As a follow up to my first food lighting post on How To Setup Commercial Lighting For Food Photography, I am going to show you various ways to create another look known as the light-through-the-window effect using studio strobes. Unfortunately I did not have any sexy food prepared to shoot these shots with, so I just used some empty bowls in the examples below. At least I wont make you too hungry now while you read this.

The first setup I did was to place a light in the position of about 2:30 with the camera placed at about 6:00 and then I shot the light though a white translucent umbrella to mimic afternoon daylight coming through the window. I also setup one soft bounce aimed at the ceiling positioned at 7:00 to help fill in some of the heavy shadow caused from using a single back light source. The result is what you see below:

If you feel the above light looks a bit too harsh for the effect of natural soft diffused sunlight then you can switch the umbrella on the light at 2:30 to a soft box instead. The main difference between these two is that an umbrella is just one layer of diffusion, but a soft box has 2 layers of diffusion. So with the amount of the diffusion being more with a soft box, the resulting light is softer and smoother as seen below:

The downside though to diffusing the backlight so much is that you lose most of that nice, sharp highlight detail you were getting from the backlight on the food from the umbrella setup. So in the next shot below I stuck a figure into the setup and using the same soft box setup to show you that there was hardly any highlight detail left on the figure when the back light is so diffused:

Next, I cheated reality a bit and I added in a 3rd light at 10:00 with a grid and barn doors on it and I put the light on a very low power in order to just add a little bit of a highlight onto the left side of the figure where the strong dark area appeared on the figure in the previous shot. The result with the 3 light setup is below and you can see a good, strong highlight is now present because of this 3rd light. I had also very carefully flagged the 3rd light off so that it only hit the figure just slightly to add that highlight I wanted. Thankfully it didn’t effect any other areas in the photo:

I like the above result the best, but if you are really going for a true single-light-through-the-window effect, then having that 3rd light at 10:00 is of course unnatural. But I find it a nice compromise as it still gives you a bit of highlight on the subject while preserving the main atmosphere of the soft light through the window look from a soft box.

People using real natural light won’t be able to setup the 2nd light at 7:00 for the bounce off the ceiling though that I implemented since they are using light from a single source. When working with a single light source people can alternatively setup a big piece of white card or a sheet of white Styrofoam in front of the food at around 8:00 in order to act as a bounce that will reflect some of the natural light back onto the front of the food. I feel though, unless you are shooting at a time of day when the sun is very strong, you are not going to get much help from the card bounce. In fact, I saw one food blogger who showed two examples of this on his web site. In one sample shot he had taken it with the white card bounce and then another shot without it to show you how the bounce was helping. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference between his two photos. The amount of the shadow looked the same to me in both photos and the bounce seemed to be doing very little to help fill in any additional light on the front of the food at all. This is a downside of trying to bounce natural light. Often it does not look very pronounced.

Also, if you don’t want as much fill as I used then you can reduce the power of the fill light or turn it off completely. Below is a shot without the fill bouncing off the ceiling at 7:00 and just using the single back light at 2:00 plus the light at 10:00 for the highlight detail:

And here is the same setup as above, but with just half the power on the fill light as I had used before. Perhaps a nice compromise to not having any fill light at all:

One other alternative to bouncing off the ceiling for some light fill light as I did would be to setup the 2nd light with a soft box at 8:00 instead and point it directly at the food. This way you could get a bit of directional fill from the left, which would be giving you fill-in light in the same direction that a white card bounce would give you if you were using natural light and a bounce, but I don’t do it that way as I prefer to get a bit of overall fill light from above rather than just having it come from one direction. With a card bounce it will also attack the shadows directly where they are the strongest which is at that position of about 8:00 to the subject. Personally I like the heavier shadows for a bit of contrast. So just a bit of light fill all around from above the way I shoot helps to maintain a bit more of that shadow falling off the food towards the front. Also, a fill light from 8:00 is a form of direct frontal light and really should be avoided completely with food photography, unless it is very well controlled and used on a very low power setting. Otherwise you risk flattening your food lighting and losing valuable contrast.

Lastly, if you prefer the slightly more contrasty daylight look, then you could go with my very first setup above with the umbrella (rather than the second setup with the soft box). Below is one more example shot taken with the umbrella, but now it now has the figure added in so you can see what the umbrella looks like with the figure in it. This shot also has the fill on half the power of the first shot. You will notice that inside the bowl the shadow is harder and more contrasty than the above soft box shot with the figure in it:

To me it looks more apparent that a studio flash was in the above shot using the umbrella, which I don’t like so much. I still prefer the softer looks of the soft box setup better. The added diffusion of the soft box shot looks more like natural light coming through the window to me. But I think the issue of whether to use an umbrella or a soft box also comes down to personal preference and taste.

I hope this was a useful post and if you have any questions please feel free to post them below and I will do my best to try and answer them soonest.

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