How to take food photos without natural light

How to take food photos without natural light

This blog post originally appeared on EatsLeeds.co.uk & ZoePickburn.com and has now been republished & redirected here to my freelance food photography site Fig & Fennel. 

You can learn more about food photography in my other posts on the subject. Learn:

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.


Learn how I take great food photos, even in the low light of winter

 I love Insta. I don’t see it as a tool to bring traffic to my blog (at the tyime of writing, less than 10% of the traffic to my blog actually comes from Instagram), which means that I get to use it for what it is meant for:

Beautiful pictures (mostly of food).

BUT winter makes it way harder to take beautiful #Foodstagrams. My number one tip for improving your foodie instagram pictures is to take them in natural light. So how do you take good food photos when you don’t have much natural light available? Here’s my method:

How to take great food photos when there's no daylight
Equipment for food photographyThe kit that’ll take your food photos from so-so to oh-woah

How to take great food photos when there’s no daylight:

Take pictures in the daytime

I’ve literally just mentioned this above, but it is super important to reiterate this in winter when there is very little daylight. It’s no coincidence that most of my insta feed is taken up with breakfast – I eat it at my desk around 09:30, which means that there is daylight outside and I goddamn make use of it

Batch shoot

When I’m shooting pictures for recipes on the blog, I always take a few with Instagram’s square format in mind (I know you can use different sizes, but I like the aesthetic of squares). Batch-shooting doesn’t have to mean taking out an entire day though: I post once a day, so sometimes I might take a picture of my breakfast in the morning, then if I’m eating a pretty lunch I’ll photograph that too, but save it for a day when I’m living like a hermit and won’t be taking any pretty foodie pictures for Instagram. In winter, daylight is precious, so make use of it when it’s there. You can learn more about my batch shooting process here.

Set up a light reflector

This goes hand-in-hand with the above point about batch-shooting your food photographs for Insta. If you get chance to take a few hours during the day to shoot a few food photos ahead of time, you can maximise the watery winter light by setting up a few white foam boards like [affiliate link] this pack of 10. You can see my set up below, with the boards leant up around a low table, and the sunlight coming in through my kitchen window:


Set up a photography light reflector

Invest in a decent camera…

I’ve written before about taking beautiful food photos on your phone and editing photos with an app. If you’re a casual Instagrammer, that makes total sense but, as the nights draw in, I find I’m shooting for Insta on my DSLR more and more often. If you’re taking food photos for business (and here’s why you should, if you have a foodie business), I’d recommend investing in a decent camera (I’m totally in love with my [affiliate link] Canon EOS 1300D). It is definitely an investment, but so worth it for the quality of pictures, ease of use, and wifi connectivity, which means that I can take a professional-quality food photo and send it straight to my phone to upload to Insta in moments.

… Or at least in some decent lighting

Obviously, nothing can replace natural light for taking gorgeous food photos, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Whether or not you have a DSLR, a couple of [affiliate link] basic softbox lights like these are an absolute lifesaver when you can see the sun creeping below the horizon and your dish just isn’t quite picture perfect yet.

Learn to use editing software

Now, the most important thing is to take great food photos – that’s why I’d recommend investing in some kit, and shooting during daylight hours where you can, to help make the original photographs as great as they can be. But editing your photos can just give them that extra oomph: Think enhancing, not correcting.

Nowadays, you don’t need to spend loads of money to access powerful software: for phone photography, try a free app like VSCO (and check out my guide to editing food photos on your phone using VSCO). For a Mac or PC try the browser-based free photo editor Pixlr (and check out my guide to using Pixlr for food photography) – it has many features comparable to Adobe Photoshop, but is free-to-use and can be accessed anywhere from your browser.

Have Fun

Every one of my food photography guides has iterated this point: remember that it is only for Instagram or social media.

I know its an important marketing tool for many foodie businesses and bloggers, but don’t let it stress you out. The nature of Instagram, like other social media channels, is transient: today’s slightly ‘off’ shot will be buried in a matter of hours.

Curate the most drool-worthy feed you can, and don’t panic about the rest.

Equipment for food photographyThe kit that’ll take your food photos from so-so to oh-woah
How to take food photos without natural light

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