Natural or artificial light in food styling photography?
And I am back to my blog after several months of absence (I started working a full time engineering job in July) with a long awaited blogpost about food styling photography. More specifically, about photography and the evolution of my gear since day 1.
Ever since I was set on the endeavour of sharing and photographing whether my sweet desserts or savory creations, I saw myself chasing light in order to get the best exposed picture that I could share on my Instagram page.
You could have a great subject to take a photo of, and a really nice composition which is “spot-on” after hours of trial and error, but if you do not have decent lighting conditions, then “it’s all for nought”. In this blogpost, I am going to share with you what I have learned from my early days of shooting and the process that got me to decide to change my approach and give artificial lighting a try.
IN THE BEGINNING
My first “real” camera was an entry level Canon DSLR 1000D that had a tiny “pop-up” flash on the upper portion of the body. Each time I pressed the shutter half-way, it would pop-up and engage as soon as I pressed the shutter. This would result in a completely harsh and flat photograph with very pronounced shadows.
Seeing those horrible results I got with a pop-up flash, I went on using the ambient light available in the room to take my shot. Now, if you are shooting indoors, the ambient light is sometimes not enough to get a good exposure, especially in winter days, therefore I would decrease my shutter speed to get a proper exposure, without sacrificing ISO or aperture. Decreasing the shutter speed, meant I had to invest in a tripod to keep my camera steady whilst the shutter opens and closes, so I can end up with a decent enough sharp photo. Sure, I could have increased my ISO or open wide my aperture, but this meant I had to make sacrifices on the shot I wanted to take. In some cases, on a cloudy winter afternoon, those sacrifices weren’t enough.
THE NIFTY FIFTY
A big milestone for me was getting a lens that had a wide aperture. Without being very technical, this meant that I can open the diaphragm wide open to let more light get through the lens and hit the sensor, hence giving me an edge on shutter speeds. This is why the canon 50mm STM f/1.8 lens is called a “fast lens” that allows you to take photos with fast shutter speeds. This lens has a good optical quality for a very reasonable price and is much useful for low light conditions. Moreover, low f number, meant that the lens could produce some nice bokeh effects “background blur”.
CONTROLLING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
So far, it seems to be working out nicely, a Manfrotto 190go tripod, a fast lens and a staging area next to a window. But shooting on a summer afternoon, where the sun is shining at its brightest, it will be way too harsh on your subject and will cast heavy shadows on your shoot. Or shooting at 4 pm in winter days, is almost impossible with little to no light available and surely, I can’t rely on ceiling lights in the room.
Hence, I see myself constantly chasing the light to avoid harsh shadows, or no light at all, in the purpose of getting a good exposure on my photo.
TIP: How to avoid harsh shadows?
Use a diffuser or a white cardboard beside your subject to bounce the light back to it.
Hang a curtain over your window. It helps diffusing natural light.
Find the perfect place to shoot your subject. Sometimes, being the closest to a window isn’t the perfect spot.
Use the radial filter tool in Lightroom to decrease the shadows. I will show you a demo in the near future.
My passion for food styling photography is growing day after day as well as my gear is becoming more sophisticated. Recently, I switched from natural to artificial light for multiple reasons:
Starting a full time job in an engineering company, which means shooting only in the evening,
Todler is growing up and wants to play all the time (another full time job),
Lack of light in winter season,
My curiosity to discover new photography aspects and technics.
And honestly, artificial light was a game changer for me. At last, I can really control my light, shape it the way I want and shoot whenever I want as I am not depending anymore on the sun. The gear that I am using nowadays is composed of a 500W Profroto D2 monolight, mounted on a 5-feet Octa Softbox and a collapsible reflector (Elinchrom or GODOX will do just fine, I got the Profoto one as a gift from my beloved husband).
Note that a single light is more than enough for starters, because you can bounce the light off a reflector if needed. Second, getting a boom tripod for the light is trivial, and I insist on the word “boom” since you get a completely free movement potential for the light. Manfrotto 420B did the trick for me.
What I am loving the most about artificial light is the ability of shooting high sync action shots and sharp splash photos like the curacao and lime cocktail picture below.
So, NATURAL OR ARTIFICIAL LIGHT IN FOOD STYLING PHOTOGRAPHY?
It depends on many factors: mainly, the biggest question is when do you want to take your photos? do you want to have full control on your light source? what is your preference between natural or artificial light? and are you ready to start working with a new source of light?
I am still exploring both lighting sources and I am aware that both of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. My only advice for you is to be open to new challenges and to be curious to discover new aspects of food styling photography.
Oh and one last advice: it’s not the camera nor the gear, nor the lighting, it’s YOU.
She who fell from the stars