Healthy and Sane

Indoor food photography with artificial lighting

November 14th, 2011 · 38 Comments · photo tips

Hi guys! Hope you had a fabulous weekend. I finally set up a little area in my bedroom as a photo “studio” and thought you’d love to see a little recap. I had a fun time playing around with all of this and am looking forward to learning more!

oudoor f-6

The photo above of these fantastic cookie brownies was taken outdoors during a late afternoon (camera settings: 1/80, f/6.3, 1600). All photos have been taking with my 50mm f1.4 lens. For some reason my photos have been slightly blurry lately. I’m using auto-focus so the only explanation I can think of is that my hands have been shaking (what’s up with that?!) so getting very comfortable with my tripod seems to be the next step. Insert sad face here. I hate using a tripod! *Just for clarity purposes, I did not use a tripod in these photos.

The photos above aren’t bad but most meals I want to share here on Healthy and Sane are cooked at night (when it’s dark). Also, our condo has very limited natural light even during the day and with the weather becoming cooler and cooler (and eventually snow!) I really wanted to get the hang of indoor photography with artificial lighting

Let’s bring the cookies indoors

indoor auto no lights

Auto white balance, no “special” lighting – just the overhead lighting from our recessed lights (1/80, f/4.0, 1600).

Now let’s use “the set-up,” which includes 2 Ego Lowel lights with stands (thanks parents for buying me these!!!). These are definitely pricey but I’ve wanted to improve my photos for so long that this seemed like the next natural step in lighting helpers. You tell me if you think it’s working!

indoor photo setup

I also purchased some reflectors and clips but I’m still trying to learn how to utilize these. So here is a photo I took with all the lights on – both the Ego lights and the overhead recessed lights (1/80, f/6.3, 1600 – same settings as the outdoor picture).

indoor auto lights

In hopes of minimizing the shadow under the tray, I decided to turn off the overhead recessed lights (one of them is right above the photo table so that’s what’s casting the shadow). Here is the result:

indoor side lights no overhead

While the shadow was in fact less visible, because the florescent lights were the only light source, the photos were a bit more blue (I did not adjust the white balance) and perhaps a bit too washed out. I’m going to play around with the height (and distance to the table) of the lights to avoid that in the future. The white balance situation is easily remedied either by setting the camera on “white florescent” setting or creating a custom white balance setting. I will play around with both in the future. For this round, I just post processed the photos in Lightroom.Oh and I also had to increase the ISO to 3200 which generally increases picture noise (would probably be more visible if I were to print these).

A little white balance fix, a little sharpening… voila!

indoor side lights no overhead_postprocessed

And here is the post-processed photo with all the lights on. They are pretty similar!


Hopefully this made sense and was helpful to some of you. Like I said, this was my very first time playing around with these so I still have a lot to learn (and more gadgets to utilize!).

Do you have any tips for indoor food photography without natural lighting? Any clues as to why my pictures have been blurry on auto-focus? I’m totally heart broken over this…

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38 Comments so far ↓

  • #1 - Lauren @ Healthy Food For Living

    I’ve also been experimenting with indoor artificial lighting (I use a Tungsten lamp + umbrella) and am still getting comfortable with it. I’m with you on tripods… I don’t really like using mine, but know I probably should start using it!

    This weekend I gathered together the materials to make a faux table top background, and I’m so excited to paint/stain it today!

    • #2 - Elina

      I’d love to see how the umbrella set-up is working. I saw that you bought it and was wondering if I made the right choice with the ego lights or if that umbrella set up was a better way. I guess at the end of the day, as long as you have enough light and know how to use it, it should work :)

  • #3 - Christie Inge ~ Intuitive Eating Coach

    Love! I am thinking about getting some sort of light set up for my jewelry photography (I am about to open an etsy shop with jewelry inspired by my coaching philosophy!).

    I can only see a slight difference in the first photo and the last as far as color and clarity so me thinks it is working well 😀

    And yes, the blurriness is probably from your hands shaking. One of the things I do to help (which you may already do) is bring my elbows as close together on my chest as I can.

    • #4 - Elina

      So fun! Is that the stuff I saw on Facebook? Very pretty. I agree – I think the photos looked nearly identical but I wonder if it’s because the “original” one wasn’t very good. Typically natural light is a lot brighter with more vivid colors. Maybe I’ll start a new “look” 😉

  • #5 - Lauren at Keep It Sweet

    I’ve been considering investing on indoor photo-friendly lights but am pretty sure my husband won’t be thrilled with me taking over another part of the apartment… So tempting, though!

    I also hate using my tripod but get such better results when I do. Plus, it allows me to be more flexible with the aperture setting.

    • #6 - Elina

      Well those ego lights come without stands too. Maybe you could just get one and place it on the table you already use? Just a thought :)

  • #7 - Meghan@travelwinedine

    Looks like a lot of fun! I definitely need some tips when it comes to even basic photography!

    • #8 - Elina

      Your camera is pretty confusing but I could probably try helping you with the basics if you want :)

  • #9 - Michelle

    These are great tips! My new place has limited light indoors and I’m always struggling with the lighting. I’ve finally figured out how to move the ceiling lights around to get more light…and hopefully my photos will improve!

  • #10 - Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic

    I need to sharpen my photography skills so this is pretty helpful. My apartment has horrible lighting, so I really should try and learn as much as I could about indoor lighting!

  • #11 - janetha

    AWESOME post. I need to invest in some indoor lighting because I, too, do most of my cooking at night and by the time morning comes the food is gone! Thanks for the link to those lights. I keep meaning to make a light box, but I am lazy, and I think buying these lights may be a better option for me. XOXO

    • #12 - Elina

      I should have mentioned it in the post but I considered making a lightbox as well but found it to be too restrictive. I think if you have the space (I don’t really… it looks ridiculous in my bedroom but it’s important to me so whatever), it’s the way to go. Glad you found the post helpful. Let me know how it goes :)

  • #13 - Kelly

    How do you like the stands? I have the same lights as you, but no stand. I also always have to adjust the white balance (either in the camera or in post processing) as it definitely gives photos a blue hue. I’m guessing the issue probably is camera shake. I use a tripod most of the time for that very reason. Thankfully, they just came out with a gorilla pod one for DSLRs. I love it because it’s small and gives me more flexibility. I’d try that (and also try setting it so your camera is on a short timer — I often do that because it was recommended in class because it removes any shake from pushing the button).

    If you’re still having issues, it may be time to get your camera serviced. I had issues with my camera a few months back where pictures were out of focus no matter what and it turned out it was time to send it in.

    • #14 - Elina

      I love the suggestion of a gorilla pod because I don’t have very much room to maneuver around the table. Thanks! I’m conflicted as to whether I want it to work or whether to hope it’s just time for service. I really do hate using tripods!!

  • #15 - Sophie @ LoveLiveAndLearn

    Ooh this is such a good post, I really struggle with my photos in the evening!
    Your photos turned out really well, you would never guess they were taken in the evening!
    I don’t think I’ll be able to afford those lights but I have been thinking about investing in a (preferably quite cheap) light box, any tips on that?
    By the way those brownies look amazing :-)

  • #16 - inna

    are people really supposed to concentrate on your lighting tips while looking at photos of what i can only describe as amazingly drool-worthy brownies? HEH!

  • #18 - Megan

    I know nothing about photography. One of these days I will take a class. I’m so jealous of your lights.

  • #19 - Daisy

    glad you are having fun experimenting with this new light studio. Thanks for sharing all these helpful tips. I feel terribly lazy for just using the flash on my (few and far between) at home food photos!!

  • #20 - Cara

    Have you tried focusing manually instead of using autofocus? I actually don’t have the option of autofocus with my 50mm 1.8 lense, so I’m always doing it manually. I wonder if that would give you better control? For what it’s worth I have never used a tripod and I’m ok with that for now!

    • #21 - Elina

      I don’t trust my eyes with manual focus!! I’ll keep playing around – it may have to come to that :)

  • #22 - sippitysup

    Well done! GREG

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  • #24 - Spike

    cool lights. This is something I struggle with. It is so dark when I’m baking! My boyfriend built me a little light box and I’ve been playing around with using flash but bouncing it into the light box (just use a business card to prevent the flash from aiming right at what you’re shooting.

  • #28 - Emily @ A Cambridge Story

    Love the set up. I need to learn more about lighting, especially this time of year! Keep posting details as you learn :)

  • #29 - Lisa

    I am in the same exact predicament as you! Reading this was like reading my own post about it. Not enough natural light to take photos, so I use Lowel Ego Lights, hate using the tripod because I like to be free to move around and take photos at every angle, quickly and easily (plus having to adjust the tripod height and angles is a pain). My photos suffer for my only hope is eventually moving to a place with loads of natural light – which is not going to happen for at least a few months. Until then, I may have to start getting used to the tripod again, be honest, the difference in sharpness wasn’t as extreme as I had hoped. Nothing changes that ‘artificially lit’ look. Your brownies do look great, though! Maybe I need the Ego Light stands that you have so they are higher up (??).

    • #30 - Elina

      I have since moved one light down (the other one is still up). If I figure out my favorite position (and other tricks), I’ll be sure to mention it again on the blog. PS – I think your pictures are great!

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  • #32 - shannon

    i wanted to see what some other people wrote before i came back, love the tip for the business card and a short timer! my 50mm has to be manually focused with my camera, so i bet that would help. I usually just take way more photos than i think i need just in case. Maybe someday i’ll be able to afford lights!

  • #33 - Jen @

    I just started using a tripod a couple weeks ago. It helps a ton because you can set the shutter to a longer exposure time to get a bunch of light in there. It’s been a big help with the sun going down so early…

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  • #36 - Dana @ FoodieGoesHealthy

    Thank you so much for the tips. I have the same problems. I prefer to shoot in natural light, but in the winter my food is ready after dark. I am looking into buying some indoor lighting. David Lebowitz recommends using a high iso to compensate for dim lighting. Hope you tried that by now.