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Artificial Light Gear Guide for Food Photography

Feeling rushed during photoshoots trying to make the most of daylight hours? Finding yourself preoccupied about where the sun is in the sky? Stressed out when you see the weather report for the day? Worried that the pie won’t be done baking before the sun sets?

Or maybe you’re like a lot of food photographers, struggling with inconsistent color. When you sit down to edit photos after a photoshoot is the white balance totally different from the first shot to the last?

With artificial lighting, you can shoot any time, anywhere, getting professional, natural-looking, consistent results.

From “light and airy” to “dark and moody” and everything in between, save yourself time in editing and avoid anxiety during photoshoots.

Heirloom Tomato Salad captured in a restaurant dining room with flash

WHERE DO I START?

If you’re shooting still images, the best place to start is with a basic off camera flash.  It’s my vote for the best bang for your buck. It gives you a ton of brightness and total control in any environment, because with flash, we can literally cancel out any other light sources and create lovely light anywhere.

If you shoot in restaurants or other locations where you can’t control the environment, this will make your life so much easier. Like this shot of heirloom tomato salad that I captured in the middle of a restaurant dining room, surrounded by orange “mood” lighting. A flash is like having sunshine in your pocket.

A lot of people also notice their images are crisper and sharper when they move to flash. This is because flash doesn’t rely on the shutter speed to freeze action.

If you struggle with blurry or flat lighting in your shots and have been thinking you needed a new lens, hold off on the lens purchase. The lighting packages I list below are a heck of a lot cheaper than lenses.

WHAT DO I NEED?

Artificial lighting for food photography doesn’t require a studio full of clunky gear. To make it easy, I have created some artificial lighting gear bundles down below of all the exact gear you’d need to get started. These show you a complete set of gear based on the kind of camera you’re shooting, your budget and the work you’re doing.

Most of the bundles list a speedlight, since that is generally going to get you great quality for a low price and they’re easily portable. However, if you’re planning larger scenes or longer shoots, you might want to consider a monolight strobe instead. I have options in both categories below.

IMPORTANT NOTES

Before buying, double check that your trigger (the remote for your artificial lights) is compatible with your camera. The triggers are made specifically to work with particular brands. Keep in mind too, some entry level DSLR cameras or older cameras have limitations. Ensuring your camera’s compatibility before buying will save you a headache.

The mounting bracket that I list in each of the packages is my current favorite because it will be compatible with a wide variety of speedlights and modifiers (the thing that modifies how the light looks).

When it comes to modifiers, in each of the packages I recommend starting with a simple, affordable, softbox for flattering, natural-looking lighting. But, if you are looking for a very particular style of lighting, check out the “Other Modifiers” and styles section at the bottom.

Note to members of Artificial Academy. Feel free to reach out in the course community and we’ll be happy to help answer questions and confirm the best purchase based on your unique needs.


I’m Looking for the Best Quality Budget Option for a Canon Camera

approx $300 for total package

***Some of Canon’s entry level cameras are NOT compatible with 3rd party flashes. Double check the specs to confirm if your camera is compatible or if you’re a member of Artificial Academy you can confirm with a Bite Shot team member.


I’m Looking for the Best Budget Option for a Nikon Camera

approx $300 for total package


I’m Looking for the Best Budget Option for a Sony Camera

approx $300 for total package


I’m Looking for the Best Budget Option for a Fuji Camera

approx $300 for total package


I Shoot Canon and want Canon lights

approx $865 for total package


I shoot Nikon and want Nikon lights 

approx $605 for total package


I want a strobe that will serve me well for a long time but am a little budget conscious

approx $680 total package


I Want Exactly What YOU have, Joanie, and something I won’t outgrow for most food photography work 

approx $971 total package


Other Modifiers

If you are seeking a very specific look to your lighting, the magic is all in the modifier.  Here are recommendations below for options that are different from the modifier I recommend in the packages above.

  • Multipurpose & Great for Drinks / Product work The rectangle shape of this one creates nice clean reflections in glassware and is a large enough modifier for soft, window-like lighting. Also easy to setup and a personal favorite for general use.
  • Dark and Moody Style This little modifier creates a dramatic sliver of light and is easy to assemble thanks to the Rapid Box technology, opens just like an umbrella. You will also need to get the bowens mount ring to mount it to your bowens mount light. For even more drama also get the grid attachment. Get 10% off your order through Westcott.com using promo code SIMON4110 at checkout.
  • Soft & Light – for those who want the white, bright, feeling with soft shadows. Also easy to setup.
  • Diffuser or Scrim – This is what I refer to as freestyling since you can move the light around different heights and distances behind a scrim or diffuser for a unique look. This does require some patience and experimentation compared to softboxes that are built to create a specific lighting. If you work with natural light, a big diffuser or scrim can help there, too. There are lots of options in scrims and diffusers. I like this giant pop-up diffuser which can hang from a c-stand or prop up against a window or table. For something more formal, the 4’ x 4’ Westcott Scrim Jim has the option for different diffusion material thicknesses depending on how hard or soft you want your light. You can mount the scrim to a c-stand with the clamp accessory. Or for something super soft, you can get a roll of Rosco diffusion and make your own frame or hang the paper from a c-stand.

CONTINUOUS LIGHTING

Artificial lighting for food photography isn’t all about flash! Yes, I’m a flash fanatic, but I also own continuous lights which provide consistent lighting. I use continuous lights primarily for shooting video, like in this example below. You can also shoot stills with continuous lights, however, you’ll want to make sure you’re working in an environment where you have total control over other lighting sources, like overhead lights. Unlike flash, which can cancel out other lighting, continuous lighting cannot.

When I shoot with my continuous lights, I have all of the overhead room lights off and have blackout curtains drawn over the windows. Otherwise, other sources of light can have a negative impact on the final images. For example if an overhead room light is a different color temperature compared to my photography lighting, it can interfere with the colors being captured. Or if light is entering the scene from too many directions, it can cause a feeling of flatness in the images.

If you’re looking for a continuous light, I’d recommend going with an LED. There are affordable options in the LED category, quality ones will render colors accurately and they run cool so you don’t run the risk of your food melting due to heat from your lights.

One important spec to pay attention to in terms of continuous lights is the CRI, the Color Rendering Index. Make sure to select a light with a CRI rating of 92 or higher in order to ensure accurately portrayed color in your images.

The LEDs I recommend below have a Bowens mount so that the same softboxes that I use with my flashes can be used with my LEDs. I love versatility! Most of them come with a built in bracket that can attach to a standard light stand.

Here are a few LED options at different price points

Godox SL-60W – A quality light and great for the price. However, if you have a bit more budget you might consider opting for the higher powered Godox SL-150W (silent fan version!) or 200W for a brighter light (especially helpful if you’re planning to shoot 60fps or 120fps slow mo b-roll shots.

Aputure 300D – this is the light that I own and use for everything from YouTube videos to client videos and all my video needs. Intended to be used with bowens mount softboxes like those linked above and Aputure brand softboxes.

WE’D LOVE TO HAVE YOU JOIN US!

Artificial Academy is where we have had the honor of teaching artificial lighting to a community of amazing food photographers. The course includes everything from how to set up the light, the step by step to get the camera settings to communicate with the light, how to manipulate the light, how to make it look natural, and tons of live demos including shooting light & airy, dark & moody, capturing drinks, shooting in a restaurant, shooting outdoors, shooting action and capturing headshots.

Skip the trial and error method and learn to shoot like a pro right away. Joining means you also have access to a private group just for enrolled course members to get help, feedback on images and to connect with other awesome food photographers. Plus Joanie holds monthly Open Office Hours meetings on Zoom to answer questions and discuss hot topics in the world of food photography. We can’t wait to see you rock your lights!

Curious about our other food photography courses? Check them out here!

Want to learn more about other gear I use in studio? Here’s my gear guide for all things food photography and videography!

Want to see more awesome examples of artificial lighting for food photography? Check out The Bite Shot on Youtube!