A Beginner’s Guide to Flash Photography for Food

As much as I love natural lighting, I really enjoy the control and versatility of using flash for food photography.

Below is a photo where I used flash to properly light a burger I was shooting in a dim restaurant:

I began this journey because I wanted to take my food photography to the next level. I didn’t want to be restricted by the lighting in the restaurant, the time of day for the shoot, etc. I wanted to be able to walk into any location for a shoot and be well prepared to leave with beautiful photos no matter the circumstance.

So enter flash.

Flash photography is very intimidating, I know. But I promise, it’s actually really fun, and you can learn so much about yourself as a photographer! It challenges you to think beyond just the composition of the photo, because you not only have to set up the food, you also have to think about where the lighting is, what shadows are being created, and what mood you ultimately want to have when you walk away from the shoot.

My Gear

What I use for flash photography:

Godox VING V860IIC TTL Li-Ion Flash with Trigger ($248)

I prefer TTL speedlites because they measure the scene and adjust the output of light based on the surrounding you’re in. You can also put these speedlites into manual mode where you gauge the output, but these are nice and easy to start out with. I personally did not have great success with the manual speedlites and I quickly outgrew their use; thus, I wish I would have initially invested in the TTL speedlites.

Camera Flash Speedlite Mount ($15)

You will need these mounts to attach your speedlite to the stand. Necessary buy!

Octogonal Speedlight Softbox ($30)

This is a really inexpensive softbox that I have had great success with. The nice thing about this softbox is that it is not too large where it appears overly obtuse, but large enough to diffuse the light nicely. A good thing to note is that the larger the softbox, the more the light will be diffused and distributed amongst the scene.

Tripod ($24)

Some photographers really invest in their tripods. Where I’m at right now, I don’t want to pour hundreds of dollars into tripods just yet. These work just fine!

How to Use Flash

You can use flash in any situation or setting which is why I really enjoy it. The important thing to note about flash photography for food is that you never want the flash to be directly on your hot shoe, and you almost always want the flash to be either behind or to the side of your food. Why? Because lighting your food head on will wash out your subject and take away the depth and texture.

In addition, I tend to use a bounce card (or if you’re like me, I just DIY it and use large white cardboard) in order to reflect the flash back into the food to help fill in the shadows. The bounce card will always be opposite to the light, because as its name says, it will bounce the light back and help fill in the shadows. The opposite is true if you decide to use a black fill card. Black will absorb the light and present a moodier photo.

Swipe to see the video where I show you my set up.

Here’s another example of where I used flash for food photography. Here, I wanted to make it a moodier shot with shadows.

You can tell where the light source is because of the shadows. Notice how an off-set light will fill in the curves of the food and really accentuate the treats.

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