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It’s 5:30 p.m. and you are just getting home from a long day of work. You had plans to photograph that new brownie recipe you created last night. If only you had gotten home a little bit earlier before it got dark! You look ahead on the weather app on your phone to see when will be the next good day to photograph. Great- nothing but dark snowy cloudy days for the next week. Figures.
#lifeofafoodblogger am I right?
That scene I just painted for you was pretty much my life the first early years of blogging. I remember trying to take a photo and capture the natural light around my apartment only to be left feeling frustrated. I have a full time job. I live in New England. Perfect light for my photographs was pretty much a unicorn to me. Oh, and to make matters worse one year the apartment I lived in had like no great windows whatsoever, and no outdoor access (unless you count going all the way down and setting up in the courtyard- not going to happen). I figured I would never get photographs I was proud of or could rival some of the top food bloggers.
Enter artificial light. Enter my Lowel Ego Light.
I had tried a few alternatives up to that point and finally just gave in and got the light I had heard so much of. And instantly my photos improved by 1000%!
Um. Nope that last sentence is a total lie. In fact, I remember getting so frustrated with my artificial light I put it away and went back to chasing natural light around my apartment. After awhile, I finally decided to give it another try and I am so glad I did.
Using an artificial light for your food photography can be 100% amazing, and 100% frustrating if you don’t know a few things. Here are my top 5 tips for using any artificial light, whether it’s a Lowel Ego Light, a halogen work lamp, or these Studio Pro lights I recently purchased and love just as much as my Ego Light.
Tip #1: Understand Manual Mode
Did I just hear you groan when you read that tip? I know. I know. You have heard it a bunch of times. But it’s true. Before you can master your artificial lighting, you need to master your camera. If you are still scratching your head when you heard words like aperture and shutter speed, I have a few resources I think you definitely need to check out. This photography class from Craftsy, Basics of Digital Photography (w/ Rick Allred) , I have taken and totally recommend. I learned so much and I can say afterwards I felt confident using the manual mode on my camera. Another great resource is the Tasty Food Photography book from food blogger Lindsay Ostrom at Pinchofyum.com – it’s a straightforward book that will have you adjusting your settings like a pro in no time.
Tip #2: Use A Reflector
Ok, first of what is a reflector? Great question you ask. A reflector is something that will bounce light back on to your subject. Now if you purchase a Lowel Ego light, it will come with a medium-sized reflector for you to use. I use it all the time. But if you are using another aritificial light you may need to make your own. And it’s so easy! All you need is a foam core board (I got mine at Michael’s) and then I simply used a utility knife and cut down the middle (just enough so it didn’t go through the board) and then bent it in half. Voila! Insta-reflector. It’s good to have on hand a large, medium, and small reflectors.
Now you will want to experiment where to place your reflector when taking your food photographs. I generally like to have my reflector placed opposite my light.
You can also try using two reflectors if you want to create more a of a “tunnel of light if you want and put reflectors on either side of your food. Maybe something more like this…
Don’t be afraid to take a few shots of your food and try moving your reflectors around until you capture the look you are going for. The great thing about artificial light is it’s consistent and isn’t going to change on you during the duration of your shoot.
You can also download my these diagrams (and two more!) so you can print them off and keep them handy whenever you are rocking your artificial light. Its totally free, just enter your e-mail address below.
Tip #3: Use A Diffuser
Sometimes artificial light can be a bit harsh- just like direct sunlight is as well. And you will need to soften that light. Enter the diffuser. The diffuser should be placed directly in front of your artificial light. You can try using anything that would be sheer enough to still let the light show through. For instance if I was shooting in natural light you could try using a sheer curtain. But with artificial light it’s not that easy.
My favorite diffuser- an old white t-shirt! Yup. You heard right.
An old white t-shirt fits perfectly over my Lowel Ego Light and perfectly diffuses the light. And because the Lowel Ego light doesn’t get too hot, it’s safe to use.
Another great diffuser is this collapsible diffuser I bought on Amazon. This diffuser is a little bit more expensive clearly than an old white t-shirt, but it also comes with a reflector (in white, black, gold, and silver). And since it’s collapsible it will store easily. The only disadvantage is you would have to hold this in front of your artificial light.
And I’m actually working on making a DIY stand alone diffuser (more to come on that in a future Food Photography Friday post!)
Tip #4: Adjust your white balance if needed
Sometimes your white balance may need to be adjusted when using the artificial light, depending on which light you are using. The Lowel Ego light will need no adjustment, which is another great reason I love my Lowel Ego Light. But if you are using a halogen work lamp, for example, you may need to adjust your white balance. If your white balance is not correct, your photos may show up on the blue side or yellow side. There are two ways you can do this: before shooting or after shooting.
Before shooting: Now you can adjust your white balance before you start shooting. You can do this a couple of different ways. In the menu on your camera, you can adjust the temperature of your setting by making it cooler or warmer.
After shooting: Another way to adjust your white balance is to use a gray card. With a gray card, I first snap a shot with the card in the shot. Then when I go to edit my photos later in Lightroom, I use the whitebalance tool to adjust using the gray card photo.
Here is a great video I found useful on how to set your white balance.
Tip #5 Be Sure There is No Other Light available
I remember the A-HA moment I had when I finally figured this one out. When using your artificial light be sure there is no other light in the room you are shooting. You can try setting up your light in a room with no windows such as your basement. If that’s not a possiblity either wait until it’s completely dark out and then use your light, making sure to shut off all of the other overhead lights. Another option is to use blackout curtains that will block the light coming in from your windows. I now use my artificial light in my office. There are two large windows in there, so in addition to using the blinds I also hung up blackout curtains to ensure no extra light comes in. Now I can take photos anytime I want and I know I will always have consistent lighting!
So that wraps up this post on 5 tips on how to use artificial lighting for your food photography. This is the first of a series I plan on writing every Friday. If you couldn’t guess I’m calling Food Photography Fridays. I know, super clever 🙂 I’m by no means an expert when it comes to food photography and definitely always learning. But over the past 5 years of writing this blog and taking photos I’ve gone from using my Iphone (and using it poorly) to feeling quite comfortable using the manual mode on my DLSR camera. So I plan on sharing everything I have learned in the realm of food photography and sharing it with you.
If there is a topic you would love to see me cover let me know in the comment section! 🙂
And don’t forget to get your Artificial Lighting Set-Up Guide!