Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How To Light Food With One Inexpensive Lamp

Bouncing Light For A Professional Look

Shooting for food blogs doesn't require expensive equipment.  I've posted about using inexpensive clamp lights before and today's post is about utilizing one of these clamp lights to maximize the light in your next shoot.  If available, shooting under natural light is always the best.  But sometimes the natural light isn't enough....or in this case is too much.  You see, when I was shooting this picture of lemons, the light from the window was very strong so it created harsh shadows.  I could have used a bounce card to bounce the light back onto the shadows, but even that wasn't enough.  The solution?  My trusty clamp light.  This super easy tutorial is all about where to place the lamp to achieve maximum results.

What is Bounced Light?

Bounced light is an easy technique to understand.  Pointing light from a lamp directly onto the subject creates harsh, blown-out highlights and extremely dark shadows....not good for food photography.  The goal of lighting with lamps is to diffuse the light from the lamp so that it still hits the subject, but in a softer more subdued way.  There are many expensive gadgets and do-dads you can buy to attach to your lamp to achieve this, but why bother when you can simply bounce the light?!

Bouncing the light literally means that the light is pointed at angle and it "bounces" onto the subject.  By bouncing the light, the intensity of the light softens, therefore creating more even, softer light.

The Technique

Putting this technique into practice is really simple.  In the shot of the lemons above, I simple attached my clamp light to the back of a chair that was nearby my table.  I pointed the light up at the ceiling so that the light would hit the ceiling and bounce down onto the shadow side of the lemons.  That's it!  The important thing to remember is that this light will only fill in the shadows...I'm not relying on it as my main light source...that's what the window is for!  See the images below for more details:

Without Bounced Light

With Bounced Light

Have you used a similar technique?  If so, please add your photo to the link list below and share!

If you're adding a link, please make sure to add your blog's name and the title of the post in the first dialogue box.  I can't wait to see what you all come up with!


  1. I've been playing around with the white card to bounce light and have definitely noticed an improvement in lighting doing that. When do you recommend using an additional light source? Is it in harsh shadow situations, ie when the sun is superbright, or in low light situations?

  2. Great tip! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Heather, an additional light source is great when your main light source is creating shadows that your bounce card will not fill. If you're lighting strictly with lamps, then a second light source is always necessary (one as your "main" light and one as your "fill" light)

    hope that helps!

  4. Keep the photo tips coming I can't get enough of them. I wish I could shoot during the day more but...my office jobs gets in the way. I do try to bounce my clamp light for my shots at night..haven't found the right angles...but it a work in progress..

  5. Another great tip and trick.Thanks for taking the time to teach the rest of us. You rock! I have to mention - after applying several of your tips, my first two submissions were published on FoodGawker and Tastespotting. Take the tips on this blog to heart people and apply them - They work!

  6. Hi Danny,

    These are great tips! I especially love the white marble table.

    Do you have any tips or tutorials on using a speed lite flash? We've recently purchased one and man, are we having trouble with it.

  7. Love it!!! Might be a dumb question but, any type of lightbulb in particular? I have a flexible floor lamp that might do the trick, but it has one of those spiral energy saving bulbs in it right now...

  8. TripleScoop, Naomi, and Adrianna..thanks so much for the positive feedback! I'm glad to hear my tips are helpful for people.

    Newfidadian...It's important to use "Daylight Balanced" bulbs....they DO sell fluorescent energy saving bulbs that are daylight balanced...that's what I use...get the strongest wattage possible.

  9. Exellent, I have been wondering how to solve this problem for a while

  10. Lovely blog and fantastic tips Danny!
    Cheers, Dario