Many people are intimidated by artificial food photography lighting, but it really can be easy and necessary when we start losing light early in the evening. 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.
You can put several different kinds of incandescent light bulbs in these soft boxes.
Please note: you will still have to use a tripod with this type of 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 match your light, or use Auto White Balance. The type of camera will dictate which white balance settings you have to choose from.
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.
You can also get an adapter to put four LED bulbs in this one soft box – which I suggest you do. Keep reading for links to the blog post showing those products.
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 reflective 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 cost more money.
You need to make sure that your light stand can support the soft box. You might need to use a sand bag on the stand to keep it stable.
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
Ok here’s the deal – there are tons of cheap, crappy softboxes on Amazon – like 100’s of them. Most of them come with the large, coiled CFL bulbs, like you see here. I hate these bulbs because they contain mercury powder, are huge and heavy and have a low CRI (color rending index – click here for more info on this).
So what I suggest is to get this kit, which is only $50 and don’t use these CFL bulbs but instead use four high CRI LED bulbs in a quad adapter that I talk about in this post.
So there you have it! Your super easy food photography lighting set up with just one light and a piece of foam core! Check out this post where I show you the side light with a 3/4 view shot on a table.
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