Simple Artificial Light for Food Photography in Small Spaces

A lot of food and product photographers begin their journey in a tiny space with limited room for lighting and equipment. Food photographer Rachel Korinek has an amazing setup for recreating big window light in a small space.

The thing that really stood out for me with Korinek’s setup is how she makes use of her window to recreate big-yet-soft window light using a strobe and a diffuser. I often use a white wall to bounce my light off before sending it through a big sheet of diffusion material to recreate that same soft-window light effect. The flash is in between the wall and the diffusion material. When shooting onsite, I’ll bring a small V-flap or a trifold presentation foam board to create the same effect. This video was the first time I saw a window with a modifier being used to bounce the light off.

The thing I really like about this method is how easy it can be to duplicate the angle of the sun if you want to recreate a particular shadow length. I also like how space-saving the setup is. This is a great setup for not only homes but also restaurant shoots where you may want to recreate the atmosphere of the window seating and you don’t have a lot of space in which to work. When shooting in restaurants, you are often confined to a small area as to not interfere with service.

The window Korinek uses is rather large. Not everyone will have access to such a large window. But I can see a use-case where you tack the diffusion material or modifier to the wall. In fact, I tested bouncing the light off diffusion material directly on the wall, directly off the wall without diffusion, and my regular method to recreate window light, except I used the wall instead of a V-flat.

Left image: Wall-diffusion-flash setup. Center image: Wall-flash setup. Right image: Wall-flash-diffusion setup. 

As you can see in the close-ups of the shadows, the first two methods produce near identical results. If you don’t have white walls in your space, you could use a white reflector against the wall and bounce the flash off that to create a hard sunlight look. And if you want softer, more diffuse shadows, which is my preference, then you need that extra two-feet of space to create enough space between the wall-flash-diffusion for the softer shadows.

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9 Comments
Robert Nurse's picture

I'm confused by the use of the diffuser as she's using it like a reflector. Perhaps the closed blinds in the back are serving as reflectors to send the strobe light back through the diffuser?

Jules Sherred's picture

It's to create a big, evenly distributed light source to get those soft shadows without a hotspot. The entire diffuser lights up, creating the desired effect.

Nick Hanekom's picture

I'm with you, too, Robert. I've seen a couple of the Lighting tutorial videos by Two Loves Studio and don't quite understand the theory behind this technique.

Tony Clark's picture

I enjoyed the video and learned a couple of things that I'll test out, you're never too old to learn something new.

Uneternal Van de Dood's picture

She calls that a "small space"?

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

why use the window for natural light when you dont use the window for natural light. it is a still life photo so why not use the window light?

Tony Clark's picture

I assume because the tutorial is about using flash, I love utilizing natural light but there are times when it's not appropriate.

Jules Sherred's picture

To elaborate on what Tony said, not only are their situations where it isn't appropriate, those of us who live at more Northern lattitudes have limited hours with usable daylight. In the winter, window light is almost never usable without having to do a new white balance shot every 10 minutes. Plus, this setup saves a lot of square feet by using the window to hold the diffuser to create the appropriate sized lightsource that is soft instead of the harder light that is created when bouncing off a wall or deflector.

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

I live i Northern lattitudes.I combine flash and natural light. Longer shutter speed for the still life photos. With a CTO-filter to match the light outside and the result will have a more "natural look".

Nothing wrong what the photographer did but i would done it different for the natural look.