How to make Creative Food Photos with Natural Light

Silvain • updated June 20, 2022 • 4 min read

How to make Creative Food Photos with Natural Light

With daylight, it’s easy to make beautiful scenes with a sense of atmosphere and give your photos a natural look.

Today, we’ll look more closely at what tools you need to do this when daylight stops being useful and the pros and cons of using daylight to take pictures of food.


 

The advantages of taking food photos with natural light

When you’re just starting out with photography, daytime is best because you can see how the light falls on your scene. Also, sunlight is free as long as the sun is shining.

Food Photos with Natural Light - coffee and cake
Coffee and cake, 40.0mm, ƒ/3.0, 10/6400s, ISO 320, @congerdesign

With your camera’s settings (exposure time, aperture size, and ISO value), you can change how the light hits the sensor and makes an image. The photo is brighter when the exposure time is longer, the aperture is wider, and the ISO value is higher, and vice versa.

Then, with a few inexpensive tools, like diffuser or filler boards, you can shape the light even more to your liking. Aside from that, you don’t need expensive tools to start.

This means, at first glance:

  • It is particularly good for beginners:”You’ll get what you see.”
  • Daylight is free and doesn’t require any ex pensive equipment to use.
  • Diffuser and reflectors can be used to change the way daylight looks.

The disadvantages of food photography in daylight

When you take pictures during the day, you can’t control a lot. Daylight is always changing, depending on the season, time of day, the position of your window, and weather.

Food Photos with Natural Light - fish for lunch
Fish for lunch, 43.0mm, ƒ/1.7, 1/100s, ISO 200, @cant89

All of these things can change how your photo looks. Its brightness, color temperature, and quality change all the time, and it will go down at some point.

This means that you may have to change your setup and settings more than once, and you can’t just edit all the images at once.

Also, if there isn’t enough light, you can’t take photos without getting unwanted motion blur (long exposure time), too much depth of field (wide open aperture), or noise in the image (high ISO).

In the big picture, this means:

  • You can’t do much about it.
  • Daylight changes all the time, setup and settings mist be changed accordingly. This makes image processing more difficult.
  • Evening/nighttime photos are almost impossible because there isn’t enough light.

6 guidelines for the right light for food photography

The answer is really very easy! Just follow these six simple guidelines for natural light, and you’ll soon be much happier with the food photos you take.

I’ve written down everything what I learned about food photography in the last few years. Some of these tips can also be used with a phone camera, while others are about taking pictures with an DSLR camera.

Food Photos with Natural Light - strawberry desert
Strawberry desert, 80.0mm, ƒ/7.1, 10/300s, ISO 400, @RitaE

#1. Use only natural light or lamps that give off natural light

Most food photographers take their pictures during the day. Daylight works so well because it is a natural light source, and food should be exposed to as much natural light as possible.

If you want to take photos in fall or winter, but it’s almost impossible to do so during the day, I suggest using daylight lamps. If you don’t have those lamps, try to plan your photography around the best times of the day.

I always schedule things for the weekend. The early morning is my favorite time. Since I shoot at a south-facing window, I don’t yet have direct sunlight at the window in the morning.

#2. Avoid extraneous light sources

When you use daylight, you don’t use or turn on any light sources, like lamps or flashes. Also, make sure that your food model doesn’t get any light from the  front. 

#3. Get to know how your camera works

It’s very important to learn how to use your camera or phone. The ISO number tells the camera how sensitive the sensor is to light.

Along with aperture and shutter speed, the ISO value has a big effect on how the image is exposed. Depending on how bright the room is, you might need to set the ISO for a smaller number.

If the sky is bright, you can easily shoot at ISO 100, which will give you a good picture. This is because as the ISO value goes up, the image quality goes down.

If it is cloudy or overcast, set the ISO to between 400 and 600 and adjust the exposure time and aperture to match.

Food Photos with Natural Light - lamb shoulder
Lamb shoulder, 18mm, f/7.1, 1/30s, ISO 500, @m15ky

#4. Use a fast lens

A wide aperture is what makes a lens fast. The lens lets in a lot of light, which makes them better for use in dark places. I only use fast lenses because I like to take photos in dark, rural places.

With a fast lens and an aperture of f/1.8 or f/2.8, you can take better pictures when there isn’t much light.

#5. Get a reflector, a diffuser, or both

A reflector is always useful for making dark or shadowy places brighter. Reflectors are easy to use and don’t cost a lot of money. I have a simple reflector that can be used five ways and can also be used as a diffuser.

#6. Try to find the best angle

When taking pictures of food, light coming from the front is a big no. A photo that is taken from the front does not look very good. Food photography works best with light coming from the side or back. Read about the basic camera angles for food photography.

Most of the time, I use a side angle because it gives me well-balanced light. When I’m taking pictures of drinks, for example, I only light from behind so that the light shines through the glass and makes the liquid look better.

Use a reflector to soften harsh shadows in the front when backlighting. (A diffuser makes the light spread out.) The reflector comes in different colors, as you can see in the picture.

Gold, silver, and white. A white reflector is best for food photography because it returns the light in a natural way.

 


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By Furoore team member Silvain

Silvain is a French/German national and has been with the Furoore Team since the beginning. He likes to write about various photography themes, especially food photography. If you leave a comment, he will come back to you to answer any questions you may have.

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