Lighting for food photography was a topic recently discussed during a demonstration by a (so called) professional food photographer at my local camera club. I know photography is subjective and different people have their own opinions on what is the best method/technique but the lady doing the demonstration didn’t seem to have a clue, and she makes her living providing food photography services – or so she claimed……….
The lady doing the demonstration argued the best lighting for food photography was natural light and that artificial light has no place in food photography, i.e. “natural light good fake light bad”. The lady doing the demonstration argued that natural light is soft, it doesn’t create any colour casts and it doesn’t have any adverse effects on the food being photographed. I have to say I am not overly convinced about this, so let’s look at this a little closer…….
The biggest problem using natural light as the only source of lighting for food photography is you have no control over the intensity of the light. There are times when ambient light is too weak and slow shutter speeds are needed to get the right exposure. Alternatively, it may be necessary to use a selection of reflectors to bounce the natural light back on the food to lift the shadows. Doing this doesn’t only require reflectors but also stands and clamps to keep them in place, which is more equipment to set up and get in the way.
On the other hand there are times when natural light is too intense, i.e. harsh and create high contrast situations, which is not good. Intense natural light can easily create hot spots and strong highlights. In these situations it is necessary to soften the light and diffuse it using a diffuser or screen. Once again, this requires more equipment that needs setting up.
Another big issue with using natural light as the only source of lighting for food photography is that you have no control over the direction of the light, and if it falls wrong on the subject there is little you can do other than move the food to alter the way it is lit (which is not always possible, or awkward) or bounce the light back on to the food. Once again, this situation requires reflectors and stands/clamps.
I agree that natural light doesn’t produce any colour casts, but in the age of digital photography colour casts isn’t that much of an issue, and any problems are quickly rectified in the digital dark room using photo editing software (such as Photo Shop Elements). Shoot in RAW and you can quickly change the white balance to whatever you want after the food has been photographed.
I agree that natural light won’t have any adverse effects on the food, providing you take the photos quickly of course. It won’t be the natural light that affects the food, it will be the fact the food is out in the fresh air that will make it spoil.
During the discussion part of the demonstration I asked the question “how can natural light, when you have no control over it whatsoever, be better than artificial light (and daylight balanced at that) of which you have total control over?” This question was like a red rag to a bull and the lady ripped me to bits, and in front of everyone. I have to say that I wasn’t impressed, and if she can’t take other people’s opinions (that should be questions) she shouldn’t give demonstrations.
I am all for using natural light for food photography, but then I am not averse to using artificial light from speed lights and studio strobes if it is needed. I have to admit that I prefer to use artificial light to photograph food and will only use natural light on its own if my speed lights have run out of juice (i.e. the batteries are dead) or if I don’t have any speed lights with me.
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.