Lighting Tips For Food Photography Part 2 – Different Types of Lighting Equipment for Photographing Food

Shoot Through UmbrellaOn our newly launched food photography facebook page, our readers shared their challenges with food photography. Lighting is at the top of the list. Learning to use artificial lighting is absolutely essential for becoming a successful food photographer. Understanding how to use the softbox or where to place the umbrella for good lighting will make your food photos better. In this post, we continue our series on lighting for food photography.

If you haven’t read the first post, go ahead and understand the two important characteristics of light. With this post, we start looking into the basic lighting equipment for photography.

Different Types of Lighting Equipment

Professional photographers use lot of different lighting equipment. There is the grid box and the slaves and the strobes and bunch of other equipment. For our discussion here, we would just focus on the basic type of lighting equipment. There are three basic types lighting equipments – a Flash, a softbox and an umbrella. Let’s look at these one by one:

1. Flash

FlashFlash is the most popular and widely used lighting equipment. Most cameras these days come with a flash. This on-camera flash is widely used than any other flash, specially when it comes to new photographers. In most cases, on-camera flash does more damage than good. It’s a classic mistake that most new photographers make.

Off-camera flash is what you see in many studios and is not directly on the camera. This type of flash is hooked to the camera with a wire or wirelessly. When used properly this type of flash can yield great results.

The third type of flash light, which seems to be gaining popularity these days is a ring-flash. This type of flash is mostly used in macro photography and is mostly attached around the lens. Here’s an example of ring flash.

Flash lights are more portable and cheaper than other lighting equipment. They are triggered by the camera and since flash lights are not continuous lights, it is hard for a new user to gauge when and how the light will act when the flash is fired. It can be a pain to set up flash correctly, specially if you are getting started with artificial lighting.

2. Umbrella

Reflective Umbrella

Another common light equipment is a light umbrella. IT is an umbrella with a light source in it. Umbrellas come into two major types – a shoot through umbrella and a reflective umbrella. For this discussion, we will focus on a reflective umbrella.

The way reflective umbrella is designed it fills the entire room with light. The light from umbrella is diffused as light goes on the curvy walls and bounces back and fills the room with light. This property of umbrella makes it closer to natural light.

However, because it fills the room with light, it is hard to control the direction of light than it is with other light sources. They are good light tools for situations when you need diffused light with soft shadows.

Umbrellas are also relatively inexpensive (than other lighting equipment) and somewhat portable. You can buy a pair of 40 inch umbrellas for a really good price.

3. Softbox


After flash, this is probably the most common lighting tool used by photographers. Softbox is a trapezoidal fabric box with light source in it. Softbox unlike umbrella is more directional light tool that allows you to control the direction of light in a easier way.

In a softbox, light is diffused by adding one or more layers of fabric. Diffusion can be controlled by adding (or removing) a layer of fabric and that increases (or decreases) the amount of light on the subject.

Softbox offer a better way to control the direction of light than the umbrella. As softboxes have directional light, it is also important to use a second source of light or a reflector to minimize the shadows (specially in food photography).

Softbox seems to be more complicated to set up than umbrella and can get pretty bulky. The softbox lighting kits can be pretty expensive. You can find some inexpensive softboxes  like 24×36 inch softbox, but remember you will need to buy a reflector with the softbox.

There are more lighting equipment (like fensel, grids and honeycombs etc.) that are complicated and expensive. Here’s an example of a fancy lighting kit.

Which Light is Best?

It depends. I wish there was a simple answer. What light would work best depends on what your purpose is and where you are using it. Flash, in general, work for shooting portraits in a studio, but when used directly on the subject, it casts hard shadows. Reflective umbrellas are portable and diffuse and disperse light better than other lighting equipments. Softbox provide better control and when you need more control and directional light, softbox is the was to go.

Your Lighting Equipment?

What type of light are you using? Natural light or lighting equipment? Which lighting equipment have you used? Tell us about your experience and questions about artificial lighting.

Upcoming Food Photography Interview

I am excited to share with all of you about the upcoming food photography interview. I’ll be interviewing food photographer and food styling couple, John and Charlotte Autry from EmulsionFoodPhotography soon. What food photography questions would you ask these food photographers? Head over to food photography facebook page and submit your question.

Photo Courtesy:

Flash by Wikipedia. Softbox by nickwheeleroz. Shoot Through Umbrella by nickwheeleroz.

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  • great timed post!! with the number of hours of daylight shrinking, I really need to get artificial lights that mimic daylight

  • dewi..

    im still learning to be a food photograph and every single of your post was absolutely helping me out to improve and practice my skill… i want to ask. how important the back light for food photo? thanks 🙂

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  • This is a good start on the “shooting with artificial light” topic. Looking forward to more posts on this.

  • I haven’t used the flash before, ever, but I always use a lightbox. In fact I made a lightbox out of a cardboard box and some photographers’ diffusion paper. It was easy and it’s made massive improvements to my photography!

  • Thank for Tips For Food Photography.
    It is useful to a novice like me.

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