If done correctly, artificial light can elevate your food photography process and make it easier to handle long photoshoots while producing a consistent look. However, it takes some understanding of the basics of light to make it look natural.
The world of artificial light is vast and has so much to offer. You can create looks that are out of this world, but you can also create a photo that looks like it was taken in natural light.
And this is what we are focusing on in this article.
I remember my early days of blogging when I was creating recipes and taking photos, which took me so long. During the time I got from the first to the last shot, my light changed a gazillion times. My editing skills were nowhere near what they are these days, and editing that series of images was a nightmare.
I refused to get artificial light because I was sure it would make my photos look cringe. But then, one day, I decided to get my first off-camera flash (which I use to this date!), and I was so scared to start.
But once I took the courage to test it out and see for myself and practice, practice, practice; this is when I realized artificial light could look exactly like natural light. It’s all about knowing a few key ingredients.
And now, let’s see all the different things you need to do to make your artificial light look natural.
Learn about light dynamics
Working with any type of light, you will notice it has some characteristics. It changes depending on a few factors, and observing those changes is crucial to learn both natural and artificial light.
When we talk about the properties of light, we can divide them into quantity and quality.
Quantity is how much light we have on hand.
Quality is how this light looks like.
I like to teach my students in my Food To Frame course about the four pillars of light dynamics – Intensity of light (That’s the quantity), the color of light, the direction of light, and the softness or hardness of the light (these are the quality side of light).
Learning about these dynamic properties of light is crucial to know how to modify your light when working with artificial light. The key is knowing how light changes when working with a larger softbox compared to a small one or knowing how the distance of the light source from your subject can make light harder or softer.
The bigger the modifier, the softer the light.
The bigger the distance between the light and the subject, the harder the light.
Observe natural light and how it looks in certain situations
There is no better teacher but the nature itself.
Observing how light looks and changes is one of the best ways to learn artificial light. Sounds strange, I know. But if you want to re-create natural light, you need to know what it looks like.
Become a student of light and observe how light in nature:
- is diffused,
- gets blocked
- and gets reflected off surfaces.
Take a mental (or real) note of how this happens and combine this with your light dynamics knowledge.
I encourage you to take simple subjects, like produce or drinks (A simple glass with colored water will do!) and see how it looks in different natural light scenarios.
Use the right modifier (size, diffusion material layers)
Everything always comes to the dynamics of light. There is really no going past that!
There are two important things you need to consider when modifying your artificial light:
Using the right size of your modifier. As I mentioned above, a larger modifier (aka a larger light source) the softer the light and vice versa.
Knowing how many diffusion layers to add. Typically we only focus on the shape and size of a modifier, but what is also very important is how many layers of diffusion you need to use. The more layers you use, the softer the shadows will be, creating lovely, natural-looking soft shadows.
Distance is key!
One of the best things about artificial light is that you can move the light around the scene and not the other way around. This allows you to explore how the light looks when you place it further or closer to the scene.
If you place your light closer, you’ll get softer shadows, and placing it further back will create harder shadows. They can both be found in nature, so there is no wrong or right here. But, you need to know what your end goal is to know to place your light.
There is much more to discuss on this end, and we’ll be delving deep into this topic with examples and much more in the Artificial Light For Beginners workshop. I’ll be happy to see you inside if you decide to join.