So, you want to know why your food photos look dull and lifeless? Well, I have good news, because I can help you. And the even better news is that it’s really easy to fix this.
This post will help you if you’re taking food photos for:
- your blog
- your Instagram
- or just to show off your latest food creations with friends and family
Before we jump into the nitty gritty, let’s start with where we are…
BEFORE: My Old Photos – Totes Dull and Lifeless
Do these food photos look at all like some of your photos?
Very dull, lifeless, and bland. And I even remember that crisp being really tasty. Too bad it doesn’t look like it from this photo.
Hey, we all gotta start somewhere. Amirite?
AFTER: My Newer Photos – Much More Vibrant
With time and practice, I was able to start taking much better food photos.
Although these “after” photos are more staged (and are also edited), there’s one easy way you can take better food photos. But first, let’s understand what doesn’t work.
The Reason Your Food Photos Look Dull and Lifeless
So you’re here because you want to know why your food photos look dull and lifeless? Well, most likely, you’re making the food photo mistake that is most commonly made.
The answer is simple: lighting.
Poor lighting will make your food photos look worse, while good lighting will make them look better.
And “poor lighting” doesn’t necessarily mean “less lighting“, just as “good lighting” doesn’t mean “more lighting“. The source is actually more important than the amount in most cases. Let me explain with a story.
There are some other factors (which I’ll cover in future posts), but lighting has made the biggest difference in which of my photos look delicious versus not-so-delicious.
“Why Did You Turn the Lights Off??
My friend J was over when I’d just finished baking these delicious Coconut Cake Batter Doughnuts. So I could capture them in their fresh-baked glory, I did what I always do and walked over to the light switch and turned the lights off. And promptly began snapping photos of the doughnuts. The sun was about to set, and there was barely any light in the room. But I know the secret to good food photos.
J, noting that I was taking photos in a nearly dark room, asked, “Why did you turn the lights off?” with a look of confusion on his face.
“Because I need the natural light.”
J stared at me, wanting to agree but clearly skeptical.
I rolled my eyes, turned the lights on, and took more photos.
“See,” I said, as I showed him the difference in the photos with and without the overhead lights.
So let’s talk about lighting.
The Difference Between Overhead vs Natural Lighting
Overhead: Most overhead lights cast a yellow color on your photos. Are you in a room now? Look around. What color is the light coming from your lamp or overhead lighting. Unless you have daylight bulbs, it’s probably fairly warm-toned. Do you see it?
Natural: Natural light (from the sun) doesn’t typically cast any color on your photos. Note: Unless it’s a certain time of day, but let’s talk about that another time.
Perhaps some photos will help. Here are the actual photos I took and showed J.
- The photos on the left have a yellow color to them
- I edited the two on bottom photos to brighten them to show that editing doesn’t necessarily fix the color
- You could edit further to change the “temperature” of the photo, but I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to recreate natural light from a photo taken with overhead lighting
- Not to mention, why would you want to spend all your time editing a photo to make it look natural when you can simply use natural light?*
*But Diana, what if I have to take photos at night? Okay, I have some tips for you for this. But let’s save that for another post. Though do let me know in a comment below if you’re interested so I can prioritize when I make those posts for you. The sun was down by the time I’d frosted the doughnuts, so I took the rest of the photos without natural light using a special trick. Here’s one of those rule-breaking nighttime photos as a preview for that post:
Specs: Snapped with my Nikon camera at f2.5 – and yes, this photo is edited
How to Use Natural Light for Food Photos
I could write a whole post about how to use natural light for photos. Actually, I could probably do several. And while writing this post, my mind was abuzz with ways I could share even more tips with you. But I prefer to deliver on small pieces of information and link out to additional reading. So, I’ll link those posts when they’re ready.
In the meantime, try to get away from those overhead lights. When you want to shoot food photos, try to do them during the day if you can. I’m talking to you, food bloggers.
For my food eaters, I’m guessing you’re snapping photos when you’re…you know…actually eating. Don’t worry, like I said, I have some workarounds for you too. Not total problem solvers, but they could help.
Tips for Photography with Natural Light
Until I get those separate posts up, here are some tips:
- Aim to take your photos during daylight hours
- Use only natural light (from the sun)
- Turn overhead / artificial lights off when shooting
- Position yourself (and your food) near a window
- Use indirect light (not direct light)
- Make sure your camera white balance settings are on auto (or set for natural/day light)
If any of this doesn’t make sense, let me know so I can prioritize my follow-up food photography post ideas for you.
Get More Photo Tips and My Photo & Video Toolkit
Want to know what gear I use to take food photos and make YouTube videos? I made a download for you. If you sign-up, you’ll also get my weekly Content Creators tips and ideas delivered straight to your inbox for free. And I have lots of photo tips planned, so yea…should be a good sign up if you liked this post.
This blog has been around awhile, but I’ve only recently been building it up to help content creators. Photography is a new topic for Diana Starts, so I don’t have a lot to share now. But as I hinted above, I have plenty of tips and tricks to share here. So stay tuned!
Click here to read my Photography Tips (the list will be short if you read this close to the publish date haha)
Hope you enjoyed this post explaining Why Your Food Photos Look Dull and Lifeless.
Thank you so much for reading. If you found this helpful, please consider sharing this post with your friends and fellow food photo enthusiasts because that will really support me and my blog. There are some share buttons at the end of this post.