Basic Tips on How to Shoot Better Food Photos Using Only Natural Light

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With Memorial Day coming up soon, some of the big things that we all think about are barbecues and other fun food made to celebrate. Since this is a time for rest and relaxation, it also means that it is a time to keep things simpler. Something that you will also want to probably do is take pictures of the delectable bites. We know we all love to do that! But if you want your food photos to stand out from the rest while making the workflow more simple, keep these tips in mind.

Intro photo and all others in this post are by Food Photography Expert Lou Manna.


Use Diffused Window Lighting

Photo by Miriam Pascal of Overtime Cook

Direct sunlight is often too harsh when it comes to using natural light photography. If you are taking photos of food on a sunny day, the best thing to do is to diffuse the sunlight coming in through a window. Try to have the window at your side or behind the food, just not at your back since that will flatten the look of your food.

According to professional food photographer Lou Manna, there are a couple of modifications to your environment that you can do to get better images. Some of those are:

- Start by using either a sheer white curtain or a white translucent shower curtain to diffuse the strong rays of sunlight coming in. Alternatively, you can also use wax or parchment paper and place it over the window to cut down the intensity of the light.

- Next, shut off all of the other lights in the area; because otherwise you'll have mixed lighting sources and therefore throw off your color.

- Make sure to take a custom white balance reading for accurate color rendition.

- Place a white reflector on the opposite side of the window to bring some detail back into the shadows if needed.

- Use tin foil or mirrors to add specular highlights to the food. Specular highlights are little points of light that help to make the food look more appetizing.

Keep In Mind the Angle That You're Going For

As you adjust your angle of view, you'll notice that the shadows will affect your image in different ways. As far as your workflow goes, it is an excellent idea to:

- First, position your subject and move around to adjust and determine which angle is best for your image

- Next, set up. Start diffusing the light, adding reflectors, mirrors, tin foil, etc. Observe how each affects the scene.

For extra versatility, Manna often shoots handheld because it allows him to vary his angle with ease. Granted, when he shoots, Manna is tethered to a large television monitor so that his clients can see his images immediately, make comments, and he can make adjustments right there on the spot. You may need to take a couple of images before you get the one that you're satisfied with.

Get Up Close

A good idea for food photographers is to try to get up close to your food. That way, the final image reminds the viewer of what the dish would look like right before they dove in.

Compose by Color

Composing by color is also something that can help make your food images look more appetizing. Combined with effective lighting and the correct exposure, colors can really make your image pop. Manna recommends that you look at what elements are around the plate and move them so they frame the dish and complement it.

Circular compositions can work best to help move the viewers' eye around the photo and the plate. The same idea can be applied to square format photography as well.

Another tip: consider not only playing with various angles, but utilize the focus in a creative fashion too. Manna's photos are characterized by tight close-ups that grab the viewer's attention.

Photo of Soup and Crackers by speckled_beckle via the B&H Photo Flickr Group


Saturate the Primary Colors In Post

An extremely basic post-production method to perform in Lightroom or Photoshop is to raise the clarity, saturation and vibrance slider bars. These help to make your image pop just a bit more.

Manna uses Photoshop but often gets his image almost perfect in the camera, so not much post-production is done with the exception of a bit of layering, cloning and sharpening.

In the end though, remember to keep it simple and have fun.

Lou Manna has more tips on his blog: Digital Food Photography.

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Thanks for the grreat information!

This is a good how-to.