Probably the single biggest question I get about food photography is lighting. Just like photographing anything else, food photography lighting can make or break your food shots but let’s talk about something more than just finding the best natural light in your house. What if you are one of those people who can only shoot at night? Or how about that daylight’s savings time, hey? Things like shorter hours of sunshine, long dark strings of winter days or only being able to shoot after 5pm can make a foodie photog want to pull out her hair.
Give me a bright, slightly overcast day any time & I’ll be a happy girl. But knowing how to use a lamp for night shooting is sometimes the only option you’ll have & it can also help to stretch your creative muscles when you’re feeling a bit uninspired. Here are some tips to help you get your best shot (hopefully without too many tears, because there shouldn’t be any crying in food photography).
Food photography lighting
1. Get the Right Gear
When I shoot at night I use a Lowell EGO tabletop fluorescent lamp. You do have to assemble it when it arrives but after that, it’s about as user friendly & simple as any table lamp could be. You put it where you want it & plug it in. It’s perfect for food photography because it’s small & lightweight. It can easily be stored away when you’re not shooting. You can place it on the floor or your table & it has a long cord in case your outlet isn’t right next to where you’re shooting. It also comes with a reflector card to use for bouncing your light.
Speaking of reflectors, I sometimes use more than one. I like to use inexpensive foam boards from the craft store.
I’m also a fan of using a tripod when I shoot in low light. Shooting food in dark light can be tricky. Sometimes you’re bent over at the waist if you’re subject’s on the ground or you’re squatting if your subjects on a small end table. Rarely are you standing in a perfect position with two feet firmly on the floor. This can be problematic when a high ISO, slow shutter speed & shaky hand all meet together! I use a Manfrotto tripod.
2. White Balance
This is one of those situations where white balance can easily ruin your shot if not set correctly. I use Kelvin for white balance. Since I’m dealing with a florescent lightbulb, I adjust my Kelvin anywhere from 4000K to 5000K. If you’re using a camera that doesn’t allow you to adjust white balance in Kelvin I would suggest starting with the setting used for fluorescent light.
3. Consider Diffusing your Light
That table lamp can get awfully bright & sometimes it seems to cast a harsh light on your frame. If you’re feeling frustrated that your shot is either blown out or underexposed, consider diffusing the light with a white curtain or sheet. A lot of people are a fan of using a thin, white, cotton t-shirt too. Experiment with different ways to diffuse your light & again, be aware of what you’re using & how it could affect your white balance.
Below are examples of using the table lamp with & without a diffuser. You can see how adding a t shirt to diffuse the light gives it a softer light. All images are SOOC.
4. Use your Reflector (or Two)
In a dark room with a bright light pointing at your plate, shadows will start popping up fast. By using at least one reflector, you’ll be able to bounce that light back into your frame. If you still find there are too many shadows consider using a second reflector. As I mentioned before, I’m a fan of inexpensive foam boards you can buy anywhere.
These images are all SOOC & shot with the same settings of ISO 800 / f3.2 / 1/125 K4550
Here’s a pull back of my 2 reflector set up. The lighting & reflectors provide a sutler change but enough that I think you can see it might be worth using two reflectors if you want more even light in your shot.
Hopefully with some practice & these helpful tips you’ll be able to create images at night that are just as lovely as your natural light images!