Start Taming Light for Better Food Photos

Simple Light DiagramLight makes it all happen. If you can control light, you can do magic.

In this post, we talk about modifying light using two commonly used tools.

Tools to Tame Light

There are many many different tools and types of lighting gear – honeycombs to snoots. and then softboxes and umbrellas and bouncers and diffusers.

We have talked about some of these lighting gears in past. In this post, we will focus on simpler light shaping tools. Some of you use these tools frequently and many of you don’t use them at all, even though these are some of the simplest tools available.

In this post, let’s look at two light shaping tools – reflectors and diffusers.


Reflectors increase amount of light in a scene by reflecting the light back. Reflectors are used to bounce the light back to the scene.

Look at the diagram below. The light from the source (shown as blue arrows) travels by hitting the subject and casting hard shadow shown in the image above and then is bounced back by the reflector (shown in red arrows) and comes back to the subject and softens the shadow casted by the main light source.

Lighting Diagram with Reflector

In simple terms, this is how reflectors work.

Some cheap bouncers include white foam board, easily available in many stores for $2 or less. Some professionally available reflectors come is various shapes and sizes.


Diffusers disperse the light and decrease the harshness of the light and smoothen it. Diffusers soften the light and that makes the shadows softer as well.

As you can see from an approximate diagram below, diffusers are placed between the light source and the subject so that the strong light (shown in thick blue lines) hits the diffuser and the light is softened (thin blue lines). This softens the shadows in the scene.

 Lighting Diagram with Diffuser

Home made diffusers include a white bedsheet, parchment paper on the window to diffuse hard sun light. Professional diffusers like this one is easy to handle and is available with a diffuser stand.

Suggested Reading

Your Assignment

Your Assignment is to pick a subject and experiment with light sculpting. Use natural light or artificial. Take some photos. Then use a reflector or bouncer to minimize shadows. Take some more photos. And then use a diffuser. Now take some more photos.

Analyze the difference in lighting, mood of the photo and overall visual impact in these three cases.

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  1. My friend uses a diffuser to manage the shadows on his photos. Very useful tips you have here!

  2. This was an interesting and informative read. I printed it out using my printer and put a copy in my camera bag to remind myself about lighting the next time I decide to do some photography, thanks for sharing!

  3. Lighting can really make the difference between a mouth watering plate of food and an unappetizing pile of leftovers. Some professionals do use multiple diffuser stands to create the best mood lighting.

  4. Hey, Neel, I am not sure if you know Katie Quinn Davis but do you have any idea how she made those colors or rustic feel in her photos?

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