In my experience one of the hardest areas of photography to get in to and make some money is food photography, and whilst I have managed to make a little bit of money with my food photography I have not been able to exploit it as much as I would have liked to.
The world of food photography is tough and whilst there are tens of thousands of cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants, street food vendors, fast food joints etc., all of which serve food, trying to get a paid gig photographing the menu is very difficult. I have found getting these shoots very difficult, and have made more money selling my food photography prints to food bloggers and recipe sites than I have from providing food photography services to the various eateries in my local area.
As much as I like to cook I have to say my dishes aren’t the most visually appealing and the ones I consider worthy of photographing I have already done so I now get all of my food photos when I eat out an about.
The best food photography lighting is continuous daylight balanced bulbs. When using these lights you can move them around the food until you find the exact place that gives the result you want. When using daylight balanced continuous bulbs it is possible to put some areas of the dish in shade, evenly light the dish or light it in whatever way you want. Using continuous lamps for food photography makes sense but you can hardly take your continuous lighting set up when you go out for dinner, can you. And even if you could take your continuous photography lights around with you it is not possible to use them when eating street food.
When taking on location food photos when I am having some food whilst out and about the best way to light the food is to use a speed light, which is obviously small, light, portable and battery powered.
You will get some funny/strange looks when photographing your dinner before consumption so you ne to work fast, discreet and attract as little attention as possible, unless you want a big audience of course. Whenever I take photos of food on location like this I take a single speed light and use it in TTL mode, tweaking the power with flash exposure compensation as I see fit. I will also use the flash off camera and hand hold it or set it on a table on a flash foot.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to use multiple lights, create an attractive set and spend time making sure the lighting was spot on, but this is not possible in restaurants, cafes and other eateries. Firstly, people will think you’re a little weird and secondly, your food is going to get cold – and what a waste of money that would be.
The way I take food photographs out and about is to order the food, create the best set I can with what is on the table (i.e. move the cutlery, condiments, glasses, napkins etc.), dial in the camera settings and decide where to place the speed light whilst the meal is cooking and when the meal is set in front of me I then fire off a few images - once the waiter disappeared off course.
Lighting is key in getting decent food shots in these situations and a good quality, reliable and TTL enabled speed light is essential. You can use any TTL enabled speed light for this but my preference is one of the small speed lights aimed at the travel photography/mirrorless camera market. These speed lights are small, can be hidden out of view on the table (so not to attract too much attention) and also pack plenty of light to ensure correct exposure. These small speed lights may not be as powerful as the larger speed lights but when the subject is so close to the camera there is no need for a lot of power. Besides, some of the larger speed lights are too powerful, even when dialled right down to the lowest power setting, for subjects so close. This type of over exposure doesn’t happen using the smaller speed lights – which is ideal for close up subjects.
GUIDE NUMBER (35MM @ ISO 100) – 27M / FOCAL LENGTH COVERAGE – 24MM – 105MM / RECYCLING TIME – 0.1 – 4 SECS/ ETTL - YES / EV COMPENSATION ON FLASH - +/- 2EV / SLAVE - YES / VERTICAL TILT – 0 – 90 DEGREES/ HORIZONTAL TILT – 0 – 180 DEGREES/ DIMENSIONS – 100MM X 50MM X 50MM/ APPROX PRICE $USD/£GBP - $230/£155/ POWER – 4XAA BATTERIES
GUIDE NUMBER (35MM @ ISO 100) – 36M/ FOCAL LENGTH COVERAGE – 24MM – 105MM/ RECYCLING TIME – 0.1 – 2.2 SECS/ ETTL - YES/ EV COMPENSATION ON FLASH - +/- 3EV/ SLAVE - YES/ VERTICAL TILT – 0 – 90 DEGREES/ HORIZONTAL TILT – 0 – 90 DEGREES/ DIMENSIONS – 140MM X 62MM X 38MM/ APPROX PRICE $USD/£GBP - $85/£70/ POWER – 2XAA BATTERIES
GUIDE NUMBER (35MM @ ISO 100) – 26M/ FOCAL LENGTH COVERAGE – 24MM – 85MM/ RECYCLING TIME – 0.3 – 8 SECS/ ETTL - YES/ EV COMPENSATION ON FLASH - +/- 3EV/ SLAVE - YES/ VERTICAL TILT – 0 – 890 DEGREES/ HORIZONTAL TILT - NONE/ DIMENSIONS – 63MM X 85MM X 85MM/ APPROX PRICE $USD/£GBP - $140/£75/ POWER – 2XAAA BATTERIES
GUIDE NUMBER (35MM @ ISO 100) – 27M/ FOCAL LENGTH COVERAGE – 28MM – 50MM/ RECYCLING TIME – 0.1 – 4 SECS/ ETTL - YES/ EV COMPENSATION ON FLASH - NO/ SLAVE - YES/ VERTICAL TILT – 0 – 90 DEGREES/ HORIZONTAL TILT - NO/ DIMENSIONS – 77MM X 66MM X 65MM/ APPROX PRICE $USD/£GBP - $170/£180/ POWER – 2XAA BATTERIES
Some people like to use an off camera flash cord for this type of food photography, however I have to say that I am not a great fan. I find off camera flash cords clumsy, cumbersome and they get in the way. Rather than using an off camera flash cord I use wireless flash triggers, and whilst my personal favourites are the Yongnuo YN622s (check out the pros and cons here) I use a Godox X1 transmitter.
My small speed light of choice is the Godox TT350 and whilst I can use my Yongnuo YN622 flash triggers with this flash I now use it with the Godox X1 transmitter. The Godox TT350 has a wireless receiver built in to it so I only need to use the Godox X1 on my camera. If I want to use the Yongnuo flash triggers I have to use one YN-622 on the Godox TT350 and another YN-622-TX on the camera, which means twice as many triggers, twice as many batteries and twice as much stuff to carry around. In my experience the Godox X1 set up is smaller and more suited to lighting food out on location in restaurants, when using the Godox TT350 of course. On those occasions when I take the Nissin i40 (another small speed light I own) I use the Yongnuo YN-622 flash triggers as the go to option.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.
This website contains some affiliate marketing links, which means we may get paid commission on sales of those products or services we write about.
More photography related videos at "Photography Tips & Tricks TV"