Food Photography with Flash: How to Create a Natural Look

Although this might be a weird statement to start a blog post about flash: I'm a big fan of natural light. In real life and in my photography. I can't imagine working at a window-less place. I love big windows and rooms flooded with light. I love the challenge of using the ever changing natural light in my food photography. To study how it changes over the day, how I have to manipulate it to get the look I want. That said, it can sometimes be limitating. And when I say this, I especially think of the short days in winter and how I (and I guess all those of you who are busy moms as me or have a day job different from photography) sometimes just don't have time to shoot while there is light outside. I know that some photographers who only ever use studio lighting are afraid of natural light, because you can't control it as much as artificial light. But for me it was the contrary. Artificial light to me seemed like a whole science to master, something very technical and difficult to start with. And that feeling paralyzed me. Can you relate?

There are situations that require artificial light

At some point I got a job that forced me to blow the dust off of my flash, to start to research how to use it and to get experimenting. It was an evening event in winter and there would be absolutely no natural light. Once I understood what I needed, bought my wireless trigger and a softbox, I started experimenting and was blown away by how easy it was to create a natural look using flash. I thought you needed fancy equipment and a lot of technical knowledge and experience to achieve this - and was so wrong!

So for those of you who feel the same fear and overwhelm when thinking about artificial light in food photography, I created a free guide including the gear I use and a step by step guide to set up your scenario both for images using side light and back light, specifying flash and camera settings, behind the scenes images and editing tips.

The same principles apply with natural light and flash

If you want to create a natural look using a flash, it comes down to using the same techniques to manipulate light as you would when actually using natural light. In food photography it's usually preferable to have one light source, as could be a window, so that is what we want to imitate when using flash. Small light sources (as could be the sun - I know, it's not small, it's huge, but as it is so far away from us, it's considered a small light source) create harsh shadows and bigger light sources create softer shadows. In most cases, we'll want soft light for an appetizing look. A flash is a small light source, so a diffuser is absolutely necessary. In case you're interested in which gear I use when creating images with flash, I've written a separate blog post in which I specify the softbox and everything else I use. A big diffuser or softbox, positioned closely to our food scene will create the softest light. You'll want to position your light source (that would be the diffuser/ softbox) at either the side or the back of your food scene depending on your creative vision. Side lighting is by far the most used in food photography as it creates depth and gives dimension to our subject. Back light is a great choice for showing something translucent or semi-translucent or for making something glossy like a chocolate ganache really shine.

Side light

Back light

Wanna learn flash?

Are you tired of chasing the light? Do you want to feel more confident about situations in which the natural light is less than ideal? Would you like to add a new competence to your skillset?

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