41 Awesome Food Photography Tips from Food Bloggers Connect #FBC10 – Part 1: Lighting for Food Photography

Food Photography Tips Two great food photographers, Mowie Kay (read his food photography interview) and Meeta Khurana (read her interview on how to become better food photographer and choosing a background for your food photo) spoke about food photography in Food Blogger Connect. If you were not able to be in the audience, I bet you wanted to. Me too. So here are some great tips from these two outstanding photographers, courtesy @mayssamaha.

41 Awesome Food Photography Tips

As I have heard Food Blogger Connect 2010 was an awesome event with wonderful talk by Meeta and Mowie. Here, are some awesome tips from the event. This set of tips are focused on basics of food photography, lighting and modifying light. Mowie and Meeta shared a lot of great information.

1. Understand Why You Need Better Photos

image If you have a food blog then remember that if your blog is boring, potential readers will leave sooner than you expect. See these food photographers and visit their blogs. Mouth-watering food photos are absolutely essential for blogs. This doesn’t hold just for blogs. If you are aspiring to be a full-time food photographer, your potential clients need to see your  portfolio and you too have only 3 to 5 seconds to make that impression.

2. Know Important Elements of Photography

image Lighting, sharp focus, depth of field impact all photos. It is important to know how these three elements impact a photograph. A great food prop will improve a photo to a great degree. Props and backgrounds play an important role in setting up the mood of the photo.

3. Learn the Science Behind Photography

imageLearn the technology and the science that goes behind making a photo. Even if you think it is boring, it is crucial to at least know how a photograph is formed. The science behind creation of a photograph has the basics of photography that everyone should know.

4. Use Shallow Depth of Field to Make Food Pop Out

image Shallow depth of field will make your food pop out. Read how to get shallow depth of field

5. Change Distance Between the Elements for Changing Depth of Field

image Distance plays an important role in getting depth of field. Distance between your subject and camera influences the depth of field. Now if you have something in the background, it will make your depth of field more obvious and impactful.

6. Learn How to Control Depth of Fieldimage

Depth of field plays a very important role in food photography. Aperture and distance are two important elements that affect depth of field. There can be some other things that impact depth of field or enhance it. Read more on how to control depth of field.

7. Good Light is Essential

imageWithout light there is no photography. It is therefore absolutely important to make sure lighting is both of good quality and ample quantity.

8. Use Natural Light Whenever Possible

imageNatural Light has awesome quality, it lets you see true color of your subject and fills the room with magic. Read/Listen discussion on natural light in an interview with Matt. Matt makes some great points in favor of natural light.

9. Light the Food to Get the Texture and Shape

imageLight the food in such a way that emphasizes shape of food and texture of the dish.

10. Know What Works and What’s a Good Position


Know what position of lighting works best. In general placing light source at 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock seems to work in most cases. That is when you can control light.

11. Also Know What Doesn’t Work All That Well

imageAlso know what won’t work. 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock won’t work all that well (Update: this may be solved by using a bouncer/reflector). Here important thing to keep in mind is how we are defining the “clock”. While it is easy to assume that the clock position that we are talking are in based on keeping the “clock” perpendicular to the table, also experiment with light positions assuming the “clock” is lying flat on the table. If you have questions about this, ask them in the comments below. Update: Great comment from Matt Armendariz on this tip. Please see his comment below.

12. Backlit Photos Almost Always Work

imageBacklit photos almost always work. If you know how to shoot against light that is. Shooting backlit subjects are challenging. The key is to make sure you set your equipment to meter the subject and not the background.

13. Quality of Light is Important

imageYellow light will mess up your colors. Use white light (or daylight bulbs). Understand a what white balance is and how white balance impacts color.

14. Don’t Mix Your Light Sourcesimage

If you are shooting in a certain light source, don’t mix the picture by using two or three different types of light sources. And learn how to modify light.

15. You Should Almost Always Diffuse Artificial Light

imageIf you are using artificial light, you should diffuse it using diffusers (or baking paper). This will eliminate any harsh shadows (unless you want it) and soften the light. In fact, you can use diffusers with natural light too if it is too harsh.

16. Know Where to Place Diffusersimage

This is kind of obvious if you have been using them for a while. But for those that get confused between diffusers and reflectors, diffusers are placed between food and light, whereas reflectors/bouncers are placed on the other side of food. Well, technically not always on the “other side” and doesn’t have to be directly opposite side but you know what I mean.

17. Don’t Use On-Camera Flash. Please.

imagePlease promise me one thing: You will never use on-camera flash. Repeat after me: “I will never use on-camera flash.” Don’t do that please.

18. Mirrors Make Great Reflectors


19. Know What to Buy

imageDo some research on what equipment to buy. Listen to advice like this one – straight from the experts.

20. Overall, Understand a Thing or Two About Lighting Equipments

imageUnderstand what lighting options are available and how they work. For instance light boxes and umbrella both are available, but some light boxes allow you to control diffusion (by adding more than one layer of diffusion).

Tips 21 – 41: For folks like me (with short attention span), this is too much information to digest in one go, so I decided to break this post into two. With already over 1000 words in this one posts, the next 21 tips would take this post into a massive thesis. There is so much to learn from this event that I just decided to keep 20 tips per post to avoid information overload. Rest of the tips coming soon.

Read the remaining 21 food photography tips.

Thanks to Mowie and Meeta for sharing their knowledge and to @mayssamaha for live tweeting. This just makes me go to the next event for sure. Thank you to the organizer (wasn’t able to find names of people who organized Meeta and Mowie’s talk, if you know, please mention in the comments below, Thanks)

Did You Attend This?

Did you attend this event? Tell us how was it. Oh! You did not? Do you plan to go to the next event?

Food Photo Courtesy: elana’s pantry

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  1. Hello! My first time commenting here and I think this is great but I absolutely must jump in here regarding #11. Everything rings true and this is excellent advice but #11 is wrong wrong wrong! I don’t usually speak in absolutes when it comes to food photography but what the authors of #11 are saying is that lighting direction from a side direction (9 or 3 on a clock) is flat and that could not be further from the truth!

    Lighting appears completely flat when coming from 6 o’clock. Some of the best directional lighting for shadows and depth come from side lighting, it’s what we do when we need to show shape or have the light “roll” over the subject to create definition or shape. None of this could be possible from side-lighting if it were flat light.

    Also, the harshness of light isn’t a result of direction but rather the light and modifying itself. It’s independent of direction.

    I’m a bit concerned how the authors of #11 could see it this way as the other points are so completely spot on!

    Again, I realize food photography is so completely subjective and different for everyone but I had to jump in about point #11.

    • Absolutely stunned to see the man himself. :)

      With the limited information (140 characters) and without being present in the room, don’t know what were the conditions that went with it. Also, since this is secondhand info and a need to fit things into 140 characters, some information may have been lost.

      What I don’t know is whether this is in comparison to 10 or 2 o’clock position or on its own. In most cases, I have found 10 or 2 o’clock being better than 9 or 3 o’clock. Again, this holds only for artificial light, when I am shooting next to a window, lighting is coming from all positions 6 to 12 o’clock in varied amount when light is on left.

      I agree with the “harsh” part of the tip though. Again, with bouncers, this won’t apply. From flatness standpoint, you are right 6 o’clock makes a bland composition.

      All in all, as you said, the key is that there are no absolutes in food photography. I think I should make this clear in the post.

      Thanks for your comments Matt.

  2. Hi Neel,
    Hi Matt (OMG it’s Matt! I’m a big fan! :) )

    Neel, thanks for putting my tweets in point form, this is great!

    I was the one who was live tweeting this :) and I think there’s a bit of confusion regarding number 11. If I remember correctly, Meeta was recommending side lighting which is what she does in her photography but from a 10 and 2 o’clock position (see #10) rather than a 9 and 3. Now I am not a food photographer at all and haven’t even started my blog so I wouldn’t know, but I just thought I’d clear that up :) Thanks!

  3. Diffusion paper has really improved my photos. I built my own little light box from a cardboard box–it’s amazing how easy it was yet how much of a difference it has made.

  4. Great tips! Thanks for collecting all these advices!

  5. Hello, I was at FBC and was going to jump in and say re #11 that it was actually 10 and 2 o’clock that were suggested rather than 9 and 3 o’clock positions but the lovely Mayssam who did all the FBC live tweeting has already done it.

    Fantastic to see all these tips published in a guide for other food bloggers to, ahem, digest!

  6. Jimmy Sorenson says:

    I regularly visit FBC and find it a great source for food learning and news.

    Neel thanks for sharing the in-depth knowledge about food photography by Mowie and Meeta. Its indeed a wonderful topic to read on.

    I love photography and this was like a brush up article for me. :)

    And yes the top photograph is awesome feeling to eat one!!

    Jimmy Sorenson

  7. Thank you for the great tips! I’m a newbie in photography so this is very helpful. Question in regards to Tip #7 “Good light is essential”. If I don’t have a lot of natural light in my home, do you recommend buying lights—and if so, what kind of lighting produces something similar to natural light? I was also wondering about proper background in relation to the photo or is it really that important? Anyway, photography seems like an awesome hobby , but as a profession there seems to be so much to learn.

  8. Jeanette says:

    These are some great tips. I’ve been putting together a recipe book and my pictures keep coming out very bland looking. I’ve been thinking I need some better lighting.

  9. Thank you for sharing the information. I found it most valuable.

    I would like to add a few points of interest to the subject.

    1. To help your food ‘stand out’ from the environment you do not only have to use a shallow depth of field, but I also think that you have to have a thorough understanding of depth of field. The depth of field controls which part of your food is in focus and will be standing out. To further enhance the ‘standing out,’ you must also control your contrast in post processing. An example of the control can be found at http://www.fcschwartz.com/portfolio/index.php/Other-Photography/Food-Photography/A_DSC0399S. The printed version of this image has won several accolades.

    2. If you photograph in a controlled environment it is possible to select your light source and stick to a single source. In practice, however, it ever so often happens that you are stuck with mixed light sources. I find it is best to shoot in RAW and then you can control your light source afterwards and, off course, fine-tune your white balance in post processing.

    3. In many cases I shoot with on-camera flash (strobe) and a diffuser as the situation dictates for prompt reaction. Most of the images in this album has been captured with on-camera flash: http://www.fcschwartz.com/portfolio/index.php/Other-Photography/Food-Photography. I agree that it is preferable to use other sources of lighting but on-camera flash is not a no-no.

  10. The pictures are utterly superb. The treats appears to be convincingly sumptuous. Great skills you have!

  11. I think to take good pictures of food, you need special cameras too. Having a good camera would definitely help when you take into consideration lighting, zoom and quality of the picture. Investing in a good camera can help one go a long way in food photography.

  12. Lighting is a very huge part of photography that many photographers ignore, whether they are aware of it or not. I have seen many photographs get destroyed by bad lighting, and I must say that almost everyone has something to learn here in this article.

  13. These are definitely great tips that I could use as a freelance photographer looking to improve the quality of my shots and portfolio. Thanks so much for sharing these, I am going to print the tips out and put them on the wall of my home studio!

  14. I believe that anyone who is able to absorb this information can walk into a food exhibition and walk away with plenty of mouth watering pictures of food.

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