Food photography looks good if the food shows textures. Texture is a vital factor to making food sell. Enhancing texture is done through side lighting. Side lighting reveals texture as it brings out the brighter areas and shadows on the food making it more appealing to the viewer.
A lot of food shoots are taken using the soft, diffused light from a window. Window light is subtle light that works to emphasize contrast without really having to do anything overly specialized. Many food photographers use a softbox to create that “clean and white” look, but they never light the front of the food. I’ll explain more in a moment.
Why food is never lit front-on
Beautiful food photography relies upon the angle of light for contrast to create texture. Even the most even surfaced foods like cheese needs side lighting to generate some appeal. If the food is lit front-on we lose the texture that side lighting offers. Flat light can make food to appear boring and tasteless.
Side lighting, using diffused window or softbox light is a common way to light food yet sometimes we don’t want light on one part of the food. In this situation we need something to reduce the light on that area. This is where your trusty gobo comes in handy. A gobo is a go-between. It’s a portion of black material or cardboard that reduces the lighting in one section of the image. I use a range of gobos to cut light out of a food image. I have large and small ones that help me do this. These pieces of black cardboard cost me under ten dollars from a office supply shop.
Cutting light from food shots using a gobo is commonly used in a rustic type of food image. Food images of country kitchens, wooden benches and old cuttlery are things that come to mind when thinking of darker, dimly lit food photos. Many wholesome food products are photographed this way. Foods such as brown bread on wooden boards, home made vegetable soups and pasta and rice are examples of foods used in a country shoot.
On the other hand you can use the “bright light, white” technique of shooting as well. You may have seen brightly lit photos of breakfast cereal like puffed rice, sweet cakes and biscuits. This approach simply uses side lighting and another light to illuminate the background. Softboxes, white shoot through umbrellas and reflectors are ultilised in this style of food photography.