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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55 Comments

  1. Laura Haley
    03/07/2016 / 1:57 pm

    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.

    • 05/07/2016 / 12:01 am

      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!).

  2. Angela / Only Crumbs Remain
    05/07/2016 / 12:54 pm

    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

    • 08/07/2016 / 6:31 pm

      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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