Lesson 10 – Modify Light for Better Food Photos

Let's Shape the Light

Yesterday we started learning about lighting and using it to strengthen the story you want to tell.  Yesterday you experimented with direction of light.

Today we talk about modifying it.

Let’s first look at the most common ways to modify light.

Three Ways to Modify Light

Reflectors/Bouncers - I am sure you know the most commonly used budget reflector – the white foam board. Reflectors or bouncers are used, as the name suggests, to reflect the light coming from one direction to another desired direction.  As a result of this, the quantity of light in the scene is increased.

Reflectors are used mostly used to modify directional light (side light in most cases) and reduce shadows by increasing the amount of light.

So since reflectors increase light in a scene, when would you not use them in telling your food story? What do you think?

Diffusers - Diffusers are mostly used to soften the harsh light that be causing hard shadows in the scene. Simple and cheap diffusers can be found in your home. Yes right now. That white trash bag you use? Put it on the window pane. There. You have a diffuser to use.

Since diffuser creates soft light, in which story would you not use a diffuser?

Blockers - You should have stopped being surprised by now. Yes blockers block light. They remove light from a scene. Most common blockers in your house? Window blinds. Technically window blinds remove light from the scene, so there you go.

More professional blockers are, guess what? Black foam boards. You can also buy mesh/screen sheets that can be used as blockers.

They are used to remove light from a scene when you need less light than what’s available. Place them at an angle between light source and food subject. In all the three light modifiers, I find blockers to be most tricky.  You can only learn the skill by using them.

What Should I Use

We talked about three types of light modifiers. What next? The question is which one should you use in my next photo? This depends very much on the light you have.

If you are showing an elegant breakfast early in the morning but have too bright light, you may want soft light and more quantity of light, so you may end up using both reflectors and diffusers. If your shot is more moody and grungy, then? You may use blockers and diffusers to reduce and remove light from the scene.

Note on Photo Uploading:

We now have a new place to post photos. Moving forward, we will be using facebook group and creating lesson-wise photo albums for each lesson. This group is available for participants of this course only. You can request access to join this group by clicking here. It may take upto 12-24 hours to process your request.

Let’s look at today’s assignment

Today Assignment Step by Step

Time estimated: 30-60 mins

Step 1 – Today again, select the subject. Ideally use the same food subject, you have been using last couple of days.

Step 2  – Set up the food subject in a way that the source of light is on one side. Take a photograph using all the principles we talked about in last few days.

Step 3 – Now, start with reflector. Find a reflector – something like white foam board. Or foil. Place this directly opposite to direction of light and see how shadows change. Take a photograph.

Step 4 – Next move the reflector from being directly opposite to at an angle. Take a photo. Change the angle again and take another photo. You can change the angle in vertically as well as horizontally. At every change, see how the shadows change. For this exercise, the goal is to increase the amount of light in the scene.

Step 5 –Do step 3 and 4 with a diffuser (trash bag that is). Take photo when you change an angle.

Step 6 – Now compare these photos just like you did yesterday. Recall your story and the specific elements we discussed yesterday. Which one of these photos compares closely with your story?

Step 7 – Upload the best photo/s on the new Facebook group - Photo Album for Day 10. First request your membership to the group by clicking here, or else the album link might not work.

Some of you will ask, so I’ll answer in anticipation of your questions – How do I set the reflector or diffuser or blockers? Time and again this question has been asked… so here’s my secret… This works best if you have a husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend. They make the best reflector stand and come with voice command and everything. :D Ohh no, you don’t have to thank me. Good luck.

  • It is a cloudy and rainy day today. I think it would be a good day to take pictures with reflector but not sure how diffused photos would look on cloudy days.

  • Kris Giamouridou

    Lesson 10: a) Reflector: a piece of aluminum foil b) Diffuser: Clouds – I didn’t use any kind of ”artificial” diffuser, the clouds did perfectly their job!

    • Haha, sometimes nature is the best diffuser 🙂

      • Kris Giamouridou

        Exactly! 😉

  • Courgette soup topped with broccoli sprouts.

    Back light, I didn’t take one without the screen (white curtain) filtering the light from the window because it was just too bright.
    I used a small reflector at 3 O’clock.

    • I love it, what a great photo. What is that? It looks interesting and delicious at the same time lol

    • Kris Giamouridou

      Nice pic, I like how the colours of your props are ”blended” in your image.

    • Love this photo it make me want to eat the soup

  • LOL Neel at your last comment. Unfortunately my husband is at work when I do these assignments and when he comes home my reflector or diffuser won’t really work with night time settings haha. For this assignment since I didn’t have a human reflector, diffusor or blocker I used my shades by my sliding glass door. The first picture is shot with natural light coming in, and the second is using the shades.

    • Kris Giamouridou

      Kristin… it seems to me that you were very hungry 😀 😀 – I like the 2nd pic

      • Haha Kris…. Yea I was, and I don’t want to toot my my own horn, but…. toot toot… it was delish haha

        • I tryied to find your recipe at your blog, but it seems you didn’t uploaded it there. But… I found a nice one and I think I am going to try it one of the upcoming days —> ”GRANDPA’S ASOPAO” and ”sofrito” Really? Where do you come from? 😀

          • Kris – I haven’t posted this one on the blog yet 😉 It will be up soon. Oh hope you like it, let me know what you think. I am of Puerto Rican/Cuban decent. 🙂 The asopao is a Puerto Rican soup that my grandfather used to make for me

          • OOOOoooh! How nice 🙂 Yes I read your story… 😀 You must love your grandpa… I will make it. Gradparents make the best recipes!!! It is like they ”add” their wisdom inside the dish and they cook everything so flavorful. So, I will write my feedback on the blog… you will see either my name (krystallia giamouridou) or my blog’s title (mycookingsecrets.com) That will be me 😀 😀
            p.s. Some additional information… In our country we also have the ”sofrito” recipe, that why I asked you. It is a traditional one, cooked with beef inside a thick sauce. Sofrito’s meaning in our language is ”slow cooked”

          • Yes I loved him very much 🙂 How cool, what country are you from?

          • It’s the memories of a loved one that ”stay alive” 🙂 – Me? I am from Greece :D, but I live now in England

      • LOL yes it was too good to wait haha

    • Hahaha, so you are putting your husband into good use? Wow, this food looks good. SUnny side up?

  • Todd

    Naturally diffused light today(cloudy day)from the left, and I bounced some light with a reflector on the right. Sweet juice too

  • Anna Shilonosova

    Hi all!
    I haven’t been around for the past three days, but I kept reading e-mails and thinking over 🙂
    So, here I go, with two posts in one (Lessons 9 and 10).
    They were pretty easy for me, but a good exercise, anyway. I did both lessons in one setting.
    As for #9, I liked it better with side light.
    In #10 the best one, to my mind, was the one where I used both the diffuser and the reflector.
    The story was about a person working with wood (possibly constructing a shelf or a cupdoard) and having a quick lunch break.

  • The first one is sidelight w/o reflector and 2nd w/ reflector

    • I really like the second one for the lighting but the food is the same color as your plate which makes it hard to see.

      • Thanks. You are right! I have been trying to figure out what is wrong and it was the plate. Also, I have to work on the background…

  • I’m having a super hard time with these since I’m trying to do them at night after I get home from work and it’s dark. There is no natural light …not sure what to do. Maybe I’ll wait and just catch up on Sunday.

  • Sharon

    The first pic is just with a diffuser in front of the window. Second pic is with diffuser in front of the window and a reflector in front of the smoothie. Can’t believe how much difference the reflector made. Oh, I also changed the angle slightly for the second pic, just to get rid of the reflection off the teaspoon.

  • Sonja

    My first pic is with the side light and no light modifications. The second pic has angled reflection. I am impressed what a difference it makes. I like how it adds softness to my picture and contributes to the story-gift giving of apple sauce to a sick friend.

  • Misky

    I used white balance on Cloudy and light source blocking for this shot, f/stop 5.

  • Bam’s Kitchen

    My trash bags were a little too light so used a white cutting board as a reflector and I could not believe how such a little change could bring such big results. I had natural sunlight coming in from the left and reflector on the right at an angle.

  • Ok – heres the one with the diffuser – mines a 5-in-1 so it works pretty well. Had to hold to with one hand and balance it on my subjects head at the same time. Gave a nice even light and really provided a nice quality of light.

  • This is with side light

  • I didn’t have to use a prop, the light in the house was diffused by the clouds haha 🙂 Here is my shot

  • Guest

    Salted boiled groundnuts with a reflector at the back

  • Salted boiled ground nuts with a reflector at the back

  • Tomatoes with the reflector off to the right. And can I just say it requires all kinds of physical limberness to hold the reflector/diffuser while taking the photo.

  • Take 2. Tomatoes with the reflector off to the right. And can I just say it requires all kinds of physical limberness to hold the reflector/diffuser while taking the photo.
    Also, I shot this outside in the late afternoon and I was not a fan of the light. I went ahead anyway so I could get the experience of the lesson.

  • I am going to keep commenting on here until I get approved for the fb page – Hope that’s ok, I just want to get caught up ASAP.
    The first picture is taken without using a reflector. The second picture is taken with the reflector, positioned directly opposite the light source. Both photos have been diffused and are using side lighting.

  • ok, just kidding. I guess neither of them posted. We’ll try again 🙂

    • Zane Sproge

      Hi, as I am little bit late as well and going thou these posts now, I wanted to share my concern about one thing – You use very nice table in your photos, but that slit between boards can be distracting if it is not straight, but goes to one or another side. I hope you understand what I mean. I really like your photos – wonderful. I would like only to add a little bit of space to milk can in upper photo. I tried to crop your photo, I hope you it’s ok (my English is not so good as my cropping skills 😀 )

      • Guest

        (trying again to add a photo)

      • Zane Sproge

        Ok, it might bee that my photo adding skills are not enough so here is the link to photo: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bb2obugtfq2ilev/original_z.jpg?dl=0

      • Hi Zane – thanks for your comment! In the future, I would prefer no alterations be made to my photos without my prior consent. Thanks again for your comment – I appreciate your insight! 🙂

  • Peter Block

    I did not have a diffuser to use. what I did was to set up my table at a good spot to my light source. then, I kept moving the plate away from the light source. It helped me get the understanding though not exactly the assignment request.

  • Catharina Linkenbach

    so, play with light…I loved to use the bin bag :)))
    the pictures with diffused light came out best; maybe I should have bounced a bit more back in, but my reflector holder aka husband was not available at the time LOL

  • Ingunn Løvik

    This was a very important lesson for me. I went back to my original subject, cheese. I liked the pictures with diffused and reflected light best as it gives the right color and brightness of the cheese. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bfcfbf650c4d0b305a9198baf876f32d3d8648726581a2154ad92ad2b127c230.jpg

  • Jo Clark

    Dark DARK when I got home – Will be a day behind on this one!! Check me tomorrow!!