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Getting Started in Professional Food Photography

Lesson 7 of 21

Why Use Natural Light?


Getting Started in Professional Food Photography

Lesson 7 of 21

Why Use Natural Light?


Lesson Info

Why Use Natural Light?

Yeah, so this shoot, we're gonna be doing an actual shoot in the studio. This is the first time I've shot anything in the studio. I will reiterate that. But we're gonna be shooting natural light using LEDs, if that makes any sense. So I'm gonna go into kind of what natural light can do for your images, how to harness natural light, but then how to use LED lights to make it look like natural light which is really what you have to do in a commercial setting where you need everything to be very seamless and have every image be the same. Natural light. When I moved back to Seattle, when I first started photographing food here, I was with a friend and she was saying, "So you shoot food, you shoot natural light, right?" And I said, "Never!", and they freaked out! It's like I told them I don't use an Apple computer, I don't know. They were confused coz natural light, and the reason natural light is so popular among food photographers is that there's a way that natural light interacts with foo...

d. The spectrum of natural light allows all the colors on a plate and on a piece of cake or whatever you have to be evenly and accurately represented to the camera just because of the way the light interacts and reflects back to the eye. When I first started, I got one of, I don't know if you own these but they're the fluorescent light bulb, it's not an ENO light. It's like a soft box with two fluorescent light bulbs in it and if you ever wanna just destroy your images, the fluorescent lights really have peaks and valleys in the way that colors are represented so if you have the color red from lightest to darkest on a strip and you photograph it in a fluorescent environment, there'll be kind of peaks and valleys and in the color, it's subtle. But you can see it so you always kinda have that bizarre feel when you shoot something in fluorescent lights. We have them in the ceiling in the studio and I'll tell you, if we weren't shooting video, they'd be all off. So we're gonna have to compensate for that when we're shooting this image coz this light, you can see on the plate so there'd be things we have to adjust for. When you're shooting natural light, you're shooting longer exposure times. You're shooting sometimes four seconds. It depends on your lighting situation. If you're in a dark restaurant with just a little bit of light coming in, it can be six seconds. It can be a lot of time for camera shake to happen, for the clouds to move away and the sun to hit it. A lot can happen in that amount of time. The last thing you wanna do is crank up your ISO and shoot handheld. If you shoot natural light handheld, you can just discard the image now. It's not gonna be usable unless you're going to if you're doing Instagram coz you're doing a small format, you're pretty good there. It's not gonna affect you very much. How many of you shoot food on a regular basis right now? So a lot, okay. How many of you are just kinda looking to get into it and wanna start? It's the cheapest way to have amazing pictures coz it's a really good light. There's nothing wrong with natural light, in my opinion. If I could use it all the time and if it were consistent, and if we weren't in Seattle and if the sun didn't go down at four in October, you'd be fine, but if you need to shoot later. It's good to have, I think north or southern facing windows. This is a west-facing window. It's a little kinda hazy back there coz we have to get to actually install curtains back there so that's just something we're gonna have to live with. I like having that control. I like being able to open up a window and if somebody wants a nice, ethereal natural light shot, and we're not doing compositing, we're not doing any complex photographic moves, natural light is great! I don't wanna dissuade you from using it coz it's the least expensive light source. Anytime your purchase an LED, you're investing in a lighting setup that you want to continue using coz I've used Broncolor for sometime now. I've used Westcott for some time now. I use Westcott for the majority of my soft boxes, my LED lighting, and Broncolor for all the strobe stuff and I like them, I like working with them but you don't wanna overinvest in something and then regret it later coz it doesn't fit your style or your style changes. I think natural light is really a good way to start out. It's beautiful for a reason. It's really good with back lighting. I really like natural light with back lighting. You do have to watch highlights. If you're shooting on a sunny day and you have blue skies, those blue skies will show up in your highlights as blue highlights and I see it pop up in some photos and it's really bizarre. I love clean, neutral highlights. Maybe a little tint here and there can add a little interest but you do have to keep track of that and keep mindful of that. Kind of a gray overcast day is a really nice, soft light, but I don't find it as interesting unless you really work to cut the light. You can have a gobo or something in between like a black card cutting that light but if you're shooting six seconds, that light's just gonna marinate and marinate and marinate and it's almost as if you did nothing at all. In natural light, with these longer exposures, you're sort of cornered. It's really hard. One of my favorite photographers is Noel Barnhurst. He's a really good photographer but he's carved a niche in very shallow depth of field. I think he uses a lot of natural light. I'm not sure what he uses as far as strobes or artificial light but it sort of corners you into looking very similar to a lot of other photographers which shouldn't be the goal, really. But if you're able to carve a niche in just natural light photography, you do it amazingly well and you have a lot of specialized tools that you've developed and worked over time to kind of carve a look, it's totally doable. Especially if you're sort of a one-shot photographer where you're getting everything in one image. That's really helpful coz any time you can pause it, if the light changes even a little bit, I have a very organic approach to Photoshop. I'll just sort of naturally blend layers in where everything's locked down and so I don't do a lot of cut outs that leave door open for kind of weird boarders. I want it to look really natural so I need every image, even with strobe, to be almost identical in exposure with no changes. Controlling natural light. Like I said, when you have gobos or when you have stuff that marinates, it sort of just kinda rehomogenizes itself and so that's the goal. We have an overhead shot here which is being supplemented by natural light and I love using natural light and then sort of doubling it up with an artificial light source of similar color temperature because this will add sort of a fill but this light will definitely provide a direction and a meaning to your light, if that makes sense. Like a, "Here's what I intend the light to go." The natural light in this room acts as it's own fill, a really beautiful fill. It's a good thing to maybe invest in a small, one-by-one LED panel that is really high quality like the Westcott stuff and just use that in conjunction with natural light and you have a very defined light but a nice, ethereal look, too. Mixing those two together is a lot of fun, something that I do a lot. Like here, I tripled up the light. This is something I always do. I have a natural light source or some other broad light source that just creates the fill and I'll have a very directional light source as the key light and then for accents and to sort of bring things out in certain areas to say, "Look here, not here." I'll use the Datalight or you can use an LED flashlight, not as ideal but still usable to kind of point here and say, "This is where the eye needs to go." because if you just have a very bland source, a low contrast scene, you're not telling the eye where to go so that's why you see a lot of natural light photographers use shallow depth of field because it tells your eye where to go. That's how they tell you where in the image you're supposed to look whereas I use light and shadow and light and shadow in a really deep depth of field. So you see into the scene but there's still mystery there because I'm using steam or fog or light or a lack of light to create those elements and layered elements of light. Any just general questions about light and natural light in general? Anything from the webs? I do have a quick question because we were talking about editorial and commercial food photography. For people who aren't as familiar with those terms, what are the differences between editorial and commercial food photography? I will really explain on that and especially in the business section. Oh, okay. Great! To go into it is, editorial is a very... And actually, I had a meeting. I went to the wine spectator offices just to kinda meet with them and that's the thing. Meeting them in person is really important to me and I'll go over that in the business section. There's a lot of good content in there. And they looked at my portfolio and they just said, "You have some great stuff "but it all looks like an ad, all of it." They opened up the magazine and their magazine is just a lot of very natural, you know, and I just don't do that. Even though I really want to shoot for magazines coz I think it's a blast, I tend to not do it. I shoot a lot of packaging, a lot of packaging and a lot of ads and that's sort of the mix that we focus on and that's perfectly okay. I just love going to restaurants. Friends of mine in the area who I shoot for occasionally and do some shots for the restaurant which is it's own beast and tons of fun coz it forces you to think as an architectural photographer, a food photographer, people, which I cannot shoot. (chuckles) In the same day, I shot a restaurant in the Pike Place Market and I had to shoot everything. The entire day, I shot everything from melting ice cream on a summer patio to a fire dancer to a dancer suspended in the air and I had to be good at all of it. I did it. I can shoot people, it's just not my forte and I accept that. So restaurants are a fun thing to shoot. Editorial is just very, it's generally very open and very loose and it depends on which magazine they're shooting for. I'm always trying to convince them to go a little step further and say, "Hey, we can do something really funky "and bizarre with splashes." But they tend to not go that route. They know their readers, they know exactly what they're looking for and there's not necessarily reason to either spend the money or take that risk and do something too crazy that's not within their brand. They're two completely different things. I don't think that doing one necessarily helps you. They're so different that it just doesn't translate very well. So yeah, if that makes any sense. The editorials is wide open coz they'll give you a layout, you shoot in the layout, and there's art direction involved which is very similar to do a commercial shoot but how you move the pieces. The reason I'm doing this is coz this is going to be a very editorial-style shoot. You'll see how we work together. You won't always have a digital tech. It could just be you and oftentimes, they'll shoot it just on their own in their office. I mean, there's some magazines that shoot in their office. So they won't even have a photographer come in. You can shoot anywhere and I'm gonna show you how do we work in a very editorial-style fashion and then this is gonna be very much a commercial-style shoot for sure. So you'll get a feel, an actual feel, for what those two are like and how they differ. People say editorial is a good way to get into it and to photography in general and then you sort of go to commercial photography but I never do editorial ever. I would like to. I just think it's fun but I don't. (laughs) They are very different. One doesn't necessarily translate to the other.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

With the advent of social media foodie culture, food photography is everywhere. The market is saturated with top-down smartphone images of cappuccinos, barley salads, and elaborate toast. This represents a real opportunity for photographers looking to expand their businesses. Professional photographers are in a position to provide high-quality, captivating images of delicious food for clients eager for an alternative to stock photography and social media images.

Join veteran photographer Steve Hansen for this comprehensive basics course, and you’ll learn:

  • How to shoot a beverage, main course, and dessert.
  • How to light and style your shots to get the most compelling images.
  • How to build out your basic studio gear to get the most out of your food styling and photography.

Steve will walk you through the basics of becoming a food photographer by drawing on his own experience as a chef, certified food stylist, and photographer. You’ll learn about the equipment you’ll need; how to interact with food and prop stylists, and direct them during a shoot; how to work with digital technicians and editors; and you’ll learn Steve’s tips for marketing food photography. 


Christy cwood56

This class has appeal for the beginning food photographer as well as the photographer that is already a bit further advanced on the path. There is quality info about gear and other logistics for the beginner that is absolutely necessary and establishes a strong baseline of knowledge. When Steve starts to shoot then the magic really starts to happen as we get to see into his creative process, how he styles, how he problem solves, how he continues to push the envelope until he comes up with his incredible images. That was the most enlightening part of the whole class...being able to observe an artist in his creative zone. Steve is a master at what he does and whether you are a beginner, intermediate or even advanced photographer, there is something for you in this class. It is well worth the minimal cost of the class. Part of the value of purchasing this class is that you can watch it again and again and again and each time you will walk away with boatloads of info. It is one of those classes that you will go back to again and again and use as a reference point for improving your images. Thanks Steve for being willing to share your gifts and talents to help others! Awesome day!

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