Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How To Harness The Power Of Diffused Lighting

diffused light

Difference Between Directional and Diffused Light

An often blogged about food photography tip is to shoot with natural lighting. And I agree. There is no way around it....natural light will ALWAYS give you better results. What is less often talked about is the difference between directional and diffused light. It really is simple, yet harnessing the power of diffused light is one of the major ways to give your photographs a professional polish.

Diffused Lighting

When most people talk about using natural light they are referring of course to the sun. "Shoot next to a window!", "Even outdoors!" they say, yet shooting with the sun as your light source presents a particular set of problems.

On a clear, bright day, the sun is producing directional light. Directional light is usually not very good for food photographs. You see, directional light is light that is traveling directly from the source to the subject. This type of light creates over-blown highlights and harsh shadows....not very appealing when photographing food!

Diffused lighting is light that is hitting the subject from MANY directions, producing a softer, more even light. The image above comes from In this great post, Matt writes about his shooting set-up, and includes this example of the difference between directional and diffused lighting. The image on the left is directional light...notice the harsh shadows and blown-out highlights?

The image on the right uses diffused lighting and is much more pleasant and powerful. The light is even, soft, and shows off the subject much better than the directional light.

How To Make Diffused Light

So how do you diffuse light? Simple. Place any shear or semi-transparent material in between the light source and your subject. A shear, white curtain works great. Many people buy drawing vellum at the art supply store and tape it up to their window. I particularly like Still Life With's tip to use regular old tissue paper to diffuse light.

The key idea here is to avoid placing your plate of food in direct light or to diffuse the light to soften it. One word of caution: Diffusing the light will decrease the intensity or brightness, so adjust camera setting accordingly.

Got nothing to diffuse with? Try placing the plate in a shadowy area. I shoot during the day, next to a window, but place my food in the shadow part of the table. Works great every time.

Any of you have any diffusing tips? What materials do you use to diffuse light? Would love to hear about it in the comments.


  1. Great tips on using diffused light!

    My photos aren't necessarily worth writing home about. However, I have discovered that sheer curtains and the white parchment-like blinds in our sun room provide wonderful light for taking food photos.

  2. Thanks Jen...I think I know what type of blinds you're talking about...those work really well!

  3. What a great idea. With a country like ours (India), where we have sunlight practically through the year, this couldn't be a simpler option. I love natural light photography & I have loads to learn. This makes a good beginning. Thank you!