The Importance of Lighting in Food Photography

One of the challenges in photography is making enough to keep eating. Eating is good, and when you’re in the business it’s important to stay current with the trends and be constantly adding new revenue streams to your portfolio. An area growing in popularity is food photography. People are fascinated by food; there are more and more blogs devoted entirely to food. The real purists are buying new cameras, just so they can take better pictures of their meals. Seriously.

lighting for food photography

“Pancakes” captured by Tatiana Averina

The trend has not escaped the notice of restaurateurs faced with customers on tight entertainment budgets. The competition for business has forced chefs and restaurant managers to take the visual appeal of their dishes more seriously in an increasingly competitive market.

The pressure for better visual appeal is prompting more photographers to develop a food portfolio. Resign yourself in advance that great food photography is harder than it looks and that it will take time to learn. You also have to understand something about the psychology of food and how to present it in a fashion that meets the expectations of the viewer.

For instance, consumers have an expectation that breakfast foods should look bright and airy. So you wouldn’t put eggs and waffles on a neutral background. You’d want to go with a lighter background—perhaps a place setting with a country theme—and shoot high key lighting that slightly overexposes the background, giving the photo a more ethereal look.

The old advertising adage about not selling the steak but selling the sizzle is particularly true in food photography. One of the constant challenges photographing hot food is making it look like it’s just come off the grill. In fact, for steaks many photographers are now shooting photos of steaks while still on the grill after adding small pieces of wood to generate a proper flame.

While lighting is a critical skill in photography in general, it’s life or death in food photography. It is the relentless dedication to perfect lighting that separates the gifted and successful from the mediocre and pedestrian.

When it comes to lighting food, bigger is not always better. Instead of highly diffused light sources, many professional food photographers are using smaller, more focused light sources to produce sharper shadows and directing the light with mirrors instead of reflectors.

Like many areas in photography, even if you’re gifted in food photography, you may want to build your client base gradually. It’s either that or risk meeting a home run client when you lack depth in the industry.

Many big chains and hotels are now using image libraries that are common across their properties and franchise, so the closer you are to their headquarters, the better chance you have of landing work from one of the big fish.

About the Author:
Learn how to take pictures with Proud Photography – an online photography school.

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3 responses to “The Importance of Lighting in Food Photography”

  1. ccting says:

    Wow,, it is a great article

  2. Very nice article. Those who wants be serious about food photography should read this.
    Thank you for writing. Anthony

  3. Mark says:

    Not much of a tutorial on food photography lighting. Focus seems to be more on a video that looks good than on solid useful info.

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