Pro Lighting on a Non-Existential Budget

Pro Lighting on a Non-Existential Budget

Get Crave-Worthy Shots…

without expansive studio lighting…is that possible? Hint: Daylight is your Messiah! The number 1 complaint from daylight shooters is that their images look FAF (short form for flat AF.

My reply is that it has nothing to do with daylight but with the lack of specular highlights on the hero and the edit or the lack of it. Shooting with daylight doesn’t mean that you get to skip the edit or do lesser of an edit. Same goes with whether you are shooting with a mobile or with a camera. Post production or editing or retouching is an essential last step in the entire photography process. Some likened it to putting makeup on and if you have seen how makeup can transform women in some YouTube beauty videos, you would definitely edit your images.

Daylight, artificial light is at its core the same light, except with the latter you get to control it but the differences end there. Therefore if you know the type of light that you want for your food or product story, daylight of artificial light wouldn’t make a huge difference to your image.

The sole benefit of artificial light is that you get to control it and have the same consistency throughout your shoot. You get to shoot at whatever time of the day whereas with daylight you are subjected to the whims and fancies of the sun.

However almost everybody or dare I say everybody who first picked up photography started with daylight! Daylight is a fantastic teacher with its ever changing light and at times it’s nice to not have to lug or set up artificial lights just to get a single shot. Mastering it would be the key to getting those crave-worthy shots minus the investment into artificial lights.

If you haven’t already suss out the best spot or spots in your home or workplace that has the perfect light you want, now is a good time to observe and locate it. Take notes with your phone or notebook and test the potential spots with a shoot before narrowing it down to at least 2 spots. You always need a backup in case one of the spots just don’t look right on shoot day.

After you have chosen your 2 spots, identify the time that would give you the type of light that you want. For example, your dining room may give you soft light in the morning from 10am to 11am and then hard light from the balcony may be from 12 noon to 3pm. Similarly golden hour light at whichever spot would be at a different time depending on where you are based in the world.

Once you have decided on the spots and identified the times of the day, next is testing them out with a quick simple shoot like a bowl of fruits or a simple dish to see whether the quality of the light matches your food or product story. Repeat this process a couple of times and take down notes after each shoot so that you can refer back to it.

Common lighting issues with daylight would be the lack of light in the scene which can be easily solved with a white foam core placed opposite the direction of the light. Other ways to bounce light into the scene would be an acrylic mirror or aluminium foil. The intensity of the light being bounced back into the scene depends on the material so it would be good to have several options on hand.

If you have too much light in the scene then you can use day curtains or a 5 in 1 reflector or diffusion paper to reduce the amount of light into the scene.

If you want to introduce warmer light in the scene, use the 5 in 1 reflector with its gold cover facing the hero and if cooler light is your goal, use the 5 in 1 reflector with its silver cover.

If you want to cut out or direct light, using a black foam core would be the way to go.

All these common lighting issues and solutions are applicable to both daylight and artificial light.

Next, we need to discuss specular highlights or what’s commonly seen as the bright spots in your image. Ideally those highlights should be on your food/product and not on your tabletop or cutlery or plate. Before you hit the trigger button, take a moment to check whether the highlights are on your food or product or on your props. If the highlights ain’t on your food or product, you need to shift either your set or your angle or your tripod or yourself (if you are shooting handheld) until the light hits your hero with specular highlights.

Then we need to check for what we call the greatest area of contrast (GAC) which is where the lightest area meets the darkest area in an image. That’s where our eyes goes to and typically where you would place your hero.

If you would like to find out more about how to find your perfect light, I talk about it and show you real life examples in my YouTube videos for The 5-Day Fun Food Photography Challenge #letstoastfpc


Day 1: Let’s Prep - Crafting your Food Story

Day 2: Let’s Sparkle - Finding your Perfect Light

Day 3: Let’s Vibe - Composing your Scene

Day 4: Let’s Toast - Styling your Set

Day 5: Let’s Feast - Editing for Style

The challenge has started so be sure to opt in on the fun!

If you would like to start on a lighter note, do subscribe to my weekly newsletter Vibe and Feast where I focus on how to get ahead with your photography minus the burnout.

Finally, I leave you with this quote below:

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” — Yogi Berra

So guys, after all this talk and reading and what not, let’s get cracking and start shooting more NOW!

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