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Dark Mood Photography

This blog post is all about the mood that light can form to create a picture. If you have read any of my previous food photography posts, I also recommend using natural light for food photography, as this will give the food more natural tones/shadows, which equals a realistic picture.

During this blog, I will cover the way that I setup a dark mood food picture; the key to this type of styling is to use a dark background and props.

The main lighting technique for dark mood photography, is to use natural lighting and use blocks or boards to block the amount of the light falling within the frame for your food setup.

Here is a visual example of the type of lighting used for dark mood food photography. The objective for this type of image is to love the shadows and direct the light in the direction to the focal point of the image. After practising this type of lighting setup, you can form images that lead you in the image, tell a story and play with food compositions, to enhance the quality for each picture.

Here are some examples of my latest dark mood photography. Both images have been taken with a similar lighting setups, mentioned above.

Here are some key tips to consider:

1. Use a dark/black background

2. Find darker coloured props and non-reflective props

3. Remember to keep to a composition rule when styling and setting up your own picture

4. Use a wide aperture for depth of field

5. Decide which angle to shoot from, either side or from above (flat lay)

6. Use a light source that can be positioned at an angle to the object or bounced or spilled through two dark boards.

Let’s consider the lighting position and setup for this type of photography with either a window light or an artificial lighting source.

Contrast is key

Did you know that dark and moody food photography comes from a technique originally developed by Renaissance-era painters? It’s a technique that is called chiaroscuro that works by emphasising the contrast between light and dark: the chiaroscuro technique is a method that uses shadows and a single light source to create depth and drama.’

For my own dark mood photography, I use directional lighting and to setup this type of lighting, I use two pieces of black foam to direct the lighting across the frame. By placing the light to the side and letting the light spill through the foam card, I can direct the light to the food dish and I have the option to use reflectors to fill in shadows where required.

REMEMBER - Your main goal in dark food photography is reducing the amount of fill light that you reflect around the subject. You can bounce your fill light with reflectors around your set up or keep the shadows.

Here are three areas to help darken your image and control the depth of field.


· Aperture

· Timer

As these images are dark, start with an ISO of 100 for this low light picture. Use a wide aperture for depth of field, use a tripod and set your camera on a timer to prevent any camera shake.

Have you ever set your camera timer before?

You can set the limit of the timer to 2 seconds, 5 seconds or 10 seconds, when using this technique and for food photography I would recommend 2 seconds. These seconds relate to the the time it takes for you to press the shutter button and remove your hand away from the camera. Instead of using the camera timer, you can use a remote trigger to take each picture or use your phone app to trigger your camera.

Lastly, once you're set up with your lighting and timer, keep the shadows for the mood and direct the viewer's eye, this will help create the perfect dark mood picture.

Chatting Food Contributor: Samantha Peel


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