How To Make Your Food Shine

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How To Make Food Shine in Photos

It’s easy to capture shine with saucy / oily food. The trick is learning how to get shine off foods that aren’t, like this Cheese & Bacon Breakfast Strata Cake. It’s a notorious problem I have especially with things with cheesy surfaces that SHOULD look shiny.

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Generally speaking, the closer the light source is to the back of the food (12 o’clock position from where you are shooting – which is the 6 o’clock position) and the lower you shoot (i.e. closer to eye level) the more shine you will get on the surface of the food.

Here is an extreme example of how different the angle of the light is on food. For the one of the left, the light was coming from the side and there is no shine on the surface of the bread. For the one on the right, the light is coming from around 1 o’clock and the shine on the food surface is much better.

Side light vs back light

For most of my photos, I shoot with the light coming from between 10 – 2 o’clock exactly for this reason. In both the photos above, the light is coming from around 11 o’clock.

Here’s what I do before every shot: Place the food down. Looking through your camera, do 360 degrees “laps” around it, starting with a high view point, then 45 degrees then close to eye level. Notice how the shininess on the surface of the food changes! Shoot from the position where the shine on the food is to your liking.

Do this a few times, and you will get to know what light direction gives the best reflection off food surfaces.

WARNING!

1. Excessive surface shine is not good! I used to go overboard to the point where chicken looked like it had been dusted with icing

2. Tall foods e.g. cake will need a large reflector in front to bounce the light back (and strong enough light to bounce off the reflector)

Tips:

When shooting with back lighting, have the reflector as close as you can next to your lens. I often have the reflector touching my lens. So if I’m shooting with the light coming from 11 o’clock, my reflector is at 4 – 5 o’clock and I’m shooting from 6 o’clock. Sometimes I’ll have a reflector at the 7 o’clock position too.

Another tip is to use a low reflector so you can shoot above it. I just use pieces of white folded up cardboard so I cut them into different sizes. That way, I have thin ones that I can place directly in front of where I am shooting.

Bring on the food shine! It makes such a difference to photos. :-)

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The Food Photography Book by Nagi from RecipeTin Eats

Comments

  1. says

    After you wrote this article I started experimenting and I wanted to share what works for me because I was having a hard time trying to shoot over/around a propped up front reflector. Now I just set up the shot without any reflector and I’m shooting with my camera on a tripod with the timed shutter release. When I press the shutter button and the camera is counting down I have my hands free to hold the reflector in exactly the right spot. Before I was so worried about the reflector, now I just compose the picture however I want and then use my hands to hold the reflector in exactly the right spot at the last second. Hope this makes sense!

    • Nagi says

      It totally does! I was actually doing that yesterday. I was holding up a big reflector (aka white cardboard!) behind the camera with one hand and pressing the button with the other :)

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