Food Photography: Lighting & Reflectors

Food Photography

Well, where shall I start? :) There are many complex parts to food photography including the food itself (food styling and composition), camera settings and equipment, and photo editing process. I will not go into more detail on these topics, but if you want to learn a little bit more, there are very nice books ("Plate to Pixel" from Hélène Dujardin and "Food Photography for Bloggers" from Matt Armendariz) and web videos /trainings (e.g., video2brain offers a nice section of online videos on food photography and can be tried out for 10 days for free) available.

Working with Lighting & Reflectors

Last week I had the pleasure to meet with two professional photographers from "H2N Photography". They work in different areas of photography including wedding and architectural photography but also food photography. They inspired me to go a step further with my food photography and learn a bit more about lighting and light equipment. They even lent me some reflectors and an external flash to practice. While working with the external flash light turned out to be a little bit more complicated, I will now present the results of my first try outs working with reflectors :) A big thank you to Grit & Marco!

Lighting is a big topic in food photography, so big actually, that I have shyed away from it until now... If you try to get into this topic, you will learn about natural light, artificial light, flash lights, reflectors, diffusors, etc.

The best light source is of course the natural light, but let's be honest, who has that kind of perfect light everytime we want to take a picture of our food? I unfortunately not, quite the opposite actually. I only have "perfect" natural light a couple of hours each day, and only when it is not cloudy outside. This of course is even more reduced during winter times... this means we do need to use artificial light sources. I do not like to work with flash lights, but my normal indoor lights are not that nice either. So, another option are so-called softboxes that have a white screen in front of it and come in different seizes. So far, that was all what I have considered regarding lighting.

However, today I will go a step further. I will work with simple white styrofoam boards as reflectors and diffusers

    My little Setup

    Equipement: camera tripod, softbox, styrofoam boards (reflector/diffuser), SLR camera, lenses, external flashlight

    I wanted to see and show the effect of the white styrofoam boards that worked as reflectors/ diffusers, so I keept the actual food simple. I used a few cherry tomatoes that I had in the fridge ;) Furthermore, I used my tripod and the same camera settings (ISO=100, shutter speed=1/30, aperture=f/4.5), so that I could take the same picture of the food in different lighting settings and compare the pictures. For the lighting, the main light source was the window (backlight). As it was a cloudy day and not very bright, I also used a softbox on the left side of the food. Then, I experimented. I used a styrofoam board as a reflector on the right side and additionally another styrofoam board in the back of the food between the main light source and the food, so that it worked as a diffuser for the main light source but also as a reflector for the artifical light from the softbox.

    To sum up, this was my setup:

    • Back: Natural light - window as main light source
    • Left: Softbox - artificial soft light
    • Right: Reflector - styrofoam board opposite to the softbox, reflecting the light
    • Back: Diffuser - styrofoam board between natural light and food, diffusing the light

    Here are the pictures (2 Examples):

    1. First picture is done with only the natural backlight and the leftside softbox light. As you can see, the little tomatoes show a lot of dark shadows and contrasts, especially on the right side.
    2. Second picture has the styrofoam board added on the rightside as an reflector for the softbox and the natural light. Now you can clearly see, how much brighter the picture is. The tomatoes are well lit from each angle, none are in a shaded place anymore. However, the back of the picture is pretty washed out from the natural light source.
    3. Third picture has a styrofoam board added on the back of the food, between window (natural light) and the food. It therefore works as a diffuser. The back of the picture is suddenly much more visible, not washed out anymore, and the tomatoes are not quite as glossy. Everything is clearly recognizable but a little darker than before, but still brighter than in the first picture without reflectors/diffusers.
    This shall only show the effects of a reflector and a diffuser. It does not say, that using both of them increase the picture quality. What you need really depends on what you want to photograph and what outcome you like more :)

    Picture 1: Backligh window + leftside softbox

    Picture 2: Backlight window + leftside softbox + rightside reflector

    Picture 3: Backlight window + leftside softbox + rightside reflector + back diffuser

    Example 1 Summary: Left: Natural Backlight + leftside Softbox // Middle: added rightside Reflector // Right: added back Diffuser

    Picture 1: Backligh window + leftside softbox

    Picture 2: Backlight window + leftside softbox + rightside reflector

    Picture 3: Backlight window + leftside softbox + rightside reflector + back diffuser

    Example 2 Summary: Left: Natural Backlight + leftside Softbox // Middle: added rightside Reflector // Right: added back Diffuser

    Adventures in Bavaria (Germany)

    As part of our annual little birthday trip, we spent a few nice days in Bavaria this year, down at the Chiemsee. For one day, we explored Salzburg in Austria (only one hour away), but the rest of the time we explored Bavaria and its gorgious nature around the Chiemsee area.

    Nature Highlights:

    • The Mountain "Hochfelln": This was my personal highlight as I did not expect much from it. I thought it wouldn't be more than a fast roundtrip with the cable car and maybe some nice lunch in between. However, the views from up top and the surrounding nature was just gorgious and so different. There were two complete different parts: Up on the top, there were amazing views and even some snow. Half way down, where we ate lunch at the "Bründling Alm" (alpine tavern), it was completely different with lots of green hills and meadows. 
    • The Swamp/ Moor "Nickelheimer Filze": This was another unexpected highlight. Beautiful landscape for a short hike.
    • The Gorge "Gießenbachklamm": This was a little strenghous, climbing up all the way to the top walkway (about 200 steps, 60 meter above the river)... But after walking alongside the ravine of the gorge for about 600 meter, the landscape changed and became this beautiful field of meadows and a river. We ate lunch at the "Schopper Alm", another alpine tavern.
    • The Islands of Chiemsee: There are two islands on the Chiemsee lake, the "Herreninsel" with its castle (a homage to the French castle Versaille) and the much smaller but very beautiful "Fraueninsel"with its cloister, lots of craft shops and cafés.
    • The Farmhouse Museum Amerang: An open-air museum with lots of beautiful farm houses and craft buildings from 500 year ago. Again, very unexpected and quite nice.
    • Our own Air B&B Farmhouse: This was another highlight. We had a nice view over the mountains on the one side, and a gorgious view over the lake from the other side. It also had a small pond and lots of farm animals. There were even peacocks that came visiting us on the balcony :)


    Bavarian Food Highlights:

    Alpine food (mountain food)

    We experienced authentic alpine food at the alpine taverns "Bründling Alm" (on the mountain "Hochfelln") and "Schopper Alm" (at the gorge "Gießenbachklamm").
    • "Bayrische Brotzeit" (Bavarian breadboard snack time, typical mountain/ alpine food): It's considered a "light" snack and commonly consists of a breadboard with a fresh bavarian "Brezn" (pretzle) or farmer's bread served with some cheese, "Obazda" (a cheese spread made out of camembert cheese with paprika seasoning and caraway seeds ), smoked sausage, onion, chives , radishes, etc. We had such an "Alm Brettle" (alpine breadboard) at the "Bründling Alm" (alpine tavern) at the mountain "Hochfelln".
    • "Griebenschmalz Brot": This may also be considered part of the "Brotzeit" (breadboard snack time). "Griebenschamlz" is lard with fried porkskin pieces in it. It can be used as a spread for bread, with some salt and pepper.
    • Spinach dumplings alongside stuffed ravioli: Dumplings in a wide variety are also famous for Bavaria.
    • "Hüttennudeln": This is a pasta dish, it can come in different versions including a combination of ham, vegetables and cheese. The name "Hütte" (hut) implies that it is served at alpine taverns as these may also be called huts.
    • Salad with "Schwammerl": I was amazed by this simple little salad. "Schwammerl" are mushrooms, these were nicely seasoned and fried. The salad was accompanied by some really tasty Bavarian potato salad.

    Fresh Fish and more at the fisherman's hut "Reiter"

    • "Steckerl Fisch" - fresh fish such as trout grilled on a stick
    • "Bayrischer Kartoffelsalat" - Bavarian potato salad, made with broth, vinegar and oil, served alongside fresh salmon trout in beer batter

    For the sweet tooth

    • Homemade "Strudel": Marillenstrudel (Apricot strudel), Apfelstrudel (Apple strudel), Topfenstrudel (strudel with softened cream cheese)
    • Rhubarb "Datschi": The word Datschi comes from "detschen" or "datschen" which means "push in", we had a rhubarb datschi, so the rhubarb was pushed in the dough, but plum datschi are common too. We ate one at the "Haus am See", a restaurant right at the lake.
    • "Lindentorte": This was a fancy cake with several thin layers of sponge cake, butter cream, and marzipan. There was also some alcohol in it. It was a house cake, named after the place were we ate it (Hotel Linde).
    • "Apfelringe im Teigmantel" (battered and deep fried apple rings): We did not try them, but we saw them at almost every food place on the island "Fraueninsel".

    Food Highlights

    Bavarian Brotzeit: Alm Brettle and Griebenschmalz Brot at the alpine tavern "Bründling Alm"

    Spinach dumplings alongside stuffed ravioli - at the alpine tavern "Schopper Alm"

    "Steckerl" Fish at the fisherman's hut "Reiter"

    Fresh salmon trout in beer batter with Bavarian potato salad

    Rhubarb Datschi at the "Haus am See"

    A small selection of Bavarian beer for the B-day :)

    The Mountain ("Hochfelln")

    Halfway down the mountain - lunchtime at the "Bründling Alm"

    The Gorge ("Gießenbach Klamm")

    Someone has taken on a new profession :)

    The Swamp/ Moor ("Nickelheimer Filze")


    The Islands ("Herreninsel" / "Fraueninsel")

    At the "Herreninsel"

    At the "Fraueninsel" - And the famous "Lindentorte" :)


    Farmhouse Museum Amerang


    Our Air B&B Farmhouse :)

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