Food Photography & Styling eCourse

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window light coming in from the right hand side

Finding The Light

Photographers are very boring about talking about THE LIGHT!

Look at THE LIGHT we exclaim!!!

What do we actually mean, light is light, no?

Yes but for photography purposes, no.

If you want to have a 100% head start in creating a great image, you need to understand the difference between good and bad light. And to clarify we are talking about just sunlight. Natural Light.

Sunlight is softer and more gentle in the mornings and evenings. Midday bright overhead sun gives harsh unforgiving shadows, difficult contrasts to work with, so part of your image and scene will be really bright others really dark. You are just going to be fighting the light. With experience this is definitely something you should try and experiment with but when you are starting out this type of light is really frustrating and unforgiving.

In a home or a studio, North Light (download a compass app on your phone if you aren’t sure) will give you pretty consistent soft light throughout the day.

A south facing window will, at some points in the day give you soft, great light and at others that harsh direct sun as it streams through the window.

You have to find a spot in your home where you can work and you have to figure out the times (and this will change during different seasons) when the light is soft and indirect (meaning no sunlight streaming through)

In previous homes this meant I had a great spot if I opened the back door and set things up in the doorway on a side table in the morning, then I’d have to move to the front bay window in the afternoon.

Finding the light might not always be convenient.

 
 
 South Facing midday sunshine, note the harsh shadows from the window frames. I love the drama of this but this is really hard light to work with when you are starting out.

South Facing midday sunshine, note the harsh shadows from the window frames. I love the drama of this but this is really hard light to work with when you are starting out.

 Soft Side Light, North Light or morning, afternoon South facing light

Soft Side Light, North Light or morning, afternoon South facing light

Natural Side Light.jpg

Softening Harsh Light

Sometimes you have no choice but to work in a sunny room. You can soften and diffuse the light by buying a diffuser (I have a similar one to this it also doubles up as a reflector - I will talk about that below) this allows light in but should eliminate the harsh shadows. I have also used white parchment paper, really thin tissue paper, white kite fabric, really thin net curtains. If you have any of these, tape them to the window and experiment with how that affects your scene.

Reflectors

I like shadows, I like that depth and contrast and I feel it makes a scene look more real and inviting but sometimes elements further away from the window are too dark, you still want detail in the shadows and elements, I don’t want black blobs! So you can bounce light back into your scene. If you have the diffuser like I mentioned above, this has ready made options of a silver (cool tone), golden (warm tone) and white (neutral tone), to bounce the light back in. Just place the reflector opposite to the window, adjacent to your scene and experiment with the different options and moving it near and far from the scene. You will see a real difference from how bright you can make your scene to how you can subtly add light back into the scene.

If you don’t want to buy something specific, I have used tin foil (works brilliantly), white paper or just a white canvas so it stands by itself and I don’t have to hold it!

Sky Lights

Try not to work under a skylight, as soon as you lean over your scene you are going to create shadows you can’t get rid of!

Artificial Lights

Turn off all your artificial lights, anything that might bounce around and affect your scene turn them off. They cast horrid orange/yellow glows that you can’t really get rid of.

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