How to Take Photos of Food in Poor Light Conditions

Light is everything in photography. Is it just me who starts panicking when days start getting much much shorter?

Let me set the scene: you have your props ready for a gorgeous shoot with perfect props, reclaimed wooden boards you spent ages painting, vintage cutlery you found in that car boot sale the other day…

You start cooking the most amazing dinner at 5 p.m. ready to serve around 6.45 p.m., only to realise the sun has disappeared. Gone!

Me: “Where has the sun gone? Where is that beautiful golden light that will make my dish look scrumptious?”

Mother Nature: “It is gone, lovely, because it is November!”

What do you do?

You eat your dinner and plan another cooking session with photo session on your day off.

Story of my life…

Do people stop taking food photos between October and March? How do people do it? I was agonising over that (I know, first world problems…) when I decided to ask Tara and Will whether they would be interested in organising a photography course to solve that problem, and they accepted!

Tara Sura is a food stylist who will make any plain old dish look mouth-watering, and Willliam Reavell is the most talented food photographer I have ever met, with a wealth of experience and that rare ability to teach what he knows to people with a range of abilities and experiences, without patronising them (ever!). I first had a session with them last September at Food Bloggers Connect and attended a level 2 food photography course earlier this year.

So on Saturday last week, I spent the day in a studio in South London learning how to take food photos without having to rely on daylight. I had a brilliant day learning from Will & Tara, and chatting with fellow food lovers Jo, Grace, Alex, Gemma and Marta.  We learnt so much our brains were bursting with inspiration by the end of the day.

My hope for the day was to gain the ability to take decent pictures in all light conditions, and to learn a bit about Lightroom and Photoshop. After spending the past 6 years teaching myself to avoid using a flash at all costs and always seeking natural light for my photos, I have to say it was a daunting task. As for the software, I had used Photoshop before, but although I had heard a lot about Lightroom, I had never used it and downloaded it the night before the workshop.

The day was informal and enjoyable although I realised it would take a lot of practice to take decent photos of food without relying on natural light. I am still pretty pleased with this one:

Taking Photos of Food in Poor Light Conditions - Tartines

Working with a ‘real’ food photographer and food stylist is enlightening. When you are self-taught, there is so much to learn it can be overwhelming, but Tara is always happy to answer silly questions and Will is a natural pedagogue. He answers queries as they get fired at him, never ignores his students’ constant questions and is even happy to go back to basics. That includes explanations through drawings (yes, really!) and showing us what full frame does compared to cropped sensors, giving us advice on lenses or steps to take when planning the composition of our photos.

Taking Photos of Food in Poor Light Conditions


Here are a few things I learnt on the day:

–       Work with one light coming from one direction.

–       Try not to mix daylight and artificial light.

–       Food loves diffused light. If you are using artificial light, you have two options: ambient light or external flash, bouncing light onto the ceiling.

–       If you are working in a poorly lit kitchen, use foam boards to reflect light back into the food.

–       You can save a badly lit picture with good styling.

–       Link your camera to your computer (with a tethering cable) so you can see exactly what you are shooting (In Lightroom, go to ‘File > Tethered capture > Start tethered capture’ and you can even control your camera from the software!).

–       Post-production should not be neglected and you can turn a ‘blah’ food photo into a yummy one with a few clicks.

Taking Photos of Food in Poor Light Conditions - Learning about Photoshop & Lightroom

Check this photo taken by Will

aking Photos of Food in Poor Light Conditions - Before

and the same photo after some improvements on Lightroom and Photoshop:

aking Photos of Food in Poor Light Conditions - After

I will not delve into the amount we learnt about Photoshop and Lightroom, but I would highly recommend getting a subscription for these two essential photo editing tools. In short, Lightroom is a piece of software that allows you to catalogue, organise and improve your digital images. Photoshop allows you to alter digital pictures.

If you fancy taking one of William’s courses, book now!

Disclosure: I attended the workshop free of charge, after paying for two courses – session at FBC and Level 2 course at the studio previously and I am working with Will to help him promote the classes for bloggers. All opinions are my own and the last three photos used in this post are Will’s.

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  1. Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy says:

    Lots of great tips here! I always struggle to take good photos in dark restaurants.

  2. Beautyqueen UK (Beautyqueenuk) says:

    OOh now this was invaluable to read and something to think about when I am attempting to take photos of my products in poor daylight conditions x

  3. Rhian Westbury says:

    Such great photos! I have a shoehorn light on my camera and it works wonders for when it isn’t quite light enough as most of my images are done at nighttime x

    • I try to take most of mine using natural daylight, but it’s so much harder in the winter, isn’t it? I’ve really got to try and improve my photos when using artificial light. Will’s tips certainly help!

  4. Sarah Bailey says:

    I really do struggle with taking food photos – so this fantastic thank you so much! x

    • I’m glad you liked the post Sarah. I could have gone more into details, but I was worried it would get confusing!

  5. Harriet from Toby & Roo says:

    My food photos are SHOCKING! I have to say I love a good food image, they always make my mouth water and that’s what its about right?

  6. Ana De Jesus says:

    I find the same thing when shooting for my blog, during the day there are shadows and then at night its dark! You can’t win but I find good editing definitely helps!

  7. Ah that was interesting to read. What a fab course to go on

  8. Brilliant post and great timing I was going to look into pictures in dim lit rooms as it is an issue for me at the moment.

  9. Jemma @ Celery and Cupcakes says:

    I can’t believe how well the photos came out in such poor lighting conditions!

    • I was amazed too! It’s quite tough to take photos in poor lighting conditions, but when you have an expert like Will there to guide you, things are somewhat much easier!

  10. I’m booked on to a day photography course next month which I’m really looking forward to as my photos leave a lot to be desired x

  11. Liz Mays says:

    That course sounded so helpful. I have to keep those tips in mind for the next time I’m trying to take pictures!

  12. Jessica Ayun says:

    You took great photos! Have been thinking to take photography seriously and your post makes me push more to learn its technicalities. 🙂

    • Thanks Jessica. I would highly recommend Will’s courses. He a natural-born teacher and he happens to be a professional photographer! He even does courses for beginners.

  13. ah i never knew about the light from one direction! learnt something new

  14. Woah what a set-up! Can you imagine having this in your home?!

  15. Nayna Kanabar (@citrusspiceuk) says:

    This sounds like a great class to attend.All the tips and advise sound really useful. I have bought a day light lamp and use a light box in the winter.

  16. secretplussizegoddessblog says:

    Fantastic tips!! The photo’s look amazing too. I wanted to eat them all x

  17. Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche says:

    I really like William Reavell, I’ve seen him speak a couple of times now and I always learn a lot. Helpful tips!

  18. hannahhowell912 says:

    SO many great tips – I would love to do this class one day x

  19. Thanks for this, i desperately need the tips (as you know!!!)

    • You’d love Will and Tara. They’re so patient, happy to go back to basics, and most of all, they know their stuff like no one else! Would you fancy the October session for bloggers? I’ll be there!

  20. Julie @ Julie's Family Kitchen says:

    Looks like a brilliant course Mel, with some really useful tips. Fingers crossed I can attend a course in the future. 🙂

  21. Helen Costello (@CasaCostello) says:

    Aah the world of photography – I feel there is so much to learn. Whenever I ask people for advice on photographing big wedding cakes, I always seem to leave people stumped. I know that the period between Oct and march this year was particularly difficult for really dark days.

    • There is always so much to learn, but I’m happy someone recommended Will’s courses. They are perfect for learning exactly how to take better photos of food.

  22. WhatLauraLoves says:

    Thanks for sharing such great tips. I really need to improve my photography xxx

  23. Well done on recommending they do this course, it can be so hard when you lose control of the light-dark restaurants or most of the year in the UK! I’d love to attend a course like this (P is so accomplished he wouldn’t need to)-can they come to Leeds!

  24. Jayasri says:

    Thanks for lot of great tips Mel, I love natural light but shoot sometimes using artificial light sometime

    • I’m the same. If natural light is available, I wouldn’t go for anything else, but in dark evenings, I am always struggling to take decent photos. I’ll definitely be taking Will’s tips on board.

  25. Northern Crumble says:

    This course looks absolutely amazing! Ive always wanted to go on a photography course but the prices always put me off. Hopefully one day I can save up and attend one of Wills

    Northern Crumble

    • I’m sure you can pay in instalments lovely. It’s so worth it learning ‘live’ from people who really know their stuff and being able to ask questions as they pop into your head (in my case, about 3 questions per minute, he he!).

  26. Laura Haley says:

    A photography course is on my to do list, this looks great. It’s a bit far for me though. I am RUBBISH at taking photos of food.

    • William is brilliant at teaching how to look at food ‘the right way’ (do I even make sense?) and to show his students for the day exactly what to do to take a great photo. He also answers every question that you ask and never makes you feel like an idiot (believe me, I had tons of silly questions!).

  27. Angela / Only Crumbs Remain says:

    It’s amazing how much there is to learn about taking even a half decent food photograph. My pictures have certainly improved in the year that I’ve been blogging (gosh, my first images are embarassing) but I still have so much to learn. So thankyou for this post 🙂
    Angela x

    • My pleasure Angela. The three times I attended William’s classes, I learnt so much! His courses are worth hours and hours of ‘how to’ guides. He really knows his stuff inside out.


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