How to create sunny day and late afternoon look in food photography

First, we should know that the best lighting for food photography is natural light. Whether it is outdoor or indoor window light. Food just love natural light. However 90% of my food photoshoot were done indoor at very bad lighting condition. As my experience grows, I started to think about how to manipulate flash light to simulate the natural light look. Today I am going to illustrate two looks by using flash: sunny day and late afternoon look.

Sunny day look


Lighting set up


Top light and the reflector are mainly for adding enough ambient light. The umbrella on the back actually does not add much effect. It is only effective when you shooting from low angle and you want to see the background also getting enough light. but for my sample photo, it does not matter. You can not see the background because I was shooting top down.

The bare ball light on the left raised pretty high. It is a hard light. It can cast hard shadow. This light is the key to simulate the sun. Because the sun at noon is pretty harsh.

But you might wonder is that enough if I only use this one light. Well, without enough ambient light, it look not right. Let me show you a pic taking only with that bare ball light.


Yes, this is only with one light. No umbrella, no reflector. It is not the right look. The shadows looks too nasty. Not enough ambient light. It does not look like the food is being photographed outdoor. It pretty much like a nasty flash shot.

Late afternoon look


Lighting set up


Just some tweak, we can change the look totally.

I did not change top light. It is still mainly for adding ambient light. I lowered the second light just above horizontal level of the food. It is to simulate the position of sun at late afternoon. I also added an umbrella to soft the light. Because the sun is no longer as hard as it is at noon. It won’t create that harsh shadows as it is at noon. I also took out the reflector on the right side. Because think about it. The ambient light decrease a lot at late afternoon. the light fall off quickly. The side facing sunset is a lot bright than the opposed side. Therefore we want the right side a bit darker than the left side. That is why we need to take out the reflector.

One more important thing. Without it it is not complete  The orange color gel. The color temperature become very warm during late afternoon. Therefore the orange gel is needed to create that look.

Hopefully you learn something. It is the best I can do to simulate the look of sunny day and late afternoon look. Still the flash is flash. It is not the natural light. But by manipulate the lighting logically, we can make the photo quite believable.

Let me know if you have any thoughts and question.


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