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.
Lighting is the most important factor to consider when snapping the perfect photo. Light is what makes sight, colour and, more specifically, photography possible. Without the proper light your photos can appear dull, lacklustre and tinted.
Because I am primarily a natural light photographer that is the method I will discuss with you, but artificial light is an option as well. I prefer natural light because of it's ease of use, consistent abundance and that it conveniently streams through my kitchen window. It's not without its challenges, but in the next few weeks we'll talk about how to overcome each of them.
One prominent challenge that natural light presents is white balance. Not everyday is filled with bright, sunny and cheerful light. Some days are cloudy, rainy or maybe you've lost track of time and the sun is quickly escaping.
You might have noticed that bright high sunlight is somewhat yellow or orange in colour. Cloudy or overcast light is very white. Rain clouds, evening light, shade or winter sunlight create very blue tones. That's why it's important to adjust your white balance settings to communicate the truest colours possible in your subject.
This effect can be achieved one of three ways. The easiest method and the one I use is to choose one of the premade settings on your camera. Most cameras, DSLR or otherwise, have a selection of at least seven basic white balance settings: auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent and flash.
The auto setting meters the light and adjusts the colour balance accordingly. This might seem like an easy choice but auto is definitely not foolproof and I would only recommend it in situations where you don't have the time to play around to find the right setting. Daylight white balance leans towards a bluer tint to counteract the orange casts of direct sunlight. It can be tricky to use in diffused sunlight, but it's still the setting I use most often. Shade is obviously the setting best suited to shady situations as it defends against the cool tones of true shade with lots of warm tones. The cloudy setting is also warm like shade, but not as extreme. In the cold winter months I use this setting almost exclusively. Tungsten is very blue to balance the super yellow tint that comes from indoor lighting. Florescent is very green and flash is slightly warm. I have never used the last three settings personally because I've never played with shooting in unnatural light, but it would be a good idea to get to know them.
Here you can see the white balance presets hard at work.