How To Use Natural Light In Food Photography

Taking photos for your website or menu? If so, high-quality photos are essential.

Written by
Rachel Yeo
August 16, 2022

Lighting plays a huge role in making sure your food photos turn out sharp, inviting and professional. Natural light is the go-to choice for most – as it gives off a feeling of bright airiness as opposed to artificial lighting. Plus, it’s abundant and free!

Despite this, not nearly enough people have a grasp of basic lighting principles to get the most out of their food photos. We’ve rounded up a few areas to consider to help you take advantage of natural light:

Light Source

In this case, our light source would be daylight. While we can’t directly control its intensity, we can choose where and when we shoot.

As such, you should pay attention to the time of the day. For example:

  • Shooting during golden hour isn’t just for landscapes or human subjects – it’s ideal for food photography, too. The best times are in the morning, before sunrise or right as the sun sets for the day. Here, you’ll be treated to softer and more golden light which can capture the true colour and form of your dish.
  • Shooting in the middle of the day, on the other hand, results in direct sunlight which produces bright highlights and more pronounced shadows. If you’d prefer a high contrast scene to showcase your dish, this dramatic setting might be up your alley – particularly when props such as glassware and cutlery are used for extra dimension. Otherwise, we recommend avoiding shooting at this time of day.

Equally important is where you shoot your food photos. With that said, we suggest experimenting with different shooting locations inside and outside your restaurant or cafe:

  • Shooting indoors next to a big window is likely to provide you with the right amount of indirect sunlight for that perfect, glowy shot. If it’s too sunny, you’ll need to diffuse the light. Assuming you don’t have a light diffuser on hand – sheer white curtains or even a large white cotton or linen napkin do the job just fine!
  • Shooting outdoors means you have plenty of natural light to work with. Though, as we’ve mentioned, the blinding sun can certainly interfere with getting the right food shot. To avoid the harsh sunlight, try to find a shady spot outdoors.

Either way, using a reflector is a simple way to bounce more natural light onto your subject and eliminate shadows. While the professional tool is always preferred, a large piece of white, silver or gold board – or foil attached to cardboard – can create the same effect.

Light Direction

Let’s not forget about light direction:

  • Side lighting is foolproof as it almost always brings out the best details of your dish.
  • Backlighting occurs when the light source is positioned behind your food. This is suitable for photographing drinks or soups on your menu, as liquids tend to catch the light perfectly in this setting.
  • Front lighting rarely does food photos justice. This is because it can create a shadow on your food and make it look flat. We’d give this option a miss if we were you!

Photo Editing

Lastly, when natural light fails, photo editing is your best friend!

If you have access to Photoshop or Lightroom, you can manipulate the lighting of your photos in just a few seconds. Otherwise, online photo editors like Canva or BeFunky are free to use.

If you’re using your smartphone, its software should already be equipped with in-built photo editing capabilities. In having a quick play around with the exposure and contrast scales, you’ll find you can easily achieve your desired lighting level. Here, you can change the temperature and saturation of your photos, too.

Show Off Your Food Photos On Menuzen

Having your beautiful food photos on your menu not only attracts customers to your restaurants, but can also persuade them to broaden their tastes.

Create your live menu with Menuzen, using our free online menu maker tools. Simply upload your stunning food shots to each of your menu items in Item Manager to showcase them in all their glory. From there, we’ve made menu management and design easy.

Sign up to Menuzen to create your own live menu!

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