Food Photography Lighting : A Complete Guide

Light is the first thing you will need while getting ready to shoot food. Without it, there would be no photography. In photography, light is used as a paintbrush.

The essential thing to learn while taking photos is how to use light. So, if you are feeling a little daunted by the prospect of learning all there is to know, pay attention. You will be able to create stunning images if you learn how to master them.

We will go through the basics of food photography setup and lighting in this photography basics course. Get started right now with this guide.

What Color Light Is Best For Food Photography?

Usually, I use a light source between 2,700 and 3,500K while photographing foods. CRI (Color Rendering Index) ratings of at least 82 are required to preserve food’s natural hue.

Basic Light Setup For Food Photography

I use different types of light setups to photograph food for my clients. However, basically, there are three types.

To describe these three setups, consider the dial of a timepiece.

  1. Aspect Lighting

Side lighting may be visualized by placing your light at an angle of around 9:00. 3:00 is also an option. But in the West, we read from right to left. Because our eyes initially focus on the brightest region of a picture, our light should come from our left side.

an example for aspect lighting in food photography
This is an example of a photo taken by placing the light at the angle of 9:00

This isn’t a hard-and-fast guideline. Depending on the composition of your shot, each side will impact how the light appears.

Try shooting a photo with your light set to 9:00 and then moving it to 3:00 the next time you point. Take a look at your finished product and notice the difference.

Most of the time, during photographing food, I am benefited from side lighting since it works well in most situations. You’ll want to place a massive softbox near your work area. The softer the light, the larger the light source. When it comes to food photography, using a soft light source is necessary.

A lighting setup to photograph food where a massive softbox is kept in the right corner.
Food photography Setup with a massive softbox on the side.

The natural part of the light back onto your scene by placing a reflector and bounce card across from where it is coming from. If you want more or less of a shadow, you may move it closer or further away. There is always a need for shadows, even if the scene is entirely white or brilliant.

  1. Backlighting

When you place your light above your meal at midnight (12:00), you’re using backlighting. Smooth and silky, this is an excellent option for liquid foods such as drinks or soups, where the added shine brings out the liquid qualities and textures.

photo of a glass of beer
A photo of a glass of beer which was photographed using backlighting

If you don’t apply a neutral density filter, you may find that your picture is overly brilliant and blown out in the rear and too dark in the front. It may also seem washed out if you shot with too much light, which occurs when you overexpose.

Sometimes, I also feel too much meditation during the meal is a problem. It might be challenging to balance colour contrasts when using backlighting. As a result, it is helpful to be conscious of these issues while using backlighting.

  1. Backlighting From The Side

You may get this look by putting your light at 10:00 or 11:00 and combining the two previously described lighting approaches.

A man taking photos of food where the light source is at an angle of 10:00 or 11:00.
A man taking photos of food. The light source is kept at an angle of 10:00 or 11:00

Using this technique, you get both the shine of backlighting and the danger of overexposure in the background. Because the light is entering from an angle, you don’t need to reflect that much light onto the front of the meal.

Your light source is on the other side of the reflector. There are a few things you may experiment with to determine what kind of shadows you’d want to cast.

Portable Light For Food Photography

  1. A Desk Lamp With A Wide-Angle LED
A desk lamp with a wide angle LED
A wide-angle LED desk lamp (Source: worldofdecors.com)

Autonomous Ultra-wide led desk light is one of the finest on the market for portability. About 1200 lumens are produced by 120 LEDs (4014), which need 15 watts of electricity. Cast aluminum and metals make up the complete frame.

It is possible to choose one of four colours of light bulbs. You may choose from five different brightness levels on this portable desk light, which has a lifespan of more than 50,000 hours.

  1. The Stella Go Portable Table Lamp
LED Potable table lamp from Stella Go brand
Stella Go LED Portable table lamp (source: Stellalighting.com)

Is there anything better than a little desk lamp? Light your way to new heights thanks to the Stella Go LED portable light bulb. Battery-powered, this light consumes very little electricity. 

There are no ultraviolet lights to be found! You won’t feel a thing since there are no heat emissions. It is simple to recharge the light using a Qi-certified charging station. To use this Philips-powered desk lamp, you should not need to change the bulb.

What Lighting Should I Use For Food Photography?

It’s ideal to utilize diffused natural light while taking photos of your cuisine.

In terms of lighting, it’s the most aesthetically pleasing, attractive, and budget-friendly option for food photography. You’re on-camera or phone flash should be avoided at all costs. A bland and unappealing appearance will be the result of your meal.

Do You Need A Softbox For Food Photography?

Getting the right amount of light onto the set is essential, but you also need to sculpt & shape that light to obtain the most satisfactory results. For food and yet still life photography, most photographers utilize a softbox.

Which Softbox Is Good For Food Photography?

It is preferable to have a large softbox like Octagon Softbox 48″ than a little one. Lights may be softened and diffused using this attachment. It is almost as big as a window, so we like this 48-inch softbox so much. This will give your whole food set up a natural glow while evenly illuminating it.

Best Softbox Size For Food Photography

Generally speaking, a softbox must be around the same height as your object; for example, a headshot or a half shot might need softboxes around 18 to 24 inches, while a full-body image could require multiple softboxes in the 48-inch or more range.

Can You Use A Ring Light For Food Photography?

Ring lights are an absolute must if you routinely photograph food, regardless of your client’s requirements.

Using a ring light for food photography
A woman taking photos of food using a ring light (Source kodakringlight.com)

Food photography benefits from the use of ring lights. A bright, sometimes wash of light covers the subject, erasing all shadows.

However, understanding how to use a ring light to photograph food might be a challenge. Light and shadows may be diffused using a three-light setup that includes modifiers.

Which Ring Light is Best for Food Photography?

Both on-camera and off-camera ring lights exist, and I’ve been using them in various ways since both these have pros and cons according to the way we are using the camera and light.

So, what exactly is the distinction?

On-camera Ring LightOff-camera Ring Light
Can attach the ring light to the camera (to the hot shoe of your camera.)Can’t attach the ring light to the camera.
Small and lightweightMount the ring light on a tripod.
Ideal for macro photography or taking an on-site portrait.Excellent for the beginners of using ring lights, mainly when you utilize them as an extra light for the first time.
While you’re clicking away, it goes around the lens in a circle. Most on-camera ring lamps are strobes, which create far more powerful bursts of light.Offer a constant light source.
Difference between on-camera ring light and off-camera ring light

In addition to on- and off-camera options, you must choose between a strobe and a steady LED light for your ring light.

Softbox Or Ring Light For Food Photography

The canopy lighting system is not sufficient to use lighting equipment for photography or filmmaking. “What is the difference between a softbox and ring light?” is an excellent place to start. You may choose the lighting setup that best suits your needs with our assistance! Once you get familiar with the many aesthetics each one may bring, you’ll be able to recognize them apart.

Softbox LightingRing Lighting
Provide soft, focused light on your subject.creates a circle of lights with really no light in the center.
Can guide the light in any direction, because softboxes can be set up anywhere around the camera and subject.A camera placed amid the ring may provide equal lighting on a subject. There will be no shadows in the middle of the subject.
A wide variety of lighting effects may be achieved without the harshness of the naked flash or the “spill” of the shoots and roots umbrella, all without the need for a diffuser. 
Softbox lighting vs Ring lighting for food photography

You can also use a vast softbox and an off-center ring light to create “flat” lighting. However, we’ll focus on using ring lights with the lens correctly oriented and softboxes offset from the camera’s center for this tutorial.

Having read this, you should have a good idea of what sort of lighting you need and how to achieve it. Before exploring alternative options, we recommend beginning with this kind of illumination.

Softboxes are generally required for most photography and filmmaking; however, if you need a circle light for highly specialized applications, you may wish to utilize it rather than a softbox.

Finally, 

Focus on side lighting for food photography if you’re beginning to use light pollution for food presentation.

To get the most out of your food photography, you will need to refine your setups with some experience and a few modifications.

FAQ:

How Do You Light Overhead Food Shots?

Take a moment to consider how you may acquire a better view of your topic or location from above. Filmmakers commonly employ a crane to get dramatic overhead views, but you can use anything in your home or yard to get a new perspective and a bird’s eye view of the action. There are various ways to do this, such as ascending the stairs, putting up a ladder, or standing on a table or countertop.

How Do You Use Led Lights For Food Photography?

Look for “Shutter Priority Mode,” “TV,” or “S” on your camera’s mode dial. The camera lens will be able to manage the intensity of an LED sign because of the proper quantity of light entering the lens. However, try “Manual Mode” or “M” if this mode does not work for you.

How Do You Shoot Food With Continuous Light?

Continuous lights are a good option if you shoot in a studio or under dimly-lit conditions. In these instances, continuous lights have adequate power and are pretty beneficial in seeing how your light illuminates the area in real time.