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How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

Oh Those Dreaded Winter Months


So let me hear it?  Is it winter time in your neck of the woods?  Here is Wisconsin, the grey skies have returned and will stay for the next 6 months.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it gets dark at 4:30 PM here!  I know, how am I ever going to get that natural light that is so needed when shooting good, quality food pictures?

There is a way, and today I am going to show you how to use artificial light in food photography!

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Choosing The Right Artificial Light


First, lets talk artificial light shall we?  It is important to understand that not all artificial light is created equal!  I am going to say that again, because it is that important!  Not all artificial light is created equal!

Different lighting units give off different light.

  • Lets use a standard living room lamp as an example.  The light produced from this standard lamp will give a picture an unnatural look and will most likely create an orange hue and harsh shadows.
  • A halogen light in low wattage, purchased at a home improvement store, might seem like a solution but the light is typically to bright and again, really creates harsh shadows and a color that does not mimic natural light.
  • Kitchen lights are usually dreadful for shooting pictures.  They are not meant for shooting quality images they are meant for cooking!
  • I have to tell you, I purchased an expensive lighting unit from my camera shop locally that is on a stand and has a diffuser but I really was disappointed.  It wasn’t capturing the images the way I wanted to.

It wasn’t until I started using this artificial lighting unit that I became excited about shooting images in the winter months.  I mean really, who would of thought you could take images like this one, right?

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

Buying An Artificial Lighting Unit


So here is the lighting unit that I use!  First let me start by saying that I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS LIGHTING UNIT!  Yah, I know it is in bold and all caps, but you need to know that I am screaming that at the top of my lungs because this is something you Just.Have.To.Have!! 😉

So here is the lighting unit that I use:

Lowel EGO Digital Imaging, Tabletop Fluorescent Light Unit

I love this unit for several reasons.

  • It is a tabletop unit which is perfect for food photography
  • The light bulbs for this unit are specifically made for photography
  • The shadows are very minimal and it creates quality images
  • Its affordable and small enough to store easily

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography


So lets get down to how we use artificial light in food photography shall we?  Lets take a look at this image again.

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

My first preference when using my artificial light unit is to use white for everything!  White allows the light to bounce off of other things and you have more control of your light.  Controlling light means controlling harsh shadows.

When shooting with artificial light, shadows and harsh light become the pressing issues.  Here is how I solve them:

  • Place the lighting unit right on your table top.  Don’t worry you will be diffusing the light so it isn’t harsh.
  • Place a white under t-shirt over the light to diffuse the light more (of course don’t leave this on for a long period of time)
  • Place your food on a white table top unit (learn how to make your own here)
  • Use a white bounce board (comes with the artificial light unit I recommend)
  • Use a white backdrop (you can learn how to set up a studio for under $10 here)
  • Use white plates.  It is okay to use a splash of color with a napkin or cloth as pictured above.
  • Make sure you have NO lights on in the room other then the artificial light unit!  No overhead light, nothing. In fact, a darker room is preferred.  I shot these images in my basement with no lights on and it was completely dark outside.


Shooting In Manual Mode


Now once you have all this set up, start shooting your images.  It helps if you are in manual mode when shooting these images because you have more control of the light.  You can learn how to shoot in manual mode here.

One other reason I like all white is because you can edit your shadows out of your images by editing the exposure or by adjusting the shadows.  You can learn more about editing in this post: Simple editing techniques that can dramatically improve you photos.

I know it might be hard to imagine a photo from the picture shown above, but when you zoom in to take a picture, all the behind the scenes images disappear and you get an image that looks something like this.

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

Here is one more image shot in another photo shoot using all white and artificial light.

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

Shooting Images With Black Backgrounds


I know I am really focusing on white, white white…but it is possible to also shoot images with dark backgrounds.

There are some pros and cons though.

  • Pro ~ there are no harsh shadows Con ~ There is harsh light
  • Pro ~ the harsh light can be cropped out Con ~ You will have more editing to do to get your final image
  • Pro ~ black backgrounds create dramatic pictures Con~ You are a bit limited on controlling light

So lets look at this image.  You can clearly tell that the lighting unit is on the left.  The light is a bit more harsh and the shadows show up within the props.

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

To control this you can simple design the picture to be cropped and crop out some of the harsh light.  Do you see how that was accomplished in this picture?

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

Practice, Practice, Practice!


Bottom line, you have to get a feel for the mood you are trying to portray to your audience.  Every image is different and will work differently with artificial light.

Get some practice and play around with artificial light.  It is totally different then shooting in natural light.

I can shoot an entire photo shoot in natural light in less then 20 images.  But when I am using artificial light, I shoot closer to 100 images.  Why?  Well simply put, I am still getting the hang of it!

Practice, practice, practice…you will get better the more you use artificial light!

How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography |

Camera Details


As always, I like to include the details of my pictures.  As usual, I shot all of these pictures on manual mode.  You can learn how to use manual mode in this tutorial: Learn How To Use Manual Mode On Your DSLR Camera With This Easy Photography Tutorial.  I used artificial light for all of these images.  I did not use a tripod for any of these photos.

  • The pictures of the 3 cookies stacked on each other has an ISO of 800, the aperture was f/4.5 and the shutter speed was 1/250.
  • The picture of the cookies with the turquoise checkered fabric has an Iso of 800, the aperture was f/4.5 and the shutter speed was 1/160
  • The pictures with the black backgrounds were shot with an ISO of 800, the aperture was f/8 and shutter speed was 1/15.
  • The final picture, the picture on the left was shot ISO 800, aperture f/4.5 and shutter speed 1/40 and the image on the right was shot ISO 800, aperture f/3.2 and shutter speed 1/40.

I edited the pictures slightly by adjusting the exposure a bit, bumping up the saturation in the photos a bit.  If you should have any questions about any of these elements, please feel free to ask in the comment sections below.

More Great Photography Post ~ Photography, Equipment, Props & More


You can view more great photography post, in our Entire Series of Food Photography, Equipment, Props & More!   Until next week…

Oh and one more thing, check out this awesome tasty food photography book.  It is hands down my favorite photography book!!

 Want To Learn Even More About Food Photography

Tasty Food Photography eBookHere is one of my favorite e-books that really dives into a lot of great stuff. Lindsey over at Pinch of Yum has the most gorgeous photos!  In this e-book, she has tackles technical tips, composition tips, lighting tips, prop and set up tips, editing tips and general workflow tips.  There are instructional videos to easily walk you through learning the whole process!  Wether you are brand new to photography or have experience…this book is for everyone! Learn more here!



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Join the Conversation

12 thoughts on “Behind The Scenes ~ How To Use Artificial Light In Food Photography”

  1. I use the same light and love it too! Good idea on t- shirt trick, without the proper gadgets…diffusing in one hand and shooting in the other is a pain! Changing the color of the bounce board also changes the light subtly too…..

  2. hallecottis says:

    tessadomesticdiva never even thought about changing out the bounce board, will have to try.  I love my unit and can’t imagine taking pictures without it in the winter months.  Sure natural is best, but this is the next best thing 😉

  3. mikezielonka says:

    I am shocked that you use a white t-shirt. :)

  4. Halle Cottis says:

    It makes all the difference in the world Mike!!

  5. This is such a helpful article!
    Thanks a lot, Halle!

  6. I just shot with my EGO light for the first time yesterday and was so pleased with the result! Glad I stumbled upon your article! Awesome tips!

    1. Halle Cottis says:

      So happy to hear! Would love to see a photo when you get one done :)

  7. Kayley says:

    Awesome article, and gorgeous pictures!
    I’ve been in need of my first artificial light source and your post definitely helped me out.

    Curious as to what lens(es) you’re using? Especially in the cookie and stew images.

    Thanks a bunch for posting!

    1. Halle Cottis says:

      I use a this lens 95% of the time and I LOVE it!!

  8. Amanda says:

    Thanks so much for this article! I am a new food blogger and every tip helps :) especially since it’s pitch black outside by the time I get home from work. Have a wonderful day! xx

  9. Susan says:

    Great article! Beautiful images! Is this light sturdy enough to take to restaurants to photograph their food? How big and heavy is it? Thanks!

    1. Halle Cottis says:

      It is a tabletop unit and could easily be lugged into a restaurant. Be careful with the light bulbs, they are expensive…so pay close attention to not breaking them :)

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