It feels strange to write about food photography because I’m not an authority on the subject. I took Photography 101 in college but I’ve never attended a food photography conference and I may be the least technical person you’ll ever meet. Even so, I feel like I’m learning more about what seems to make a good photograph each time I take out my camera. As my family and friends can attest, I’ve held up many meals by making sure that I had a good photograph to document my hard work. Thankfully, they don’t tend to mind since they eventually get to eat it.

One of the most important aspects of photography is light. Light determines the quality of your image right from the start. If you begin with great light, I’d say you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting a great shot. And to me, great light is natural light. This can come from a window (which is my favorite) or you can take your photos outside. Personally, I’ve found natural light to be the best way to showcase food and it doesn’t require any special equipment, which is a big plus.

Let’s look at a couple of photos that show the difference between indoor and outdoor light and the angle in which the light meets your food.

This photo was taken inside my kitchen. Because it’s inside, there’s a harsh shadow coming from the light above.

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Photo taken inside.

 

Then I took the tart outside. As you can see, just by changing the light source, the image is more inviting and appealing. The new backdrop helps to make the tart stand out as well.

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Photo taken outside.

Now, even natural light can still be used poorly. I was taking photos of a lemon meringue pie last week in a room with all windows but I couldn’t get it to look the way I wanted. I moved the pie around several times until I realized that the angle of the light was all wrong. I moved the pie closer to the window to magnify the primary light source (which was the window in this case). This gave the image a whole different look, and one that I was quite happy with. Here are two images from that shoot that illustrate this thought.

This image had the the light source (window in this case) far away.

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Pie is farther from the light source.

This image shows how getting closer to the natural light creates an image of better quality. The pie looks crisper and less blurry. The first image isn’t horrible because we’re using natural light. But getting closer to the light adds more detail. Just moving the pie a couple of feet made a huge difference.

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Pie is closer to the light source.

 

Here’s another example of how the angle of natural light can change the outcome of your shot. In the first example, the light is coming from above and isn’t illuminating the yummy filling inside, which is the subject of the shot.

not-so-great-light-from-above-shot

I placed the sandwich under the light.

By moving the sandwiches around and directing the light so that it comes from an angle, the avocado, bacon and tomato become the stars of the show. The key here is to experiment. Move the food around until you find the place where the natural light hits the subject. Take a lot of pictures because practice makes perfect.

great-shot-using-natural-light

I moved the sandwich to meet the light.

There are other important aspects of photography that will help you create better images such as composition, color, depth and subject matter. These should all be considered when creating your images. But lighting can make or break a shot. And it’s a great place to start when you’re learning the ropes about photographing food.This post was written by Rachel Logan. To learn more about Rachel’s recipes check out her yummy food blog. If you liked this post, you may want to check out Rachel’s Cookbook Tutorial.