WARNING: You’re about to get incredibly hungry.
If you’ve ever worked with food photography, you know that lighting makes all the difference. The wrong lighting will make your food look artificial and unappetizing, instead of making your mouth water and stomach rumble. So how does one create this kind of natural quality, using strictly artificial light? We asked Steve Hansen, a commercial photographer who focuses on all things food-related.
For many of his shots, Hansen uses LED lighting, which he describes as being “so close to daylight that you really can’t tell the difference.” Sure, natural light would be ideal in the world of food photography, but shooting food in actual sunlight isn’t really realistic, especially when working with commercial clients—not to mention that it’s near-impossible to have precise control over your light source.
In addition to his still life work, Hansen also works with motion and splash food and beverage photography—like the shots you see in epic food commercials—or the mobile game Fruit Ninja. For this, he shoots with ultra-fast shutter speeds and an intense amount of light. Here, he’s not only trying to make the food look appetizing, but he’s capturing it at 1/8000 of a second. In situations like this, he explains that it’s ideal for his setup to be portable and versatile, which is why he often works with Westcott’s Flex LED lighting line, featuring water-resistant, dust-proof light mats that can be bent, folded, and, well, flexed, to be mounted in any space and concealed in any location.
Even though Hansen’s splash shots are layered, he explains that he tries to capture as much as he can in one shot, then takes a natural approach to editing these compositions. First, he notes the “primary splash” of the liquid and how it reacts with the food to create “secondary splashes.” Then, he considers the reflective properties of the fluid, allowing him to edit the color cast to mimic how it would naturally reflect on his surface. And finally, he employs his favorite lighting modifier, a 12×36 stripbank, to keep the light looking soft and organic.
Hansen concludes that in both his still life and his motion-capture food photography, these LED lights have the ability to mimic natural light, which enhances his eye for organic scenes, making his time on set easier without undermining the quality of his work.