Food Photo Tips: Part 5 - Artificial Lighting

ann_tJanuary 1, 2013

Posted by canarybird (My Page) on Wed, Aug 5, 09 at 15:32

Food Photo Tips: Part 5 - Artificial Light

Hi again everyone. I'm back with another entry on how to use your digital camera for taking tabletop photos.

Finding the right illumination for taking food photos after dark can be even more challenging than finding the right window for daylight photos and much has been written about it.

It would be an ideal situation if we all had a room off the kitchen with studio softbox lights set up over a table where we could just whip down the plated food, snap the shutter and then breeze back into the kitchen to serve the family dinner before it got cold. Those with large, well lit kitchens are lucky to have perhaps focal lights over a counter, or a well illuminated baking centre, ideal for photos.

It is known that the larger the light source, the softer will be the shadows and conversely, the smaller and closer the light source, the sharper will be the shadows. So an ideal studio situation would be to have an illumination diffused enough so that it cast a flattering light without creating heavy shadows, used perhaps together with secondary lights and reflectors. Flash should never be used for food photos as it flattens the images so the result is most unattractive.

But most of us have to cope with less than perfect conditions with over the counter strip lighting, lights in the stove exhaust hood, a lamp over the dining table or a small desk spot in a corner of the kitchen.

This is an extensive subject which has turned into a large entry for today, so I'm going to separate it into paragraphs of different situations, showing how to cope with a certain type of lighting and equipment so you are able to digest it a bite at a time.

1. Worst Case Scenario - The Small Kitchen - One under-cupboard tube FLUORESCENT LIGHT:

In this case, my tiny kitchen ...which has one old fashioned 8 watt fluorescent tube to illuminate the counter.

Above you see the improvised studio: a white cutting board placed behind, a white paper towel as reflector hanging over the paper roll, a piece of white foam as reflector left, and the subject placed on a white paper napkin draped over two cereal boxes. Took just a minute to set up, and it worked fine, considering the less than ideal setting. Here's the result:

Since indoor lighting is much weaker than daylight, the shutter speed of your camera will be slower, and the Scene settings such as Indoor, Candle and Available Light on your point & shoot will make that adjustment when you choose that scene. When the shutter stays open longer, any slight movement of the camera will cause a blurry photo. To put it simply, you really need a tripod when taking photos indoors after dark unless you can brace yourself and the camera so there isn't the slightest movement. To take this photo above in the weak light from the little 8 watt bulb I made several tries handholding the camera but without success, so I set up the tripod and was...

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