#AskMahaMonday: Tips for Food Photography with Natural Light

labneh-shaved-cucumber-sandwich.jpg

One of the most popular questions on #AskMahaMonday is about “Lighting”! Which admittedly is one of the most important aspects to getting beautiful food photos. Once you understand light quality and direction, you can start to sculpt it and make it work for you, even in low light conditions.

In today’s post, I am simplifying the process for you. Hundreds of people on my Instagram have asked me to take them behind the scenes of how I shot this Labneh and cucumber ribbons photo, so let’s dive in:

1. THE SETUP:

labneh-shaved-cucumber-behind-the-scenes.jpg

The best way to explain light in this photo is by showing you what the setup looks like and all the elements that are involved with making the scene:

  1. A north facing window is the source light (main light) - since it’s north facing (indirect light - naturally soft), I don’t need to add a screen or diffuser to soften the light.

  2. White foam board is used as fill light (you can also use a reflector if you have one) - the foam board is meant to reflect back light into the subject (my sandwich) as well as lifting the shadows (making them less dark)

The white table and parchment paper are just to illustrate how simple and affordable my setup is and that you don’t need to use lots of props to get an interesting photo as I explained in my post about “Pro Food Photography on A Budget”

P.S. I started eating my sandwich then realized I didn’t take a picture of my setup, that’s why you are seeing a half eaten sandwich, haha

2. LIGHT DIRECTION:

Based on my camera angle, the light direction will be different.

Let’s start with the overhead Shot (Top-down or Top View):

natural-light-food-photography-shaved-cucumber-sandwich-.jpg

In this specific scenario, it’s side lighting, as you can see on this photo, I have marked where my main light source is placed (The window) on my right side and where the white foam board is.

The shadow the sandwich is casting as well as the reflection on the tomatoes should tell you where the main light source is. So when you are studying photos that you like and want to understand light, look for those to know where the light is coming from.

Now let’s look at the sandwich from a different angle, this is an almost Straight on shot:

natural-light-food-photography-shaved-cucumber-labneh.jpg

Because of where I was standing and the fact that I have a big window, this is more of a combination of back and side lighting at the same time. What I love about back-lighting is that it can be so soft and dreamy and works well when you have a translucent subject (in this case the cucumbers were thinly sliced and were kind of transparent).

You can also see the reflection into the tomatoes which makes your food alive.

This is just a quick overview to give you a better understanding of light :)

Oh and I also was asked how I made those cucumber ribbons! I wanted to give labneh sandwich a makeover so I decided to play with my styling. Here is how you too can simply shave cucumbers which will instantly make your food look more fancy!

Just use a vegetable peeler to carefully slice the cucumber into long thin ribbons - you’d have to cut the ends first and once you reach the core flip to the other side (making ribbons out of the core won’t work as it’s too soft).

And voila!!

Listen, it was my first time making cucumber ribbons, if I can do it, so can you ;)

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I hope this clarifies light direction a little bit and gives you a better understanding of natural light and how to work with it!

Now it’s your turn, let me know what’s your biggest challenge with natural light so we can figure out together how you can conquer it!
And don’t forget to post your photography question HERE.

Until next week!

Love,

Maha

Maha Munaf

Toronto, Canada

Creative professional passionate about design. Photographer, Architect, Traveler and Lover of coffee & cupcakes!