food photography | lighting

Although this post is due to be the comparison brownie post (where I share with you a second brownie recipe and compare it with the swiss chocolate pistachio brownie), what’s more overdue is a quick post about my food photography.

I’m in no way a certified professional, I will admit immediately. I have done several photography courses but they were done so long ago, and did not come with qualification, that I will probably class myself as a self-taught photography aficionado (who’s had some photos printed in a couple of mags/cookbooks). I do hope to see that change within the next year or so, though!

I have been receiving a fair few emails asking for photography tips/details. I’ll start a little series with quick tips on what you can do to make your photos more mouth watering (because you deserve to torture us fellow droolers that much more!) Keep in mind these are things that I personally do, and every recipe I make and photograph is one step forward in improving my own skills.

So before I start, I’ll answer the burning question (..although I think I have before..) I get the most… I currently use what’s classed as an entry-level (I’m offended! 😛 ) DSLR camera – namely the Canon 650D. These cameras are entry-level because they provide you with schnazy options that do the work for you instead of leaving you, as the pro, to do the work yourself. I don’t use any of those features. With this camera, I use the 50mm f1.8 lens with a polarising filter, or otherwise a 17-55mm f2.8 lens which has a UV filter on the front since I bought it – which I’ve been too lazy to remove. I’ll talk some more about my photography gear next post 🙂


Probably the most important tip is to ask for criticism – always. I used to frequently ask others (namely professional food photographers!) about my photos and how they can be improved. This is truly the only way you can improve. I think most of you want to see photos/tips, so I’ll start off with a basic lighting technique.


Good food photography doesn’t happen under artificial lighting unless you’ve got all the jazz (diffusers, bulbs, backdrops). Artificial lighting creates hard shadows and highlights around/on your food which reduces just how appealing it is. Let’s take a look at an example.

chocolate wafer tree

Here’s a photo of a ‘chocolate wafer tree’ I made. I took the photo while the tree was in the fridge – the harsh fridge light overexposes the marshmallows and creates hard shadows on the wafers. Not very appealing.

Using natural lighting – that is away from direct sunlight – is much softer and just looks better on camera. You can further diffuse natural lighting by putting up a parchment paper on the window you’re photographing beside, or using a reflector to soften the shadows created.

reflectors made from sketching books

Don’t let fancy equipment get in your way. I use my 2 sketchbooks as reflectors and they work a charm! This is a typical set up with window light from one side and the reflectors to fill in the shadows of the lemons and of where the cut slice was. Keep this photo in mind, you’ll be seeing it again when I do a post about your autofocus (yes 1/2 of it is out of focus!)

Finally, natural lighting can flood your image if it’s used in the wrong way. Food photography is said to “back-light” the dish being photographed. Let’s compare.

front-lit cookie

This cookie was photographed from (nearly) the same direction the light was hitting it from. The image feels flooded with light and the cookie might look good but I think the photo doesn’t give it justice.

back-lit cookieThis is the photo of the same cookie, but taken from the opposite direction from the light hitting it (lighting is not diffused in this pic).  This is back-lighting your food which brings out highlights when something is glistening with butter, oil, or chocolate for that matter. You’re in a win-win situation here because back-lighting the food brings out highlights without creating any shadow since there wasn’t much shadow in the first place. Controlling the amount of highlighting can be achieved with a polarising filter, but I’ll keep this short and sweet and cover that in my next tip 🙂

At the end of the day, all is personal taste. Which do you like better? Front-lit or back-lit cookies? Or ‘who cares, just give me cookies’? 🙂 Hope this helps you get started on your journey through the realms of food photography!


9 thoughts on “food photography | lighting

  1. Mad Dog says:

    You can diffuse artificial lighting in the same way that you do with daylight. You can buy big rolls of diffuser such as Roscolux or use material like net curtains, silk or muslin 😉

    • fati's recipes says:

      Yes. I think flash with food is the biggest crime. Actually I think flash is a crime all together. I really don’t like it!! I remember lecturer brought a spanner to uni and told us he will delightfully break off our flashes if we use them 🙂
      Of course if you have them flashes that sit away from your food and point at an umbrella and are programmable to release how much light you want, then that’s a different story 😉

  2. mjskit says:

    Very informative post! I especially love the idea of the sketch pads as reflectors. My husband has some professional reflectors, but they are huge! He’s a professional photographer so he provide me some great feedback. He taught me the basics and has let me play and struggle on my own. I appreciate that because that’s my learning style. 🙂 Thanks for all of the great information!

  3. Selma's Table says:

    Oh, the sketch pads are genius! Thanks for sharing such a great tip. I started blogging in August and have made huge improvements in my pics by only using natural light or if I have photographed in the evening, sorting out the white balance when editing…I use my iPhone to take the pics – please don’t judge me!!

    • fati's recipes says:

      I never judge other bloggers’ photos because I know not everyone has the time or money to invest in a DSLR!
      I’m sure your blog is filled with delicacies. I’ll be heading over there soon to check it out.
      Keep in touch for future photography tips, though 🙂

      • Selma's Table says:

        I just didn’t want to invest in a proper camera until I was sure that the blog was doing well and even though it is, I am so enamoured of the iPhone and it’s apps that I am still putting it off. Will definitely keep in touch as I am following your blog!

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