Food models in the right light

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Food models in the right light

Corinna Gissemann loves two things: daylight and food. She conjures up fantastic food photos from both. Recently, she has a new helper: the SP 90mm F/2,8 Di VC USD Macro 1:1. She tells in the Tamron-Blog how she creates her atmospheric photos.

Daylight is simply wonderful, I love it. Already when I started food photography, I fell in love with this must-have, which is irreplaceable for me. Not only because I am at war with flash and the like. But also because you can achieve many different effects with daylight, no matter how small the window is at home. All you need for this are a few helpers which can be found in any household.

I shoot with my Canon EOS 5DMark II since 2010 and have used only Canon objectives for a long time. Now it turned out that I have also benefitted from a Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8. I was more than satisfied even with the first photographs therewith. I love these macro objectives, because I am simply extremely flexible with them. On the one hand, I can come really close to my food model, but I can also offer a beautiful overview of for example a table scene. The 90 mm is just a real all-rounder.

Below I describe how my daylight shots come into existence. The conditions are simple: anybody who has windows in his flat has more or less daylight at his disposal. A North-facing window is practical, as the same conditions almost always prevail here. However, a South-facing window with incoming sunlight can also be attractive.

Especially in food photography, it is worthwhile to test different light situations at the start. In this way, you can see which incidence of light is suitable for the respective food model. Back light has been proving itself as the main light, which can possibly also come in slightly from the side. The two incidence directions that I use most often in food photography are roughly from the back or obliquely from the back.

Summery breakfast

Using the example of the cereal shot, it can be explained easily how I proceed. When arranging my small breakfast I wanted to achieve a light-flooded and friendly atmosphere. That is, as much light as possible on a light, colourful background. The illumination of such a set can be realised in different ways, depending which light incidence is preferred. Here I have chosen back light coming in obliquely from the back. In order to obtain the brightness curve and the shadow resulting therefrom (right in front of the bowl), I have not used any tools in example 1. Thus no diffuser to soften the light, and also no brightener with which the shadows could be brightened.

Example 1: In this image, I only worked with back light coming in obliquely from the back. Dark shadows result in this way, for example below the bowl.

It was however my aim to achieve a balanced, even illumination. For this, I have used a brightener. A simple tool as for example a polystyrene plate or white cardboard is sufficient here. In order to brighten the side facing away from the light, the brightener is simply placed opposite the main light source, in my case the window. When you look at example 2, you can recognise a clear brightening of the right side, the shadows are thus mitigated. This can also be seen well directly at the milk jug and also from the right at the cereal bowl. But if you want more drama in the photo, you leave the brightener out. Each to their own taste. Different effects can also be achieved by moving the brightener, sometimes a bit more forward, sometimes a bit more backward. The use of two brighteners can also sometimes be beneficial, with which very different results can again be achieved.

Example 2: A brightener which is positioned opposite the main light source (window) weakens the shadows in the image. The illumination is now very even and harmonic.

Direct back light is also very popular in food photography. This is perfect if drinks or other foods are shot, as it illuminates the food model particularly beautifully. For my photo of the glaringly luminous redcurrants (example 3), I have decided on back light. With this type of illumination, the light falls onto the food model directly from the back, the shadows thus fall into the front part of the image. An alternative to a brightener was used here: a diffuser. If it is placed in front of the window, it ensures that the light falling onto the redcurrants will become softer (more diffuse), whereby the shadows are also mitigated. In front of the bowl, there are now only barely perceptible shadows. In addition, the food photo has a beautiful summery fresh character through the light incidence. 

Example 3: The back light from the window is softened here with the aid of a diffuser. The shadows in the front part of the image are brightened in this way.

Rustic food shots

A lateral light incidence from above is suitable for rustic food shots. This means that the food model is not placed at the height of the window sill, but rather slightly below. I like to use this light especially for darker food photos. In this case, you also do not need a large studio for realising appealing food shots.

For a better illustration, I have used the installation of my berry tarts. I have arranged and styled the small cakes nicely placed on a small low table. In the first photo (example 4), I have not used any tools. Thus neither brighteners nor shades (for example dark cardboard for preventing any light reflection), which are typically often used with this type of shot. The food photo is thus illuminated relatively evenly.

Example 4: For this atmospheric food photo, the two blueberry tarts were placed below the window. The light thus hit the food model from above.

In the following example 5 you can see in comparison what effect two pieces of dark craft cardboard have. The rear part of the photo is now clearly darker and thus has its own character. Experimenting is also worthwhile here. Move the shades and see how the light incidence changes. A little tip: with dark food photos, it is always great if you underexpose slightly for achieving the rustic look.

You can very easily achieve wonderful light effects with brighteners and shades. In the beginning, some practice is obviously needed, but after time you will get a sense of what to use where and how. I am sure that you will really enjoy to model the light after a while.

On the computer you can afterwards refine your food photos, for example lighten or darken additional locations here or there. Especially with dark, rustic food photos, an additionally added vignette is nearly a must.

Sharp images without a tripod?

As you can see from some making-of-photos above, I am virtually joined at the hip to my tripod. I take 100% of my photos with a tripod. Firstly, because I always want to photograph with an ISO as low as possible, and secondly because the long exposure times often do not permit steady photographing by hand.

But I have put the Tamron macro objective through its paces, - and have thereby also dared to shoot by hand. I was surprised, as it worked beautifully. On the one hand, the light intensity of F/2.8 helps of course, on the other hand, the objective offers a very quiet image stabiliser which compresses undesired camera movements. The autofocus also operates very precisely, which is likewise important when shooting by hand.

Finally, I can say that the Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di VC USD macro objective 1:1 fulfils all my demands for a successful food photo. Additionally, it is quite reasonable compared to many other objectives. In short: a great objective which can be enjoyed by enthusiastic amateur photographers but also by professional photographers.

Text and photos: Corinna Gissemann

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