The One thing you Need to Understand about Food Photography Lighting

March 07, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Do you ever look at food photographs and think "aarrrgh that doesn't look very tasty"?  That's the worst result you can get if you are trying to promote a food related business.   

I follow a lot of "foodies" in my social media, and am frequently appalled at the poor quality of the food photos.  When I analysed what was going on I found the same underlying cause in the majority of the shots -  the lighting is bad!  

There is one particular characteristic of lighting that these photographers do not seem to be aware of.   Colour Rendering Index or CRI.  For those of you who are technically minded you can find a full defintion of CRI here. In simple terms the important thing to understand is that CRI determines the ability of a light source to accurately portray colours.  And this is the critical point for food photography.  If the colours of your delicious meal are not accurately reproduced it won't look delicious.  What you may not realise is that some artificial light sources will never accurately reproduce colour because the CRI is just not good enough.  For most tasks this is not an issue, but for food photography it is critical.  To illustrate the point take a look at these two photographs of an apple below:

Apple under Natural LightApple under Natural LightPhotograph of an apple taken in natural daylight

Apple under artificial lightApple under artificial lightApple photographed under artificial light

In the top picture the reds are vibrant making the apple look appetising and ripe.  This is taken under natural daylight.  In the bottom picture the same apple is photographed under a low CRI fluorescent light source  The effect is to wash out the red colour making the apple look pale and much less appealing, (and incidentally the skin of the hand that is holding it.)  

Commercial food photography almost always makes the food look appetising. It makes your mouth water, because the photographer understands lighting and how to get the best out of it. If you read articles giving food photography tips you will notice they often recommend taking photographs using diffused light from a window this is so you can use natural light as it reproduces colours accurately.  If you do need to use an artificial light source then you need to go for an high CRI LED, or an old incandescent light source (the old fashioned bulbs) or if you have the budget a specialist photography light.  For owners of restaurants, cafes and pubs that want their diners to share food images, the implications of this might be wider than you think.  You have to think about what lighting they will be using when they take those photographs.  If you have got natural light coming in from windows then you don't need to worry too much.  However if you are heavily reliant on artificial lighting in your dining area then make sure you specify lighting with a high CRI (90 or above).  Most reputable lighting companies can help with this.  For example lighting manufacturers like Factorylux can supply a diverse range of attractive fittings with good CRI values.  Not only will your diners have the chance to share their experience with great looking food photos, but they will also see your food looking at its best when you serve it in your well lit dining room.

If you don't have the skills, equipment or inclination to take your own food photographs then please give me a call on 07557 780336  or send me an email and I can help you out.  You can see some examples of my work here


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