Many people are intimidated by artificial food photography lighting, but it really can be easy and necessary in the winter. I’m in LA so it gets dark about 5:30 in the evening these days. If you are trying to shoot food and you’re only able to use natural light, this getting dark early thing can be a real drag.
This shot above was taken at 7pm with one light. Easy!
Artificial Food Photography Lighting
I tell all my students that shooting with artificial light is so much easier than natural light a lot of the time. You see, with natural light, your light source is constantly moving all day long. This movement will change your quality of light, your shadows, your exposure, AND your white balance (color temperature). This can be a huge problem if you’re taking more than one shot and they all have to match.
Introducing an excellent, inexpensive little light that you will come to love. This is called a soft box. What’s nice about this type of soft box is that the front silk comes off very easily so you can conveniently change the bulb and add additional diffusion if you want.
I have a 500 watt tungsten light bulb in there. The bulb is about $7 and they last quite a while, as you typically don’t have them on for very long.
These are called “Hot Lights”. They DO get hot. There are a bunch of soft boxes out there that are for fluorescent light bulbs. They will never be as bright as a regular tungsten light bulb and you’ll need to put at least 4 fluorescent bulbs inside the box – well that’s gonna add up in price real fast, so this defeats the whole eco green thing if you ask me. The only advantage with fluorescent bulbs is they are a not as hot.
Please note: you will still have to use a tripod to use this light, or jack up your ISO high enough so that you can hand hold this. You will also have to set your color balance to either Tungsten (or incandescent), or Auto White Balance. The type of camera will dictate which settings you have. If you have both, try your shot on both settings and see which one you like best.
So this box is made for one bulb, is super light weight, and easy to store. Details about the light are at the bottom of this post.
This is what the soft box looks like before it’s put together. The soft box part has 4 metal, flexible posts and takes a little coordination to put together.
Inside the box you can see a silver metal material. This is always the first thing to start breaking down in these boxes. It will start to flake or stick to itself when folded up. The cheaper soft boxes will do this much faster than the ones that costs more money.
As the bulb is only 500 watts, you can plug this into any outlet in your home.
The light stand for this one is pretty great as it has a good range of height, from short to very tall.
There’s a few ways to work with this light. I’m going to show you the easiest and most common way to use it; as a side light for an overhead shot.
Notice my light is not 100% on the side, meaning it’s not directly to the left of the tangerines. If you were to look at my set from overhead as a clock, the light would be at about 10:00. So the light is coming from the upper left corner in my picture.
I didn’t want my shadows to go straight across my set directly to the right. I wanted my shadows at an angle, so I moved my light up and to the left until I liked where the shadows fell. I also angled the light head down a bit towards the food.
Also notice my light box is not on, or touching my set. You need some space between you and your light source to give you room on your set to put your food where you want it. It is also raised up on its stand so that it is higher than my set. You can control the size of your shadows this way.
I’m using a large fill card opposite the light to bounce light back into the dark shadows.
The shot below has no fill card – see how dark the shadows are?
If you want to make a moody image, dark shadows can do this, then use a dark background too and your food will pop off the page!
Here are two shots side by side so you can see the difference. The image on the right has two fill cards, one on the right side and one on the bottom. The set is below:
These fill cards are just foam core leaning on my set, and of course, my camera is overhead on my large tripod.
The Lighting Equipment
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Here are two options – one is the soft box I am using above:
This is the Westcott Photo Basics 411 uLite and 20-Inch Soft Box. It is $100. It’s only 20 inches square. It does not come with the bulb OR the stand. See the bulb and stand below. This box is good for small sets.
This box is a beautiful light the Westcott uLite with 26 In. Octabox it’s much bigger at 26″ for $120. It’s an Octabox, which will throw very nice light. This also does not come with the light bulb or the stand.
Here is a great stand for the light above. This is the Westcott 750 Photo Basics 6.5-Foot Light Stand. It’s $36.98. There are cheaper stands out there, but if it’s really small and light weight it will not be big enough to hold what you’re putting on it.
Now, for the bulbs – it really doesn’t matter the brand. This one is the Photoflood Frosted 500 Watt Bulb on Amazon is $ .99 – however the shipping is $5. You can also see if your local camera store has these. They are called 500 watt photo bulbs, or globes with an Edison screw base. Just make sure whatever bulb you get is frosted! This helps to diffuse the light, which is necessary. Get at least two. They always blow right in the middle of shot, seriously, every time. If you get more than one light – make sure both of the bulbs in the lights are the same for consistency. Bulbs can vary slightly with different color temperatures, between manufacturers, even if they claim the bulb is 3200 Kelvin.
Now, I am showing one more kit here, the LimoStudio 700W Photography Softbox Lighting Kit. It’s crazy cheap, for $70 and I have not seen it in person or worked with it. The soft boxes are not as deep as the ones I am recommending – and without getting too technical here, it will throw a different looking light that could have some fall off of light on your set. It could be one of those that the silver inside will break down quicker – I just don’t know, but it’s cheap, so if anyone decides to get this, let me know and give me an update. It might be one of those too good to be true things. I’m just sayin’.
UPDATED 9/2/16 – I bought this kit to test it for you. I am writing a post about this as an equipment review. OMG – you’re just not going to believe it. You get what you pay for – the review will be hilarious. Stay tuned.
So there you have it! Your super easy food photography lighting set up with just one light and a piece of foam core! Next post I’ll show you the side light with a 3/4 view shot on a table.
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