Food photography is a lot harder than it seems. Not only do we have to work to get the right composition but we also have to get the lighting right too. Once these elements are combined, we then need to style the food in order to make it appealing. Food styling is always done by a food stylist. In this article I’ll give you professional food photography tips, along with some images I took recently.
Food photography lighting tips
It’s common practice to light food in a way that shows texture. Texture is an essential component to the sales of food items. Showing or enhancing texture is done through side lighting. Side lighting shows texture because it brings out the highlights and shadows on the food making it more appealing to the viewer.
Many food shoots are done using window light. Window light is diffused light that works to accentuate contrast without really having to do anything overly technical. Many food photographers employ the use of a softbox to create that “clean and white” look, but they never light the front of the food. I’ll explain more in a moment.
These Chinese bowls are lit from the back to give more detail and to limit the reflection from the softbox.
The above image of the bruschetta has been photographed with a softbox to the left as the main light. This has created some nice texture for the product. So that the shadows are not to heavy and the right side falls into darkness the photographer has used a reflector to fill in the heavy shadows. Reflectors help put light back onto the subject without loosing the lovely contrast required for food photography.
In this photo above there have been no reflectors used. Simple window light, good placement of the food creates and some colour enhancement in Photoshop has created wonderful contrast to make the watermelon look juicy and sweet.
Why food is never lit from the front
Beautiful food photography depends very heavily on the direction of light for contrast to create texture. Even the most flat surfaced foods like cheese needs side lighting to create some appeal. If the food is lit from the front we lose the texture that side lighting offers. Flat lighting can make food look boring and unappealing.
These apples have been lit from the side to enhance texture. Water was been sprayed on them to achieve a fresh, clean look. The stylist or photographer has placed the green apple in the center of the red apples to create an overall artistic feel to them. Often, when stylists and photographers create patterns with food, it is because we want to tell the viewer something more about the food. It’s not only tasty but it has importance.
You can also create very artistic images using food. You may have seen very interesting food images that look highly designed and carefully crafted. Creative food photography is done with the help of food styling. Food stylists spend their working lives carefully designing the food and props in such a way that is easy on the eye. They employ design principles to style the image for commercial appeal.
There are a handful of food photography techniques you can employ. Lighting from the side, using soft window or softbox light (I sometimes use a white shoot through umbrella) is a common way to light food. You can use one light for darker images that need a country or rustic feel. You can light the food from the side and light the background for that clean and white look.
Food photography is a lot of fun but very hard work. It’s very particular and fastidious at the best of times. If you love still life and paying attention to detail then food photography might be right for you.