Simple technique using free lighting for your food and product photos!

Theres absolutely no doubt that photography as a career or hobby, is quite an expensive investment. We buy our camera, our SD cards, perhaps even a tripod and a couple of backgrounds.We set up, start up our camera and BAM, faced with our first challenge. How the hell do we light our scene? Do I need to go out and buy some big expensive lights too? But I just paid rent and need to save my bucks for food! Don’t worry! I hear you. If you’re a keen as bean photographer wanting to take advantage of free and cheap lighting alternatives, then keep reading!

Mother Nature provided us creators with the best, free lighting source we could possibly ask for, the sun! Natural light creates many beautiful images, it can be soft, harsh, dark, bright and moody, the only thing is, she has a mind of her own, You just have to know how to manipulate it in doing what you want. Ummm, how do I tell the sun what to do? Good question.The weather and the light is completely out of your control, but what you can do is use cheap as chip tools and simple techniques to make it do what you want and understand that light changes throughout the day in terms of brightness, temperature (colour of light) and intensity.. oh and timing is everything. There are so many ways to use natural light but for this blog, I’m going show two simple examples using 2 cheap as chip tools!

 

Heres what you’ll need

 

First style: Soft and airy.

For this image, you’ll need both your diffuser and bounce card.

  • Firstly, I wanted to quickly explain what we use the foam board for. White surfaces (even silver and gold surfaces) act as a “natural fill light” which fills in the dark areas. We use these to bounce the light from our main light source (in this case, the sun beaming through our window) into our shadows or areas we need to brighten.
  • Find yourself a good space in your house or an area that has a lot of light beaming through to set up. I always suggest setting up close to a window.
  • Pop your diffuser as close as possible to your subject on the same side where the direction of light is entering (near the window). The closer your diffuser can be to your scene, the softer your light will be. As light passes through the diffuser, it breaks it up into little speckles of light, so when it flows onto your scene, it’s super soft and decreases the intensity of the way the light hits surfaces.
  • To increase the brightness in the shadows naturally, pop your bounce card on the other side of the scene and this is where you will bounce the light back into it, lighting the areas that may be a little too dark.

First style: Soft and airy.

For this image, you’ll need both your diffuser and bounce card.

  • Firstly, I wanted to quickly explain what we use the foam board for. White surfaces (even silver and gold surfaces) act as a “natural fill light” which fills in the dark areas. We use these to bounce the light from our main light source (in this case, the sun beaming through our window) into our shadows or areas we need to brighten.
  • Find yourself a good space in your house or an area that has a lot of light beaming through to set up. I always suggest setting up close to a window.
  • Pop your diffuser as close as possible to your subject on the same side where the direction of light is entering (near the window). The closer your diffuser can be to your scene, the softer your light will be. As light passes through the diffuser, it breaks it up into little speckles of light, so when it flows onto your scene, it’s super soft and decreases the intensity of the way the light hits surfaces.
  • To increase the brightness in the shadows naturally, pop your bounce card on the other side of the scene and this is where you will bounce the light back into it, lighting the areas that may be a little too dark.
  • Be weary of your surroundings and the colours certain objects may through into your scene like over head lights, coloured walls, your choice of colour in outfit and so on. One thing I should make note of, especially when shooting “soft and airy”, is to take a peek at the weather outside as well. Clouds act as huge natural diffusers, making light spread evenly and naturally soft, so if this is the case, you won’t even need the diffuser, just a bounce card!
  • Be sure to turn off any other lights that produce unflattering colours and shadows on to your scene, this is a MUST to give a natural feel to your image.

2nd Style:  A little bit moody

For this image, all your need is a diffuser.

  • Here we have the exact same scene however we are only using a diffuser and no bounce card. This is more moody yet still soft as we are still diffusing light through the window and It all comes down to your preferred style.
  • Although the style is not a dramatic difference, to the style above, you can see how much of an impact the white card has when lighting the showed area.
  • If you’re going for a much moodier feel, you can deepen the darks and shadows in light room as well 🙂

  

A point id like to also make is to take a look at the raw images and make note of the temperate in the before and afters. This content was shot around 3:30pm in the afternoon in autumn and the sun is setting quite early, meaning the temperature in colour drops very quickly. I had my camera set on Auto White balance and it is very very blue. By all means you can set your white balance manually but for the purpose of showing you the natural colours, I wanted to keep it as close as possible to what I was looking at in person. If you look carefully, the table has strong hints of blue reflecting on it and the over all image feels very cold. This isn’t a bad thing if thats the style you’re going for but we have to think about what our images communicate to our audience and your unique style. By adding warmer tones and increasing the temperature with yellows, it creates warmth and depth. This makes the over all feeling of this image super inviting and enhances the natural colours of the product.

Eliminating unwanted colours OR adding it to your scene

  • You’ll see in the below images that I had a neon sign turned on in the back and how much colour it produces on my background, Although I did this on purpose as I wanted to throw in some pink tones to my image as I was trying to achieve a very “Burlesque” feel. Thats totally optional and just playing around.
  • Don’t be scared to play with colours and lights if that your style but be cautious of where they are placed if you’re trying to avoid it
  • Your walls, your background, over head lights, your clothing or even objects out side all have colour elements and will impact the over all tone of your image. For example: If you’re at a cafe and wonder why there are are huge shadows of your hand, your bright pink latte has now turned orange and doesn’t look half as good as it does in person, then you’re probably sitting right under a light and away from natural light.

Heres an example of the light turned on and off, just to give you an idea on how much colour impacts your scene. Both images are the exact same, the only difference is one has the neon light on and the other doesn’t.   

              

As you can see, the images are all the same but have significant differences by just changing a few techniques and elements. So whether you like your images evenly light, darker, moodier and sticking or even a smidge of colour, hopefully you can use these simple tools in your own shoots.

    

Thanks for reading and be sure to tag @florencejamescollective if you decide to use these tips!

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