I'm going to pick up where I left off with my photography tutorials from months ago. I was talking about lighting and white balance last time. This week I'll discuss lighting directions and the importance of bouncing or reflecting light.
For food photography in particular, lighting couldn't be more of a challenge. Highlight here, shadow there, shine here, contrast there all with the goal to make your dish look appetizing. Lighting can mean the difference between a monotonous meal and a gourmet masterpiece.
Understanding light and how to manipulate it is key to taking a good photo. Too much or too little can be disastrous. It's all about control. In order to battle light you should always have two weapons in your arsenal: diffuser and reflector.
The diffuser could be anything from a expensive professional photography light diffuser to an old thin white sheet to a semi-sheer window curtain. It just needs to be sheer enough to let the light in and opaque enough to soften shadows. I use the simple Ikea curtains already installed in my kitchen. Before that I used a thin white tablecloth from the dollar store. It doesn't have to be fancy. It just has to work.
The reflector could be a professional photography scrim or a piece of white foam core board from an office supply store or even aluminum foil found in any kitchen. I use foam core board to bounce light onto my subject because its rigidity makes it easy to prop up without a lot of fussing. Your reflector doesn't need to be shiny, but it does need to be light in colour in order to bounce your light source back effectively doubling the light and minimizing shadows.
Depending on the mood you're trying to convey, your own personal style and the quality of natural light, your diffusing and reflecting choices may change. High contrast, highlights and shadows convey a bold, dynamic, even mysterious feeling like in the photo of the egg shells. You can increase this effect by choosing not to diffuse the light. Low contrast minimized shadows and soft light convey a sweet and airy feeling like in the photo of the strawberries.