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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.  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.

55 Comments

  1. Liz Mays
    21/06/2016 / 12:44 am

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

    • Mel
      Author
      21/06/2016 / 12:19 pm

      It was absolutely brilliant! So glad I attended

  2. Jessica Ayun
    21/06/2016 / 12:29 pm

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

    • Mel
      Author
      21/06/2016 / 10:07 pm

      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.

  3. nicol
    21/06/2016 / 12:26 pm

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

    • Mel
      Author
      21/06/2016 / 10:05 pm

      Me neither! Every time I attend one of Will’s classes, I learn so much.

  4. Tara
    21/06/2016 / 3:10 pm

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

    • Mel
      Author
      21/06/2016 / 10:04 pm

      I was wondering how I could make something like that look ‘part of the furniture.’ Ha ha!

  5. Nayna Kanabar (@citrusspiceuk)
    21/06/2016 / 6:44 pm

    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.

    • Mel
      Author
      21/06/2016 / 10:02 pm

      I use a day light lamp as well but I have to practise and practise to get better in the darker months…

  6. secretplussizegoddessblog
    22/06/2016 / 8:48 am

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

    • Mel
      Author
      24/06/2016 / 1:44 pm

      He, he! That’s the idea 🙂

  7. Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche
    22/06/2016 / 12:18 pm

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

    • Mel
      Author
      24/06/2016 / 1:44 pm

      He’s a brilliant teacher!

  8. hannahhowell912
    22/06/2016 / 12:37 pm

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

    • Mel
      Author
      23/06/2016 / 8:31 pm

      You should! Every time I attend one of Will’s workshop, I learn so much!

    • Mel
      Author
      23/06/2016 / 8:32 pm

      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!

  9. Julie @ Julie's Family Kitchen
    22/06/2016 / 9:03 pm

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

    • Mel
      Author
      23/06/2016 / 8:28 pm

      Oh Julie, shall we go to the October one together? Ask Will for some more info, he’s really nice!

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