Five Practical Natural Lighting Tips You Can Use Today!
Shooting food photography with natural light is perhaps the simplest way of getting started. There is basically no barrier to entry, all you need is a window and daylight.
This isn’t to say that natural light food photography isn’t without its drawbacks, sunlight can be a difficult beast at times. If you’re ever focus stacking or adding in composite elements, it’s very important to look out for changes in exposure and white balance that could be caused by passing clouds. We’ll have to write up an in-depth post on how we deal with these problems another time!
All that aside, natural light works wonders for food photography, and wherever possible, it’s our preferred lighting. We’re not the only one who thinks so either. When I was a freelance food photography assistant, I used to work with tonnes of food photographers, almost all of which prefer shooting with natural light. As I’ve gained more experienced, I’ve picked up some handy little tips for getting the best natural lighting possible.
This post will be focused on practical and simple tips for getting started, so it will be aimed at people starting on their food photography journeys. We’ve picked up some great practical natural light food photography tips along the way, and here are five of our favourites:
WHERE TO SHOOT?
Why shooting inside by a window is a good idea.
The first thing you’ll want to do is decide on where you’re going to shoot. Our best recommendation is to find a single good-sized window with an uninterrupted view.
Essentially, you want to have an uninterrupted line between your window and the sun, which means you’ll be minimising the reflection and shadows from the environment outside. The last thing you want is to take a crucial shot and have a big red bus drive past ruining your lighting.
The window should be in a well-sized room, in our home studio we use a second bedroom/office as our shooting space.
Try to find a window at the hight of a table or desk so you can place your subject nice and close to the light.
You’ll only want a single window to light your food photography. If your room has multiple windows, choose your favourite and close the blinds of all but that one when shooting.
Here is a photo of the space we use to shoot. Anything similar to this will be perfect, you don’t need to set up a table like ours, a desk or dining table will work perfectly too.
Once you’ve chosen your shooting area, the next best thing to get to grips with is using a bounce card.
In essence, a bounce card is a light coloured card, most commonly white, that is used as a mirror to bounce light back into your scene. It’s really not a difficult concept, but mastering it can be tough. Knowing when and where to use the bounce card is key. Let’s take this scene as an example.
Here you can see we are using our window to side light the subject. It’s a nice cloudy day, so the light is quite diffused. We would like to get a more even light across the subject, so we’re holding in a piece of white card at a diagonal to the window to bounce light back into the front and the darker side of the subject.
A bounce card will reduce your shadows too, so we recommend playing around with the distance between the card and the subject until you find a good balance of light and shadow.
There are a bunch of reflectors that you can buy for “professional” use, but in a static environment like our studio, the card works wonders for the price.
A black card is essentially the opposite of a bounce card.
If you’ve got a subject where you want the lighting to be moodier and more contrasty, you can use a black card to reduce the ambient light that bounces back onto your subject. A black card is great for a room with lots of ambient light.
The ambient light in your studio is very important when shooting food photography.
The main thing to think about is the colour of the room you’re working in. If your shooting space has coloured walls or lots of vibrant artwork, that may contribute to casting unwanted colours across your food. If you can’t work in a neutral space, you can use pieces of card to create a studio box of sorts to reduce the colour cast. Just keep in mind what we’ve written above about the colour of the card that you use; white will bounce light back in and black absorbs light.
Lastly, it’s important to turn off any lights in your room. You want the only source of light for your photography to be the window.
Sunlight will change colour throughout the day.
In the morning you’ll get sunlight with a blue tint and the evening will have an orange tint. It’s not noticeable to our eyes most of the time, but it’s important to be aware of. This means if you want to shoot a series of images with the same lighting, it’s best to get them done around the same time. Of course, you can adjust your white balance and make any exposure adjustments in post after, but if you can get everything shot around the same time in the same lighting conditions, you’ll reduce your workload later!
Finished image with a light edit
Well there you have it, 5 simple tips for natural light food photography.
- Find the right window
- Get to grips with a bounce card
- Experiment with a black card for more contrast
- Understand and control the ambient light of your studio
- Sunlight changes colour through the day
We hope this has helped you better understand how to shoot with sunlight. Feel free to ask us any questions here on the blog or get in touch through our socials! Check out this post on Baja inspired tacos to see a natural lighting in use.