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Food Photography Part 1: Lighting

Photography: Smoked Top Round Steak
Photography:  Smoked Top Round Steak
After Photo Editing


Photography:  Smoked Top Round Steak
Before Photo Editing

Before I begin this series on Food Photography, I have to be honest and tell you I have no formal training.  I have read books and looked things up online, but mostly I’ve have learned from trial and error.  Even after almost two years of blogging, I produce some pretty bad photos from time to time.  But, I at least know what I should be doing most of the time, even if it doesn’t work out that way.  And, I’ve had my share of good photos too – some really good.

I will tell you that I started out with a point and shoot and have both good and horrible photos using that camera.  Last year my parents bought me a Canon T4i for Christmas, and it make everything soooo much easier, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a DSLR to take good photos.  It just makes it more difficult not to have one.

Now about lighting, I am going to cover four topics here.  First, natural lighting, which you should always, ALWAYS use if possible.  The thing is, if you have a day job in the middle of winter, natural lighting may not be possible, so I will also talk a bit about artificial lighting.  Then, I will talk a bit about fixing the lighting in your photos after the fact using software.  And finally, I will give you some tips that I have learned over the last two years.

Natural Lighting

Natural Lighting is always best.  You are much less likely to have an odd color cast or poor white balance if you use natural lighting.  But, this does not mean that you should just plop your food out in the back yard in direct sunlight.  Direct sunlight will give you an overexposed look.  Outside in the shade or near a window that the sun is not directly shining in is best.  The exceptions to this are when it is cloudy or the sun is beginning to go down.  Then you can take photos outside without shade.  I have found that even if it is beginning to get dark, that my photos will look better taken outside and lightened up with software, than they would taken inside even using lighting meant for photography.   

Artificial Lighting

Unless you have nothing else to do, sometimes you are going to have to rely on artificial lighting.  I use two studio lights with umbrellas.  Despite using the recommended bulbs, I almost always have a color cast.  But, this is generally easily fixed with software.  They do give me enough light, so that my photos are not dull or dark. Don’t use a flash.  Flash has a tendency to make food look odd, overexposed, and/or like it is floating.  I will never forget the “floating” cilantro caused by a flash.  Every time I consider the flash that little reminder keeps me away.

Photo Editing Software

I primarily use photo editing software to correct lighting or white balance caused by poor lighting.  There are a number of free or low cost software programs out there that can help with this tremendously.  I use Photoshop Elements, and love it, but you can easily get by with free software.   The photos at the top of this article are of a top round steak my husband smoked.  I took the photos outside when it was really getting to dark to take photos.  You can see how I was able to add light using software.

Other Tips

Notice the colors in your room, dishes, etc.  Sometimes they can reflect an unwanted color cast on your photo.  I wear a lot of red, and I can not tell you how many times my photos have had a red cast from my shirt.  Also, sometimes using a combination of lighting sounds like a good idea, but isn’t.  For example, if it is grey and cloudy outside, and I set my dishes next to the window and add artificial lighting, which is warmer on the other side.  Then  half my food is grey and half is yellow.  You can’t really correct that, with software, at least not what I have.  You can correct one side, but not both.  So sometimes bad but consistent lighting is better because you can change the color cast of the whole photo.

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From Calculus to Cupcakes

I am a Calculus teacher who just happens to love to cook and blog about it.

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