Let’s talk about artificial light! I’ve been excited to have this conversation with you, because switching from natural light to artificial light was a huge game-changer for me. I love natural light, but artificial light is all about control, my friend! And, the more control you have with your lighting, the more creative you can get with your images at any time of day and in any location. Not to mention, knowing artificial lighting is a big confidence booster behind the camera. This post shares three different artificial lights for food photography and behind the scenes images of each setup.
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Artificial Lights for Food Photography
Like most food photographers, I started off shooting with natural light and became very comfortable with it. In fact, I am not a technical person at all and the idea of learning artificial lighting was intimidating to me in the beginning. Can you relate to this?
But, after I booked a shoot with a restaurant that was located in a BASEMENT with NO WINDOWS (gasp!), I was faced with the reality of needing to learn artificial light. After a slight meltdown, I decided to buy an online class through CreativeLive and bought my first speed light.
Much to my surprise, setting up the light wasn’t complicated at all and it was actually FUN to start manipulating the lighting to do whatever I wanted. Discovering that my images could still look like they were shot in natural light was also very exciting for me. I wish I had switched much earlier, because having this kind of control over my images has been a huge game-changer. Not to mention, I could now shoot anywhere and at any time of day.
Check out this OLD behind the scenes pic from that basement shoot back from 2014! I use the same speed light setup when I talk about speed lights in this post. Read on!
Myths About Artificial Light
MYTH 1: ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING IS TOO COMPLICATED.
It’s really not. There’s just a little extra setup involved. No matter what light(s) you get, there are four things that you’ll learn how to do which will come naturally after the first couple times you do it.
- Setting up your light(s).
- Getting your camera and lights to communicate together using a sync cable or wireless trigger.
- Setting your camera’s shutter speed for the correct sync speed.
- Adjust the position and power of the light(s) so you’re lighting the food the way you want.
MYTH 2: MY IMAGES WON’T LOOK NATURAL.
Yes they will. You can create any kind of light you want. Your camera settings, light modifiers and the placement of the light(s) will help you achieve the style of lighting you want.
Can you tell which image below was shot with natural light vs. artificial light?
General Tips for Artificial Lighting
1. USE LIGHT MODIFIERS
Light modifiers are diffusers, reflectors, umbrellas, softboxes and grids. Having a variety to work with will allow you to manipulate and shape the lighting style that you want.
2. ADJUST THE POSITIONING OF YOUR LIGHT
Think of your light as your window. You can move your light anywhere you need it to be, whereas with natural light, you can’t move your window. Moreover, your light positioning will affect the mood of the image. For example, you can backlight the image by positioning the light behind the image or side light the image with the light on the side.
3. USE A WIRELESS TRIGGER OR POCKET WIZARDS
My first speed light didn’t have wireless capabilities, but my strobe lights do and it’s so nice not to be bound by a sync cable. I highly recommend making sure your lights can work with a wireless trigger so you can move things around more easily.
4. CHECK THE CRI
CRI stands for color rendering index. A good strobe or continuous light will have a CRI that is greater than 90. So the higher the CRI, the better the color rendering ability. This varies per light and is listed in the product description.
5. SPEED LIGHTS & CAMERA MODELS
Certain speed lights don’t always work with certain types of camera models. So be sure that the speed light you are considering is compatible with your camera model. The product description will have this information and you can always reach out to customer service to be sure.
6. CHECK THE RECYCLE TIME
Recycle time is important when considering a speed light or strobe. Recycle time basically means how much time the light needs to reboot before it can fire the flash at full power again. This varies per light and is listed in the product description. You don’t need to worry about recycle time with a continuous light since these lights do not flash.
Three Different Types of Artificial Lights
There are a variety of lights out there and I remember feeling overwhelmed trying to figure out what to get. I’m listing three different lights for you to consider in an effort to help you navigate the world of artificial lighting a little easier. In addition, you can use my recommendations and do some comparisons online to find what light(s) will be best for you and your space. While I do recommend having at least two lights, it’s totally ok to start with one to see what you think before investing in more.
A speed light is a great place to start before diving into strobes, especially if you’re new to artificial lighting. Speed lights are a more affordable setup and smaller in size, which makes them great for smaller spaces. They can also be pretty powerful little lights. CreativeLive offers a great online class about speedlights.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 speedlight compatible with your camera model (wireless capabilities recommended)
- 1 lightstand
- 1 mounting bracket
- 1 softbox
I’m sharing my first speed light kit in this example, but I highly recommend getting a speed light that can work with a wireless trigger. My first speed light required a sync cable and could not work wirelessly. This was fine to start with, but it can be limiting if you want more flexibility to move around.
I setup my tripod and camera at an angle using my 105mm 2.8 lens. My speed light is positioned closely behind the glasses for a strong backlit look using a 16″ softbox. I had to use a sync cable with this speed light that connects from the light to my camera. The power of the light is set at 1/2 power (almost the strongest power setting for this speed light). My camera settings were: 1/200; f10; ISO 160.
- Promaster speedlight for Nikon (no wireless capabilities)
- Promaster Light Stand
- Mounting Bracket
- Softbox 16″ (includes a mounting bracket)
- Godox V860II-N with Trigger for Nikon (wireless capabilities)
- Octogon Softbox 32″
- Softbox and Mounting Bracket Bundle
Check out the final image shot with one speed light.
2. Continuous Lights
Continuous lights don’t flash. They are constantly on. This allows you to see how the light is hitting your subject in real-time and you can adjust the power as needed. Because they don’t flash, you don’t need sync cables or wireless triggers to make these lights work with your camera. These lights are used to shoot both stills and video, so if video is on your radar, this is something to keep in mind. In addition, these lights are bigger and require larger modifiers and mounts in comparison to speed lights. They can also be more of an investment.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 continuous light
- 1 modifier with compatible mount
- 1 light stand
I setup my camera on my overhead setup. I started the shoot using my 35mm 1.4 (which is pictured), but ended up switching to my 105mm 2.8 lens for a closer view of the details of the squid. My continuous light is positioned to the left of the image with the bulb exposed rather than shooting through a softbox. I did this so I would get more power from the light and used a translucent diffusor to keep the light soft. The power of the light was set at 75%. My camera settings were: 1/13; f14; ISO 200.
Continuous Lights Gear
- Large Diffuser
- Soft Box for Genaray with Bowen’s Speed Ring
- Godox SL Series SLB60W
- Diffuser and Grids for Godox with Bowen’s Mount
- Softbox with Grid
Check out the final image shot with one continuous light.
3. Strobe Lights
Strobe lights are my personal favorite to use for food photography because I love how powerful they are. They will require a wireless trigger like Pocket Wizards or a sync cable to communicate with your camera. They are about the same size as continuous lights and can also be more of an investment.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 strobe light
- 1 modifier with compatible mount
- 1 light stand
- Pocket Wizards (for wireless setup)
- Sync Cable (non-wireless setup)
- Hot Shoe Adaptor (some cameras require this to connect to your sync cable)
I setup my camera on my overhead setup. I used my 105mm 2.8 lens for a closer view of the roasted tomatoes. My strobe light is positioned to the right of the image with a softbox. I wanted to keep the light soft and even on the tomatoes. The power of the light was set at 1/3 power with a lot of power left to play with, if I needed it (unlike the speedlight where I was almost at the max power at 1/2). My camera settings were: 1/200; f14; ISO 160.
Read More About: How to Shoot and Composite a Bottle | Studio Lights Demo
Strobe Lights Gear
Check out the final image shot with one strobe light.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that artificial lighting doesn’t have to be intimidating. I wish I would have switched to artificial lights much sooner, but it’s easy to get in our own way, isn’t it? Especially when it comes to breaking outside of our comfort zone.
Once you learn how to setup your light and get your camera and lights working together, the real fun begins! Getting an online workshop is super helpful too. Knowing how to shoot with artificial lighting elevates your abilities as a photographer and opens the doors to a lot more variety of client projects. Give it a try… I have a feeling you’ll love it.
If you have any questions, please comment below or email me directly.
Read More About: My Current Gear for Food Photography
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.