natural Light Food Photography Tips

Tip 1: Adjust your exposure (DSLR & Mirrorless)

If you are using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, I want you to switch from Auto Mode to Manual Mode. This is one of the best natural light photography tips I can share with you. Auto mode is when your camera makes the decisions about your exposure settings and unfortunately, it isn’t always right. When you switch to Manual Mode, you can manually adjust your exposure settings to get the best exposure. Knowing how to adjust these settings allows you to shoot in a variety of natural light situations whether it’s a super cloudy day or a really bright sunny day.

Your exposure settings include your Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Check out my detailed post to help you get started learning manual mode.


Tip 2: Adjust your exposure (iPhone)


If you’re shooting food images with your iPhone and using the standard iPhone camera app, you have the ability to make your images darker or brighter.

Simply tap the screen where you want the iPhone to focus and you’ll notice a yellow box with a sunshine icon next to it. If you move the sunshine icon up, you’ll make your image appear brighter. If you move the sunshine icon down, you’ll make your image appear darker. This can be a quick and easy place to start experimenting with adjusting the exposure with your iPhone camera.

natural light iPhone exposure adjustment


Another third party camera app is Lightroom Mobile. It’s a robust camera app and an editing app and it gives you access to more camera settings and editing features – way beyond what the standard iPhone camera app offers you. This means you can take a lot more control over the exposure iPhone food images by using this app instead of the iPhone camera app.

When you open LR Mobile, it will default to Auto. To access the extra camera settings, turn on Professional Mode. Professional mode gives you access to Exposure, SEC (shutter speed), ISO, White Balance and Manual Focus. These extra settings give you a lot more control over the exposure and quality of your iPhone food images.


Lightroom Mobile Camera App

Tip 3: Set up NEXT to a window

A common natural light food photography setup is to be next to a window. If you’re relying on natural light, the sun is your primary light source. And, in order to get the best natural light on your food images, you can’t just be near a window, you need to set up next to a window. The further away you are from the window, the darker (muddier) your images will appear, so make sure you are close enough to it to get your food lit really well (about a meter away or so).

natural light photography tips

Tip 4: Use a diffuser

Diffusers are very helpful in controlling natural light. They are meant to be positioned between your light source (your window) and your subject (your food). They don’t block the light, but they help soften it for a more balanced look. You can get diffusers on Amazon. They’re inexpensive and you can choose from a variety of sizes.

natural light photography tips

Tip 5: Use white foam boards

White foam boards come in handy when one side of your food image is appearing too dark. Typically, when you’re setup next to a window, your food will be well lit on the side closest to the window. But, the opposite side could start to look too dark. When you place white foam board on the opposite side of the window, it will bounce light back to your food so it’s not so dark. It’s a super cool, inexpensive trick that all the pros use. 😉

natural light food photography tips

Tip 6: Use a tripod (DSLR & Mirrorless)

When you’re adjusting your exposure settings to accommodate the changing natural light, it is incredibly helpful to use a good tripod to stabilize your camera. This not only secures your camera in place and frees up your hands to make exposure adjustments more easily, but it also allows more flexibility with using different camera settings.

Holding the camera is ok, but it can be hard to avoid blurry images, especially if you have to use a slower shutter speed to let in more light.


camera tripod for photography

Tip 7: Use a tripod (iPhone)

This may surprise you, but I recommend using the exact same tripod to stabilize your iPhone camera. 😎 This tripod is amazing and will accommodate the three popular food photography angles including: Overhead, straight on and 3/4 angle. A lot of iPhone-specific tripods are not very stable and they do not support shooting food overhead, which is a very popular angle in food photography.

There’s one inexpensive piece of equipment that you’ll need when using your iPhone with this tripod. It’s called a Metal iPhone Tripod Mount. It helps secure your iPhone camera to the tripod at any angle. It is made of metal and is incredibly secure. It clamps onto the sides of your iPhone, so it won’t interfere with the screen at all and makes it easy to switch between a vertical and horizontal orientation. I dive deeper on this go-to tripod setup for the iPhone in the post below if you want to get a little more information.


iPhone tripod for photography

Tip 8: Play with editing (DSLR & Mirrorless)

Editing is a big part of the photography process no matter what camera you’re using. Even though you’re practicing how to get nicely exposed images by using different camera settings and experimenting with natural light tools, most images will appear pretty flat until they have some editing done to them.

When you’re using a DSLR, I recommend getting editing software for your computer. Some popular options include Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One. Lightroom and photoshop are a part of the Adobe Creative Suite, so you can get them together as a bundle. Capture One is separate editing software and you can always add it to your workflow later.

The before/after image below was edited using Lightroom.

lightroom editing example

Tip 9: Play with editing (iPhone)

As I mentioned earlier, Lightroom Mobile is a robust camera and editing app. I highly recommend downloading it from the app store and experimenting with it. It has a lot more features than the standard iPhone camera app, including specialized tools like masking and healing which allow you to make edits to a specific areas of your image. Editing has the power to bring your images to a whole new level and there are endless ways to experiment with it.

The before/after image below was edited using Lightroom Mobile.

natural light food photography tips

Mastering iPhone Food Photography

If you’re getting more curious about iPhone food photography, stop by and check out my signature course Mastering iPhone Food Photography. This course is one of a kind because all food photography courses focus on DSLR or Mirrorless cameras. Mine focuses on using the iPhone camera (or any smartphone camera) and it has become a huge support system for people who use their iPhone camera for taking pictures of food.

It’s a one-stop-shop that gives you a full suite of professional insight, videos, slides, screen recordings, behind-the-scenes demonstrations and resources to help you significantly improve your iPhone food images.

And, whether you decide to take my course or not, the only way to truly improve is to keep taking pictures. Practice is key! Use these tips as a guide to help you take more control over your natural light, because the more control you have, the more creative you can get with your food images. Reach out with questions anytime! 😉

Happy Creating!

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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