FAQ: Photographing Food Under Multiple Light Sources

“Hi, I’m only able to take pictures in the evening, my light sources at home are spotlights in my kitchen or a horrible overhead light bulb in my living room. I’ve tried bouncing light off a white surface but it still looks rubbish, I need some tips”

…and tips, give you I will!

That was the message I got from a reader asking for some advice on how to deal with difficult lighting in her kitchen and living room. A very common issue for most of us who do cooking at home and want to make epic photos of our creations.

Here’s how to deal with it:

  • -Natural light

Try to work with natural light as much as possible, early mornings and late afternoons are the best times but don’t limit yourself to those times, you might find very interesting light at any time of the day. Pay special attention to how the light shines through your window and figure out what’s your favourite time/effect for your food pictures.

Brighton Food Photography

  • -Lights off

This is so obvious that is overseen at times, but it’s the cause of most problems when taking photos of your food at home. If you can, turn off all the ambient lights in the room. The spotlights and light bulbs above you are creating that rubbish effect my reader is talking about. You’ll have all sorts of unwanted shadows, light bouncing off in ways you don’t really want and the food will look flat and unappetizing.

Fourth & Church, Hove

  • -Screen

If you can’t turn the lights off, try placing a screen on the shadow side of your dish to block the ambient light leaking in and reflecting on your plate. You can also place it directly overhead to block it off completely and get rid of the unwanted shadows. You’ll have to move around to get a better angle but hey, that isn’t a bad thing.

  • -Reflector

In the same way,  you can also try to set a reflector and redirect as much light into the subject to get rid of any nasty shadows caused by the spotlights or bulbs. This works only if you have enough natural light to reflect back into the dish.

  • -Alternative light sources

If you don’t have much time to figure out the right lighting conditions for your kitchen or living room, you’ll be better off getting an alternative light source. My favourites for night-time and non-natural-light situations are the LED light pads. They come in different sizes and configurations but the following are the ones I use:

  1. Luxpad 22 A very light and portable LED pad that I carry in my backpack for backup. It’s very basic due to its size but very helpful.
  2. Yongnuo 360s  This is an LED light stick, a bit more powerful but a bit harder to get control of. It gives great results when you get a hold of it.
  3. Neewer SL 60W Maybe a more advanced option, this light is very powerful, nearly like a studio light but if you want a massive improvement from the beginning, invest in this one.

A softbox might be a good idea as well, they’re as inexpensive as they’re bulky though.

Fourth & Church, Hove

A flashgun with a softbox diffuser or an octagon umbrella is another option if you’re shooting with a camera. You can use it as your main light to overpower any ambient light which is the way I use it for commercial shoots on location and when it’s not possible to turn the ambient lights off.

The Chilli Pickle

Remember, it’s all about the light, most of the times, good light will give you very good results for your food photography straight away, especially on a mobile phone. Practice and learn to see the light that you like the most.

As a bit of promo, I run one to one photography workshops in Brighton. If you’d like to learn food photography, get in touch by filling in the following form:

2 thoughts on “FAQ: Photographing Food Under Multiple Light Sources

  1. Nice tips Xavier – love my lightpad after you recommended it to me. If you can’t afford a lightpad the other thing you can do if you’re dining in a restaurant and it’s dark, is use the torch on your mobile phone directly above a plate of food. It’s obviously not the professional method but it looks so much better than a blurry dark food pics, or the flash on your phone!


    1. Thanks, Eshé, glad to hear you’re enjoying the lamp. I get the point of the torch on the phone but I don’t recommend using it. It’s too bright, harsh and too spotlight-like which is what we are trying to avoid.


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