Food Photography Lighting Tips & Tricks

Proper food photography lighting is an important skill all professional food photographer must know. Below we will go through 3 powerful lighting tips to help you take stunning food photos.

  1. Diffuse your light
  2. Proper lighting angles
  3. Underexpose a little

1. Diffuse your light

I cannot stress how important it is to diffuse any light projected on the dish. Your aim is to have an evenly lit dish that has highlights, shadows and contrast.

Light source should always be from the sides or behind the dish, never ever directly towards the dish as this will blow out any shadow or detail the dish has.

If your light source is at the back, your reflector should be in front of your dish, to reflect any of the diffused light back to the parts that the back light has trouble illuminating.
If your light source is at the corners or sides, the reflectors will be opposite it and so forth.

Use a multiple flash/strobe for fill light when necessary, in areas where the main light doesn’t reach, you can angle the reflector so that the main light is bounced off it and reflected to that area.

Food lighting setup 2
Food lighting setup 3

2. Lighting angles

Play with lighting angles. Different dishes require different lighting setups. There is no one sweet spot for lighting dishes. For instance, for dishes served in a glass cup, you will want to avoid reflecting any light to the glass, so your light source or reflector should be on top/side/back of the dish.

Wrong food lighting setup

3. Underexpose a little

Always underexpose a little. If you shoot in low ISO (e.g. 100, 200), you can get back a lot of data through post-processing. However, overexposed images have details removed and no amount of post-processing will be able to retrieve it. Underexpose one or two stop, as a rule of thumb.

Use Flash or Studio Probe

An off-camera flash or studio strobe is necessary for good food photography. Depending on what you choose, either one will greatly improve your lighting.

Never mount your flash on the camera. Equip your flash or strobe with a soft box - the bigger the size the more widespread the light is.

Multiple flash/studio lights are important for creative lighting as well as their ability to control the light as you want.

A studio strobe of more than 150W is sufficient. The benefits of a studio strobe compared to flash are the output power as well as the ability to further customise it.

Reflectors are also needed for food photography, as reflectors help to diffuse the light to the places in the photo that you want to brighten. Reflectors also provide soft and even lighting and for areas that are dark.

Some times hard light is required as well to create dramatic shadows and highlights, this is when a grid is needed.

Popular brands for flash and/or studio strobes

Godox, Profoto, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Hensel, Yongnuo and more. You don’t need to spend a lot on lighting. Just ensure that the flash or studio strobe is able to be triggered wirelessly.

Like Such Content?

After you have your lighting setup correctly, there are 4 more food photography tips that can easily elevate your brand. Click below to learn more.