Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Food Photography Tips- Available light


Use available light when you can.


Photo above taken with a Nikon D3000 with 18-55mm lens set at 52mm. ISO 400, 1/160th at f/6.3 using available light. The backlighting gives a halo effect to the burger. I took this picture with the window behind the burger and I think it gives an ethereal halo effect. The trick is not to let the light wash out the picture. I metered on the meat and this allowed the rest of the picture to almost wash out.

Flash is nice, and it is often needed when the room is dark or there is some funky lighting in the room, but using natural light is usually better.

Often this will mean using a wide aperture to allow in enough light. Doing this creates a shallow depth of field and can make the photo interesting, like the one above. 

Most high-end food photographers usually work with several studio lights to create exactly the effect they want. I even know one guy who painted all of the walls, the floor and the ceiling of his studio flat black so he’d have total control of the lighting. Most of you who are reading this aren’t about to go out and spend over a grand on studio lights, and spend the year or so on the learning curve to figure out how to use them so we’ll concentrate on using the light we are given.

Notice the difference between the next two pictures. They are not the best ones I've taken, but they illustrate a point. The top picture was taken using fill flash and the bottom one relied on the restaurant's natural (and unnatural) light. The top one is crisper looking, but a bit harsh while the second has a softer look.



A word on flash. The light from your flash drops off with distance because the light spreads. This is called the inverse square law of light, which means that the quantity of the light is inversely proportional to the distance the light travels. So if you move the light twice the distance you get one quarter of the light. Did you ever see people at a baseball game taking flash pictures of the field? That flash has no effect beyond twenty feet. This isn’t really a problem since we are taking relatively close pictures of food, but it does affect how bright, or dark the background is. It can even change the color of the background a bit.


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