I often get asked what is the best time of day to shoot food when using natural light. This really depends on where you are shooting and how much natural light you are actually getting at certain times of the day. I always use a tripod so for me I am not limited by the quantity of light that is coming through the window. If you are not using a tripod (and you should be by now!) you are totally at the mercy of the sun and when it is the brightest in your house and that all depends on what room you are shooting in and how bright it can get.
In the two images above there is a big difference in lighting as they were taken 4 ½ hours apart from each other. You can see how the sun moved around from the left to the right. Also with the image on the right side there is more detail in the back part of the background because the light is stronger on the right side. The exposures were identical – F 5.6 at a ½ second.
My point here is that the time of day really affects how the light can look in your food photos. I suggest you do something similar to what I did above. Set up a shot (with something that will last all day) take a few pictures throughout the day to see how the light looks at different times of the day. Also keep in mind the light will change as the seasons do so keep notes on this. The shots above was taken early September in the Los Angeles area.
If you have a tripod you can also experiment with pictures towards the end of the day and simply make the shutter speed longer to accommodate the loss of light as the sun moves. I’ve actually taken shots with the shutter speed at 30 seconds when it was almost dark outside and the shot looks like it has bright sun just outside the window. The shot below was exposed for 5 seconds.
This shot above was taken after the sun set and the shot below shows how dark the studio was when I took this shot. Now you also have to keep in mind that at this time of day the color of the daylight is very blue – you have to adjust your color temperature to accommodate this blue light. I had to set my degrees kelvin on my Canon 5D to 7500 degrees. If you shoot RAW files then you can adjust this in software like Lightroom to adjust the color temperature afterwards. You can see below I’m shooting tethered in Lightroom.
Here are what the sets looked like at both times of day for the first two shots. Please notice that I DO NOT have direct light hitting the food. I am just inside the open shade area so the light is nice and soft.
So get to know the light in your own house and see what time of day you like the best by doing some test shoots.