Are you trying to decide on the best light setup for food photography? Not sure whether to use a lightbox or a softbox? Looking for budget photography lighting? Well, we hope to answer those questions and more for you in this article.
We’re going to look at how to use your lights to create the best light setup for food photography, as well as show you a list of options on food photography lighting, including studio strobes, light boxes, and continuous lights to suit all budgets and skill levels.
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1. Godox E300 Strobe Studio Flash Kit 900W
This lighting option makes the top of our list of the best lights for food photography thanks to its incredible reliability and overall impressive performance. You can spend a whole day using these lights and they won’t let you down.
These Godox strobes are compatible with Bowens-fit light modifiers, which is a money-saver if you have old Bowens modifiers kicking around. They are plenty powerful for lighting not just food images, but for portrait, fashion, product, or any other kind of studio photography.
Altogether you get three 300W strobes, which is more than powerful enough for most kinds of photography. The softboxes, barn doors, umbrellas, and gels included are adaptable to any photographic situation, though for food photography we might advise only really using the softboxes and umbrellas.
2. Neewer 300W Strobe Light Kit
The Neewer 300W Strobe light kit is a great choice for beginner food photographers, as it contains everything to get your home food photography studio up and running – all you need is a camera!
Yes, there’s only one light in the kit, but for food photography on a budget, all you really need is one light and some reflectors. This light comes with a softbox to reduce shadows and soften the light, and a shoot-through umbrella to give a slightly different lighting look.
It’s also a good choice for those more experienced photographers on a budget who want to use their light kit not just for food photography, but also for different kinds of studio photography, such as portrait, fashion, or product photos.
3. Westcott FJ200 200Ws Strobe Light
Westcott is a well-known and respected photography lighting brand, and this Westcott FJ200 200W battery-powered strobe light kit is the perfect choice for busy food photographers.
Because there’s no need for cables or power outlets with this strobe, you can shoot anywhere with it, in any size of studio, kitchen, or even outdoors. If you do shoot outdoors, you can mix the strobe with natural light. It also comes with durable and travel-friendly backdrop boards in seven designs, so you can easily switch styles.
Although the Westcott FJ200 doesn’t come with a softbox or other light modifier, most professional photographers will already have a diffuser panel or sheet in their collection to use in conjunction with this light. If you don’t already have one, there are many affordable options out there!
4. Lincostore 600W Continuous Lighting Kit
Continuous lighting tends to be cheaper than studio strobe setups. These continuous lights are a good choice if you are just beginning with food photography because you can see exactly how the light is falling on your dish since the lights don’t go off in flashes like strobes.
The lights are balanced at 5500K, which means you don’t have to worry about color casts on your images as they are the same color temperature as daylight.
One thing you may find with continuous light (as I did), is that you will need to put your camera on a tripod and use a slower shutter speed than you would with a flash. This is because they don’t put out the intensity of light that a flash head does, so you must either up the ISO, widen your aperture, or reduce the shutter speed to gain the correct exposure. Since your subject is still, having a longer shutter speed is definitely the preferable route!
5. Lincostore 2400 Lumens Continuous Studio Lighting Kit
This continuous lighting kit makes the list of best lights for food photography because it’s a decent yet inexpensive alternative choice for continuous food photography light. It comes with the added bonus of a boom arm and overhead light, along with the softboxes and diffusers. It’s a good choice for beginner/intermediate food and product photographers, with the extra overhead light for added flexibility in light setups. These lights are daylight balanced and dimmable too.
This light kit can also be used by a portrait or fashion photographer, with the boom light used as a hair light. Again, if you are using these lights for still food photography then I would put the camera on a tripod so you can adjust your settings to get proper exposure.
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6. Travor Bi-color 150W LED Lighting Kit
Although this continuous LED light is called a video light, it can be used for food photography, or any other type of photography, as well. This is a great choice for photographers who want to create still photos and food videos too.
The standard Bowens mount means it will take any Bowens-fit light modifiers (Godox ones too, as they are Bowens-fit), and this makes the light super-versatile. Other great features are the dimmable brightness and the adjustable color temperature for a range of effects.
This light is super-bright, which is reflected in the price somewhat. The good thing about continuous lights is that you don’t need a DSLR to use them. Smartphone and smart device cameras will work just as well for both photo and video.
7. Neewer 600W Photo Studio Strobe Flash and Softbox Kit
This Neweer light kit is a solid workhorse. It’s a good alternative choice to the Godox brand lights, although it’s not quite as powerful. This lighting kit is great for those food photographers who want a light kit that can be used for different things, and that isn’t too expensive.
The combined 600W of power produced is plenty for food photography, and the softboxes will give a spread of soft, and diffused light. It’s roughly half the price of the Godox kit but it doesn’t include the extra light.
8. Neewer Vision 4 300W Outdoor Studio Flash Strobe
Take your food photography lighting outside, or anywhere else for that matter! The Neewer Vision 4 Outdoor Studio Flash is on the list because is far more powerful than a Speedlight. It also comes with a softbox and translucent white umbrella for added flexibility.
This Bowens-fit, battery-charged strobe is a perfect travel companion for food photographers who are on a mid-range budget. It doesn’t come with a light stand, unfortunately, but you can buy a good light stand for it separately.
9. Neewer Photo Studio Light Box 50cm Kit
A light tent has its limitations when used as food photography lighting. However, it is useful for when you have a long list of dishes to shoot though. Perhaps food for a takeaway menu. That’s why we’re recommending this Neewer light tent in our list of best lights for food photography.
Because LED light tents give continuous light, you can shoot with a smartphone or tablet as well as a DSLR. This kit is also easy to put up and take down and is portable. It also doesn’t take up as much space as a traditional lighting setup, so it’s great for tabletop use. You can also shoot product photography for e-commerce with this light tent.
10. Travor LED Photo Light Tent 90cm
This professional-spec light tent has everything you need to shoot high-quality food and product images. Each light board contains 126 dimmable LED beads, so you can adjust how bright or dark you want your images to be.
It also comes with four different-colored backdrops so you can switch up your food photography as needed. It’s large enough to take fairly big items, so there should be plenty of room for your food props as well as the dishes themselves.
It’s foldable, portable, and easy to set up and take down as needed.
Best Light Accessories for Food Photography
When using studio lights, having light modifiers to hand can make capturing stunning food photography images that little bit easier. While you can be a food photographer without these accessories, you’ll find it much more enjoyable to shoot images if you can get them just right with the help of a modifier or two.
Meking 12×8 Inch 3in1 Cardboard Light Reflector
If you add just one accessory to your shopping list, then foldable cardboard reflectors should be it. These are a great option that you can frequently use when shooting food photography as they are free-standing and easy to move around. You can use them to reflect artificial light or natural light back onto the food with the white or silver surface.
For more dramatic, dark food images you can also use the black side of the reflector.
FOTOCREAT 43”(110CM) 5 in 1 Round Collapsible Light Reflector
If you have space, you can use a collapsible light reflector with a stand to reflect light over a larger area. This is a great option for when you don’t have room for a big softbox getting in the way but still want to have soft, diffused light coming from your light source.
LimoStudio Extendable Boom Arm with Reflector Holder
If you’re going to use a disc reflector, you’ll need an assistant to hold it in place for you, or a stand to keep it where you want it to be. An extendable boom arm reflector holder gives you more flexibility in where you place your reflector, and you can position it to the side or over the top of your food.
This reflector holder is a budget design, and won’t take much more weight than a reflector, so don’t be tempted to use the boom arm on this model to hold lights or cameras.
Best Light Setups for Food Photography
Now you’ve got the lighting in mind, you can consider some food photography lighting tips to get you started! There are different ways of setting up your lights for food photography, and we’re going to look at some useful, non-complicated light setups here. I’m suggesting these ones because they work very effectively. They also look like they were lit with natural light, and are quick and easy to set up and take down after the shoot.
Note that I tend not to shoot straight-down angle flat lays for food very often, as I like to show side or front-on views and get up close with the dishes. However, it’s a very popular form of food and product photography on social media.
One Light and a Reflector
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This is my usual go-to light setup for when I have a lot of food photography to do. It’s quick to set up and takes up a minimal amount of space, as well as giving good, reliable results.
Food tends to look best when the main light is directed from the back or side of the dish. One way to do this is to put a light with a softbox or white umbrella at the back or to the side of the dish.
Put the softbox as close up to where you are going to place the dish as possible without it touching or getting into your image. The closer and larger the light modifier, the softer the shadows. You don’t want harsh shadows on food unless you are shooting for a specific artistic effect.
I have the softbox set directly at a right angle to my table, so the light is going across the top and one side of the food. Opposite the light, my white reflector would be set up to bounce the light back onto the unlit side of the food and lift the shadows there.
You can use more than one reflector, and it doesn’t have to be a conventional reflector either!
One of the best tips I got from a professional food photographer was to use scrunched-up pieces of aluminum foil to give reflections in smaller, hard-to-reach areas.
To do this, you simply scrunch the foil up and then smooth it out again, then place it where you need a bit of extra light reflecting. For instance, if you are shooting mussels in the shell, these little foil reflectors can really lift the shadows in the shells without affecting the rest of your lighting.
One Main Light and a Fill Light
You can use your second softbox or white umbrella and strobe to be your fill light instead of using a reflector. Place your main light at the back or side of where you will place the food, and put the fill light where you would put your reflector. Simply set your fill light to a lower power than your main or key light.
There are advantages to both setups. However, it does depend on how much space you have available to safely set up your food photography lighting.
Back and Side Light
This isn’t one of my most-used setups, but it’s great if you want to mix window and reflected light with a strobe or continuous light.
The backlight would either come from a strobe or silver reflector placed behind the food, with diffused window light to the side and a foldable cardboard reflector on the other side.
This kind of setup is great for those airy, bright food images where you want to capture every detail and minimize shadows.
How do you set your white balance with different types of light sources? You can use your camera’s built-in white balance modes like daylight or flash, but they are not always accurate. I’ve found that the color rendition is slightly ‘off’, with a too-blue or too-yellow subtle color cast. Yes, it can be fixed in post-processing, but life is too short to spend time fixing color casts in editing software when there’s a simple way to avoid it.
The easiest way to do this is to set a custom white balance before you start shooting. Set your lights up and find the correct exposure for your setup, either with a light meter or by eye. Put a large piece of white paper or cardboard up where you will be placing your food. Adjust your camera’s lens to Manual Focus.
Fill the viewfinder with the white paper, and shoot a few frames. Go to your camera’s Set Custom White Balance menu, and follow your brand’s instructions on how to do this.
Once you’ve done this, your white balance is set correctly for the type of light you are using – even if it’s a mixture of daylight and flash.
Note that if you change lighting types, you must set your custom white balance again. Take fresh photos of your white paper lit with the new light source.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and have found out some useful information to help you select the best lights for food photography.
If you are just starting out in food photography, why not take a look at these essential tips to improve your food photography skills?
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