Photo Technique – Stock Food Photography With Natural Light.
Lighting Gear is a Plus But Not a Necessity
Good lighting gear is expensive, and as a certified equipment junkie I feel like I never have enough. Unfortunately there has been several occasions when I caught myself using lack of a particular piece of equipment as a reason to not take a photo which is kinda pathetic. We photographers have a tendency to be gear heads, but it is important to remember that it is not OK to allow lack of gear as an excuse to not participate in a certain type of photography. It only means we have to be more resourceful and creative.
Food photography often requires a lot of lighting gear and specialized accessories. This gear can be a great help with maintaining consistency and achieving maximum control. I usually use two Speedotron power packs, three to five strobes and a variety of accessories such as scrims, clamps and reflectors on commercial food photography shoots. However, it is not necessary to use all this gear to take good stock food images. In fact it can be an impediment, because it slows me down and requires a lot of space.
Using Natural Light For Stock Food Photography
All you need to take quality food images for stock is a camera, a reflector, a small mirror and a window or a doorway. I took the above image with window light and one reflector. When shooting food it is usually ideal to light it from behind. There are exceptions to this rule, but when you first begin shooting food it is best to begin by back-lighting. The problem with lighting food from the front is that it flattens out the subject and washes out texture. A light source behind the subject and slightly to the left or right will give the image a three dimensional feel and emphasize the texture of the food. The biggest mistake people make when shooting food is using an on camera flash. This almost always results in an aesthetically challenged food photo, because it washes out color and texture, and the lack of realistic shadows kill the shape of the food.
The above image was shot with light from a doorway. We used a white reflector for fill and a small mirror to bounce light onto the ice cream. We turned the ice cream sandwiches so that the doorway light was coming from behind and a little to the left. Below is a shot of the set up minus the white bounce, because I put it down to take this photo.
Timing is Important When Shooting With Natural Light
Window lighting is not the only option for using natural light for stock food photography. I took the image below in an open area outdoors. I set up the shot before the sun came up, and I waited until the sunlight just barely began scraping over the subject to snap the shutter. The downside of using this lighting technique is that the light changes as the sun moves, so I only had a few minutes of great light to get the shot. However, this image has been a good selling stock image for several years, so it was well worth getting up early.
Natural light has its limitations, because it changes and it is difficult to manipulate. You can not move the sun the way you can move strobes. However, it is a great way to light stock food images if you are short on time or money for lighting gear, and it prevents us from using lack of lighting equipment as an excuse to not take great food photos.