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Food Photography Tips - The Simplest Lighting for Food Photography

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

Natural lighting is the main ingredient for food photography. Lighting the main subject correctly is the first thing you need to begin with in order make your food images look appealing and appetising.
This waffle shot was took using my student's entry level Canon EOS 1000D camera with kit lens

I shot the waffle above using my student's 18-55mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 Kit lens during my basic food photography workshop. I have zoomed the lens to the maximum focal length: 55mm in order to minimise lens distortion.


The lighting I used was a window light coming from the left side of the camera. It is also known as the Side Lighting Technique. See diagram below and follow as close as possible.


Key Light - Side Lighting Technique

Make full use of your house window and use the light that come in from your window as your "Key" light. Switch off other ambient light and just use the window light. Bigger window will give you softer light (soft shadow) and smaller window will give you harder light (darker shadow).


Take note of the wall too. The diagram below show that the window opening is in the middle of the wall. The background will become darker as the light did not manage to cover the back area. If your window opening stretches to the end of the wall then you will have a brighter background.

Place your subject 1.2 meter away from the window so that the result of the image you took will be more contrast and have more depth. Placing the subject too near the window will make the image looks flat.

Using Side Lighting (Window Light coming from the left) without any fill light.

The above image was the first shot I took. Notice the spectacular highlight found on the left side of the baby tomatoes. That's the result from the key light.


Next step, I placed a white colour foam board (very near the subject) at the right side of the camera (directly opposite of the window) to fill some light to brighten the right side of the tomatoes as well as the shadow as it is too dark previously. See image below.

Using Side Lighting as key light and a white foam board as fill light placing on the right side very near to the subject.

You can move the white foam board slightly away from the subject if you think that your previous shot was too bright due to the placement of the white foam board. See image below.

The white foam board was place further away from the subject.

The final shot above looks more natural to me that I personally like.


If you wish to soften the highlight and shadow further, you can hang a white translucent curtain / paper after the window to diffuse the light. After you have added the curtain, your image now will look darker. You will need to increase the exposure by using a bigger aperture or slower shutter speed as you need more light to pass through the curtain.


Things to take note

  1. Mount your camera on a sturdy tripod to prevent camera shake and it is easier for you to control other stuffs.

  2. Before taking the food shot, remember to do your custom white balance. If not you can choose "Auto" white balance for the start if you don't know how to custom white balance.

  3. You need to constantly check your exposure as the natural lighting condition will change.

  4. Avoid taking photo from a west-facing window as the west-facing light in Singapore is very harsh.

If you wish to learn more about food photography and different types of lighting, you may want to sign up for my food photography workshop mentioned below.


1. Basic Food Photography Workshop

2. Intermediate Food Photography Workshop

3. Advanced Food Photography Workshop


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