House of Cards Lighting Studio for Food/Wine Blogging

Lighting for Food/Wine Bloggers
This is the time of year when bloggers start to think about artificial lighting.  In the summer, you can use natural light all day and well into the evening. December in Minnesota? 4:30pm sunset. What to do? You can either cook and photograph in the afternoon, or you can invest in lights and light modifiers. Here are some lighting ideas for improving your food & wine photos.

Request #1: Turn off the Flash, Please!
If there is one single improvement I can recommend, it would be to turn off the flash on your camera. Direct flash light is harsh and it produces brilliant highlights and black shadows, neither of which contributes to a photo which makes you drool! Even if the photo is by candlelight, you’ll be better off.

lighting_sagrantino_steak 20150916 3

Flash isn’t your friend

Daylight Lighting 101
If you have the benefit of having your food/wine available during the day, you can take advantage of that free source of the best light there is: a large window with indirect light. (click on any photo to start the slide show)

OK, It’s Dark Outside and the Flash is Off, Now What?
The sun has set by the time your dish is ready, you need light.  You can start with normal table lamps plus some inexpensive light control materials.  At some point you might decide to invest in specialized lighting for your blog photos.  One choice is the Lowel Ego light which is what I currently use. If budget is a concern, you can purchase the daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs alone, they provide light exactly balanced to natural daylight. 

You’ll want to try several arrangements to see what works for you.  Also, lights are likely not sufficient by themselves, you’ll want some reflectors, too.(Click on any photo to view the slide show)

Here are just the food & wine photos with lighting noted in the caption.  Compare the results closely!

Whether you invest in lights or not, foamcore reflectors are a great, inexpensive addition to your photo studio.  You can get both white and black foamcore at Target for $3 for a 30×40 inch sheet.  White, of course, for filling in those shadows. Black helps absorb light and to avoid unwanted light or reflections. I made simple holders to help position the foamcore from scraps of wood and corner brackets from the hardware store. $25 will get you all the reflectors and holders you need to get started!

House of Cards
Be careful once you’ve arranged your foamcore reflectors.  One inadvertent bump, and you’ll be cleaning up spilled wine at best, and broken glass at worst.  Spoken by the voice of experience!

More Photo Advice
If you’re specifically interested in phone photo hints, I contributed an article to my friends at WinePassItaly, a great travel website for planning your trip to the Piemonte region of Italy.

On a little more advanced level, here’s some advice for DLSR photos of glassware, wine-filled of course!

Lights at 9 o'clock and 7 o'clock, reflector at 3 o'clock and overhead. Same lighting as the photo taken from overhead.


16 Responses to “House of Cards Lighting Studio for Food/Wine Blogging”
  1. penny sadler says:

    Great article Jeff! This is a biggie

  2. You are amazing. No wonder your pictures are so great! I kinda just point and click with my iPhone 6S. I did notice lighting was better before daylight savings time ended. At some point I will look into the light and reflector. In the meantime I will just be in awe of your mad photography skills! Thank you for this tutorial!

  3. Your photos are always gorgeous, Jeff! I have lights and foam core boards, but most of the time I’m just too lazy to drag them out and use them!! Bad, photographer . . . I know!!

  4. Wonderful post! I don’t have artificial lighting yet and it does get interesting trying to get photos this time of year.

  5. Very informative. Thanks, Jeff.

  6. Fantastic article! Thank you. I didn’t know I could just get the basic stud at Target, now my big concern is Mike not yelling at me to hurry up and take the dang picture so we can eat!

  7. Diana says:

    Great tips! And the photos are perfect for illustrating the differences in lighting.

  8. okiewinegirl2015 says:

    Thanks for bringing clear “light” to taking better iPhone photos! Simple and effective. Many thanks for the tips.

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