Food Photography Lighting Tips to Savor

Lighting food photography Ever wonder how food photographers can have you salivating at the first glimpse of a strawberry? A lot of what makes food look so tasty in pictures is the way photographers use the light. Observe the seafood medley to the right. How does the photographer achieve such a clean yet colorful image? Often times it isn’t enough simply to place a plate by the window and snap a few frames—it takes planning! Here are a few ways to use the light to document your next culinary masterpiece:

Consider the time.

The brightness of the light you use should depend on what meal you’re photographing. Use a light bulb with a measure of 1,000+ lumens if you’re taking shots of breakfast foods like these cappuccino doughnuts. An evening meal on the other hand should be photographed in lower light, channeling the elegant ambiance of the dinner hour.

Cappuccino Doughnuts Food Photograph by Ann Stratton
Cappuccino Doughnuts courtesy of Ann Stratton from

Find your angle. 

Playing with the direction and angle of your light source is essential. With the right play between light and shadow, you can accent the most titillating parts of your dish, while camouflaging any flaws. Texture greatly contributes to the delicious appearance of most any meal. Notice how the angle of the light below highlights the different textures within this broiled flank-steak sandwich.

Broiled Flank-Steak Sandwich Food Photograph by William Meppem
Broiled Flank-Steak Sandwich courtesy of William Meppem from

Keep it natural.

Nobody wants to consume a dish that looks unnatural, thus sunlight really works best. But if it’s cloudy, or your kitchen doesn’t have a large window, you’ll need to consider other options. Today’s fluorescent lights, unlike older models that distort colors, are a great choice because they give off a natural white glow without producing too much heat like a halogen lamp. This photograph of curry sweet potato cups provides a perfect example. The light offers a subtle accent while complimenting the food’s color scheme.

Curry Sweet Potato Cups Food Photograph By Kate Sears
Curry Sweet Potato Cups courtesy of Kate Sears from

Know your food, know your light.

Choosing the wrong light source can make your food look repulsive. Imagine how sickly the tapenade-filled burger below would appear if pictured using a light with a cool temperature. The meat would have a bluish tinge. When shooting these foods, try a light source with a warm color temperature between 2,700 and 3,500K. Always use a light that has a CRI or Color Rendering Index of 82 or higher to maintain the food’s natural coloration.


Tapenade-Filled Burger Food Photograph from
Tapenade-Filled Burger courtesy of
Annie Josey

Annie Josey

Annie was the E-Commerce Marketing Specialist at Pegasus Lighting from June 2012 to October 2013. She has a background in English literature, and loves using language to help illuminate the world. So covering lighting news and tips naturally fit her interests. In her personal time she enjoys painting, biking, and reading.

  • pepper bowl

    Very valuable post. I was running through various pages for lighting food photography. This is the only site which refer the different light setting for lunch, breakfast etc., Keep Rocking..I’m a fresh blogger, pl suggest me a perfect inexpensive light bulb for food photography…

    • Annie Josey

      It really depends on what kind of food you plan to photograph, and how you plan to use the light. A great option is xenon, for its perfect color rendering and lower heat generation than incandescent and halogen light bulbs. If you want something versatile, I might suggest a dimmable LED so you can adjust the light level when it strikes your fancy. (Plus LEDs generate even less heat, so you don’t have to worry about your food getting ruined.)