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Creating stunning food photography in natural window light

Stunning food photography in natural window light is not as difficult as you might think. It is a quick and cost-effective way to capture gorgeous food images. It just takes a little planning. It’s great for in the studio or even at a cafe.

Stage the set

I placed three vinyl timber floorboards on the concrete floor in the studio, directly in front of the window. I had a double thickness of sheers hung over the window with late morning sun (east facing window). The sunlight was coming in, but not directly as it would have been early in the morning.

I then staged our strawberry cupcake scene. I could have set this up on a table, but we wanted to shoot directly down, so the floor is easier for shooting.

Props, drops and accessories

I really wanted the cupcakes to shine as our Heroes, so we kept everything fairly minimal. White plates — a few with some gold trim — a white tiered cake stand and lots of fresh strawberries. I also had a silver reflector leaning against a tripod on the left to bounce back in more light.

Camera settings

As I was shooting as a flat lay (straight down), I was handholding my camera. I could have used a tripod but preferred the versatility of shooting handheld. This did mean my ISO got quite high (ISO 4000).

I was shooting on Aperture Priority with Auto ISO and a minimum shutter speed of 1/125s. I found that on Auto White Balance, my images had quite a bit of yellow creeping in, so I used the eyedropper in Lightroom to adjust the white balance during post-processing. I could have also used a gray card.

I found that I need to overexpose my images according to the histogram to get everything well lit. I used Exposure Compensation at +2 stops. I still boosted the highlights and white in post a touch as well. I shot at f/2.8 on my Tamron 28-75mm lens.

Red is tricky

Red is a tricky color to get right in images, especially with food. The correct white balance is very helpful. I also find that boosting the vibrancy, and not the saturation, works too. Boosting the saturation makes the reds all too often look fake.

One final tip

While I often say to spray fresh fruit with water to make it look fresh, do NOT spray any water around or next to the cream, as it often has disastrous results. So that the ‘cream’ kept its shape, we whipped cream, sugar and cream cheese together. It still tastes lovely, but it looks even better.

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Rafael Jones

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