Understand and Play with Light

In this virtual world of food blogging, one doesn’t get to touch, smell or eat the food they see in your blog but if it is presented beautifully, it can surely make one drool and ask for more. One can set the mood, tell a story and create a connection with good photography. I wished to do the same and I wished to learn more, that’s how the journey with my camera started.

I am not a professional but a self taught amateur and a wannabe photographer who loves every aspect of photography, much more than her shoes or earrings! At least, that’s how it’s been these days.

It all started almost a year back when my blog was born and eventually made me realize the importance of good food photography.

There was a time when I used to think that only an expensive DSLR could click good photo. The fact is – yes, a DSLR can click good photos but one can MAKE great photos with whatever basic camera one has in hand. All you need to do is guide your camera to make the photo and don’t let it click as it wants.

You know what I mean — click in Manual Mode or at least start with Aperture Priority Mode! Just get away from the Auto Mode.

After receiving many emails and requests, I finally decided to start a series on Photography. It will be difficult to cover all the aspects in just one post. Therefore, a series made more sense. The posts may not come back to back but I promise not to make you wait for long. I would talk about whatever I have learned so far and try to explain in my best possible way.

Before we move to the technicalities like camera modes, setting, composition, RAW, post processing and other different terminology, let’s start with basic — Light!  Since I only use natural lighting without any flash, that’s all I can discuss here. Probably, later I would invite someone to talk about studio lighting.

There are different types of lighting and you have to figure out what suits best but first you have to know what they are.

Hard Light – Hard Light is direct sunlight that falls on a subject creating a strong shadow and a high contrast. It can help creating a dramatic mood where the texture and shape of the object gets highlighted. I feel that shadow gives life to a subject and removing it completely can make a photo look flat.

In the below photos, I prefer the hard light as the high contrast enhances the texture, the water droplets and the shadow to give a summer-y feeling.

Soft Light – When the incoming light is diffused or reflected, which in turn helps to illuminate the entire area and thereby creating a softer tone, is known as soft light. It creates a very airy feeling. On an overcast day, the cloud acts as a natural diffuser and all you need to do is use a reflector to avoid the shadows (if you want to). I personally enjoy photo shooting on a cloudy day, inside or outside.

Diffuser helps softening the incoming light and gives a more pleasing effect. Place it in between the subject and the source of light. Depending on how harsh the raw light is, you might have to use a thicker or thinner diffuser.

Reflector bounces the incoming light, thereby reducing the shadow and creating a nice well-lit area. You have to place it next to your subject and opposite to the incoming light for reflection; it’s pure science.

I use a thin white cloth as my diffuser, which I clip on the window blinds using wooden pinchers.  A cheap white foam board will work as a great reflector and jumper cables (worth couple of bucks in any hardware stores) works great to hold the board straight.

Here is an example of same set up with different diffusers (black and white) and no diffuser.

I usually diffuse the incoming light on a sunny day and ignore it on a cloudy day. Depending on how I wish to set the mood, I at times use a reflector and at times I don’t. I personally like a little shadow here and there.

Whether using hard light or soft light, it’s important to understand the direction of the lighting. My favorite would be side light and once in a while, i prefer back light.

Side Lighting: This is the kind of lighting that you would see in most of my photos. I shoot by the window and I make the light fall either from left or right, which makes it side lighting. It’s said to be the most dependable choice of lighting as it’s easy to work with and creates a lovely dimension to your subject. Depending on what you are shooting and what mood you want to set, you could either use a reflector and minimize the shadow or let it stay there! Moving the object too close to the window will create reflection and hard light. Moving it little far away will create a softer tone.

Back Lighting: When the source of light (e.g.: window) is right in front of you and the light is falling on the subject from behind, it’s called back lighting. For me, this is the most challenging kind of lighting and yet, it can work wonders with certain subjects. With back lighting, the background will be more washed out as compared to side lighting.

At times, I like to use both back and sidelight. And depending upon how strong the light is, I either diffuse both sources of light or none.

Apart from these, there is also Front Lighting and Top Lighting where as the name suggests; the light would fall on the subject from top or front. I don’t use either of these lightings for food photography and don’t have much to say on it. I have read in couple of places that both these lightings are not a right option for food photography as they can create distracting shadows. Then again, may be you can create a dramatic one too!

Whether to use hard or soft light, which direction of light to choose from and should you diffuse, reflect or do nothing would completely depend on what kind of subject you are photographing and what mood or story you want to convey. I would say try all the different lightings to understand them better. Find something from your kitchen, grab a bowl or a plate or whatever you prefer and start experimenting with lights!

As I mentioned before, I am still learning and if you think I have missed out any important points on Indoor natural lighting, please email me using the contact form and I would be glad to update it on the post. I would be publishing  the next part of series in a couple of weeks and it would be about Camera Modes. We will see how the Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO can play a vital role in  photography.


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What a wonderful and informative post Kankana!!! Lighting is so important, but often difficult to get right. It’s so helpful to see the same photo but showing the different lighting effects. I often use back lighting and sometimes side, depending on how I feel and what I think works for the look I am going for.

You’re photography is so stunning, it’s difficult to believe you have only been blogging and sharing your beautiful photos for a year.

Kankana says:

Thanks Jennifer! Your photos always has such amazing lighting 🙂

athena says:

The first thing I think about is light, wherever I am with a camera 🙂 I look forward to this series. You’re a natural, Kankana!

Kankana says:

You know how much I like your work. Your words means a lot! 🙂

Vishakha says:

I am so thrilled to see this post! Your photography is no less than a pro! Kankana, I am sure you’ll achieve your dream of becoming a pro soon! Thank you so much for sharing and starting this beautiful series! Look forward to more:)

Kim Bee says:

I love this new series. This is going to help me so much. You are so talented so it’s nice to see you doing this.

Brook says:

Thank you for this series! It is something I am just starting to learn about but it can all be rather intimidating. I appreciate you sharing your experience. Can’t wait for the next installment.

Aunt Clara says:

I think I am going to start sending some of my readers here. So far I haven’t had the time to write about photography and frankly think that I might start to just repeat what it’s out there already. I like that you explained it very simply. Good job.

And yes, photography is painting with light.

Kankana says:

Thank you so much! 🙂 Really glad you liked it!

your tips and information for photography are so amazing and so helpful but I still wish you could just the pics for me! LOL! I love this post and bookmarking it for future reference

Thank you so much for starting this new series Kankana. Loved this post on light! I have read a lot of information of light in food photography.I noticed that a lot of people sad that hard lighting is not the best choice, soft lighting with no shadow is right etc etc… but I have personally always loved hard lighting with dark shadows. Also… I never start photographing with a plan. I start shooting and then decide how I will shoot depending on the natural lighting available to me. I liked that fact that you mentioned hard and soft lighting as ‘choices’ and not saying that one is better than the other. It depends on how one uses it 🙂

Kankana says:

Same here. At times I like the harsh light and your photos are amazing. The shadow and the highlights that you create is amazing. And just like you .. i cannot plan much. I just keep thinking how to place it while am prepping and that keep moving around things 🙂

Vaishnavi says:

What a superb post!! So precise and easy to understand.. Your photographs are
Gorgeous!! Looking forward to your next post on food photography:))

Prerna says:

Very informative about the most basic and important information…thanks Kankana!!!

Looking forward to your future posts 🙂

Kiran says:

Nice article on indoor natural lighting. Great work!!

Kankana says:

Hey thanks Kiran. It means a lot 🙂 Didn’t realize it was you until now!

What wonderful post Kankana!!!
You never fail to amaze me with your talent gal…
So much to learn here..Loving it!!

Priya says:

Needless to say… how amazing and informative this post is! Thanks for sharing the photography technique that you follow 🙂

Radhika says:

I simply loved reading thru this post. It was like explaining me with you standing by my side and not at all like lecturing which is how I felt other articles did you know do this, do that and vice versa. I’m so looking forward to more posts in this series.

Simone says:

Great post Kankana. You know I love your photography and this is a great post for anyone learning about lighting and what it does. To add to your comment on front ligthing; I find that food food photography it doesn’t add anything to make the food look appealing. It is very flat and unattractive light which doesn’t show any structure or shine on the food making it look dull and unappealing…

Kankana says:

Thank you Simon 🙂 I will add your note in the post.

Spandana says:

Very informative Kankana. I would have loved too see a few behind the shoot pictures.
Looking forward for more posts.

Kankana says:

Thanks Spandana! I will try to add some behind the shoot picture. I just click by a small window in my dinning area. Nothing much to share actually 🙂 But, I will try to include that in the next post of the series.

Really helpful post for photographers! If light is not right, no amount of processing will overcome it. A very well explained post K! Looking forward to the series..

Rosa says:

A fabulous post! Very interesting. Your pictures are amazing! I really like the first one.



Oh I just came right away when I saw the title of the email. I only read partially so far but I was too excited and wanted to thank you first for the amazing tips and all these tutorials. I’m going to focus on reading your post now. THANK YOU once more… 🙂

Arch says:

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for starting this series…I love your photography and was hoping you would start one soon…this is going to be so helpful ! Very nicely explained and right amount of info without all the technical details !!

Nandita says:

Lovely post Kankana!!! Despite photographing food for a long time, I have started experimenting with light only recently. So this post is really very helpful for me. Thanks so much for posting this 🙂

Lisa H. says:

Wow this is great Kankana…
Looking forward to many more photography tips/post from you … 🙂
Thanking you in advance 🙂

Tes says:

Wow wow! What an informative and beautiful post 🙂 Thanks for the tips 🙂

Eha says:

This is a post to be filed and seriously studied at leisure. Being but an interested but amateur photographer every tip, every lesson will be of use, and not only in food photography! Thanks Kankana!

Debjani says:

Kankana, you are brilliant at what you do. Taking the time to create a teachable post says a lot about you as well. Thank you so much for this well written post. The first picture is mind blowing. For the first time I on your post I didn’t want to eat what was in the picture but keep looking and looking and trying to understand the shot. I hope you will have more for us someday soon.

Asmita says:

Hi Kankana,
This is such an amazing and useful post! I have always admired your recipes, presentation and photography. I love the way you have shown the same dish with 3 different lighting.
Lighting is key to a good picture.
Thanks so much for sharing these tips.

Shinta says:

Fascinating, Kankana. Thanks for this series. Your photographs are testament to the skill and dedication that you have. I’m looking forward to this series.

dassana says:

that a helpful post kankana. i love both hard light and soft light. many of my photos are shot in hard light. i also feel that shadows do give the pics a certain character & life and without them they look dull & flat. as a learning photographer it is propping & styling that is always a challenge to me.

Hey, I am really happy to see this post, specially coz I am still struggling with my DSLR and am in the learning phase. Glad you started this series and touched the most important aspect of food photography first.Very informative post…thanks Kankana!!! Looking forward to your future posts:).

Abi says:

Thanks for the informative post. luv the first pic. & look forward to other posts in this series.

Although I come from the RECIPES world, I cannot but admire your beautiful photos. I’ll make sure to visit more often. Thanks.

Allison says:

Thanks for this post! I’m usually impatient when it comes to learning about photography, as I’d rather just focus on the food… but your explanations and photos made this an enjoyable way to do it!

naomi says:

I’m so excited for this series. I love your photography, so I can’t wait to read more.

mjskit says:

What a great post! Lots of wonderful information and your illustrations are perfect! I’m a huge fan of hard light and dramatic results, which is exactly what most of the food porn sites DON’T like. I guess it goes back to the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I love all of your photography and you shared you knowledge in such a great way. Thank you!

Deepa says:

I just came across your blog and I am floored! It is beautiful!! Very nice pictures and wonderful recipes. One of these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a cook book with your name at Amazon! Truly beautiful blog!

Thank you for staring this series,I started Blogging about an year back.However,since I don’t have a SLR Camera,I take pictures from my Digicam.Not too many options in a Digicam,but thankfully I am getting better over a period of time,learning more about shooting with it.
I have a little question,if you could please answer:
“At times, I like to use both back and sidelight.” Can you please explain this,perhaps with an example?How can light fall from the back and from the side at the same time?Do you use two different sources,like sunlight from a window and artificial light?
Thank you!:-)

Kankana says:

Thanks Fahad for dropping by 🙂
If you look at my blog pics, most of the photos will have both back light and side light and that’s because, in my tiny apt I got lucky with windows which makes it a well lit area. I will share some example on this along with the next post of the series. It may not happen immediate, but I will try to make it at the earliest.

The idea is you should have a light coming from behind the food ( around 12 o’clock ish) and another source of light should be on the side .. either left or right ( 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock) and your camera should be placed at 6 o’clock. I am sorry if this explanation sounds stupid LOL.
You could definitely use artificial light if you don’t have enough window lights from both back and side. And you could either diffuse both the window light or none or either of them. Hope this helps. Do email me if you need more explanation.

Oh,it does not sound stupid at all!Thank you so much for explaining!:-) I actually thought so,I knew that the light from back would be at 12’O clock angle,but was not sure how to get a light from the side.I was wondering if it was two windows or something,one for the back light,and one for the side.
Unfortunately,in my case,the window in the kitchen,is no good,there is a very small windowsill,that cannot even support a small plate.Next to it is the sink,hehe.Will shoot by the window of the living room,or lobby,I guess,and use artificial light for the side.
I look forward to the coming posts in this series!Thank you again,you are very kind and helpful!:)

Kankana says:

In my previous apt, I used to click by the bedroom window as the light was better. YOu have have to figure out which window gives the best source of light 🙂

nipponnin says:

Very pretty. Thank you for the mini lesson but I think you’re naturally talented artist. Can’t wait for the next post.

I loved this post. Such handy and informative tips. I always struggle with lighting as I take most of my photos in the evening as I work during the day or I point and click as I have 2 little munchkins climbing over me.

A great resource Kankana, beautiful photos too!

Dear Kankana- Absolutely love this series on photography. Very informative post. I’m going to play around with light and take some pictures using the techniques you have mentioned. Looking forward to your next post. All your clicks here are breathtaking and so professional. Would love to learn a thing or two from You.

Jacqueline says:

Kankana – I have so much to learn! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your knowledge on photography. It is really useful.
You are such a talented photographer – any snippets of info are much appreciated. The differences in the photos above really demonstrate you have well trained eyes in this domain 🙂

Great post Kan, Thank you for write up and brain storm the subject *Lighting. You’re awesome!

Great post Kankana! The quote is one of my favorites. It’s funny because I’ve just finished typing up a similar article on light, for a project I’m working on. Anyways, really looking forward to your new series. We can always learn from each other. Plus it’s great to see how others understand or perceive the principals of photography. Cheers and I’m sure your series will rock:)

This is a truly informative post, Kankana! Thanks for taking the time to share!

Gnana says:

I don’t like to cook, nor do I have much penchant for cameras, and yet I visited ur blog just for the heck of it! Didn’t realize it would be a learning experience in itself, and at the end of it, I couldn’t help wondering if you’d have understood half of this if Ms. Ratna Chakraborty (Physics teacher in Army School) had taught out of the physics curriculum! Experience!!! Excellent detailing Kankana!

Kankana says:

Prasuna .. you are funny my friend 😀 Physics was never my fav subject anyway 😉 Thanks buddy for dropping my and leaving a note!

Shumaila says:

I love your photography and if all your posts are going to be like this-informative and visually appealing (those photos are making me hungry) am looking forward to this new series of yours!

Thank you Kankana… a brilliant post and most importantly thank you for sharing all these tips with us (you had to give in to our requests)!

Love and wishes to you… look forward to your amazing posts anyway, but this one is going to be bookmarked and shared:)

rebecca says:

very impressive you and prerna need to host workshops

Joanne says:

Your photos are always so gorgeous! Thanks for the tutorial!

Maja says:

Such impressive and educative post and photos Kankana!

vidya says:

Thank you for starting this new series!!!i absolutely love your photography…
A few of my fav are mixed berry lassi,carom seed crackers,khandvi…(oops i don’t think i can stop that list…)i look forward to the coming posts in this series!!!

lovely detailed post and lots of work to share thank you Kankana for sharing

Kiran says:

A very informative post, Kankana. Looking forward to more series in the future 🙂

There series sounds wonderful, and this is such a fantastic pot/tutorial Kankana!

Poornima says:

I can’t wait for the rest of the series! I have a ton to learn and can never get enough of such tips! Always love your photograps!

Thanks for the tips sweetie 🙂

Cakewhiz says:

Thanka for sharing all these tips kankana! I learnt so much and i can’t wait to apply some of these lighting techniques in my next photo session 🙂

Very informative and interesting! I just recently made the decision to take the time to improve my photography, so look forward to learning from your series. Thanks!

BongMom says:

Thanks Kankana. Great resource and very nicely explained too

Kim Bee says:

Kankana, I was considering painting the room I use as my blog room/studio. So I was curious if it matters what color I paint the room. Right now it’s burgandy and I get weird glow on my food. Would painting the room white help if it’s a small room? I really want to paint it a super light pink but I’m concerned it will cast shadows. Help?

Kankana says:

Hi Kim, thanks for dropping by 🙂
I am not sure how to answer this question so this is what I would do if I had a dedicated room for photo shooting. I would paint it whatever color I like and buy white foam board to use as a reflector and huge white cloth to hand on the window to use as a diffuser. I am not sure how small your room is and if you wish you use the wall as a reflector in stead of buying a separate board, in which case it would make sense. To avoid shadow you can always use a white foam board as a reflector or buy those professional ones from the market. Hope this helps 🙂

Such a stunning Blog. I am going to lap up every post from here…

Deepa says:

This post particularly is going to help me a lot to fight shadows..Kankana if I ask you some silly questions regarding food photography will you answer? 🙂 Like does wearing white color dress while taking (close up of food)pictures actually helps?

Kankana says:

That is not a silly question at all Deepa 🙂 It’s actually a very interesting question something I would have not thought of. Normally I do not care what am wearing while photo shooting unless I am going really close and the utensil I am using is shiny which means reflection can happen. So I guess depending on that you might want to wear a color that doesn’t show up in the bowl. Once, I was shooting a glossy steel bowl and i was wearing a blue T shirt. Did’t realize it then and there but later I saw a tiny blue dot on the bowl which was distracting. I hope I am able to answer your question. 🙂

Loved your post & your great tips … Can’t wait to see more 🙂

nags says:

love your pics and this post! congrats on the DMBLGiT win 🙂

Wonderful post Kankana, I can’t wait for the rest of the series and I know I will be back to read this again and again

Aniko says:

Yr photos are so beautiful, i found yr blog searching amazing photos in web..
Thnks for these precious infos ,i start to use manual mode on my DSLR only few weeks ago.Diaphragm and manual focus not always ‘obey’ me , i have to learn more.Sure i’ll follow yr posts!

Tanvi says:

This is such a fantastic post! I’ve always admired your photographs so much. It’s nice to see how you frame them! Have you ever experimented with using artificial lighting at all?

Manisankar says:

Kankana.. what a superb article..
I actually missed this post and came back and read it after reading your second post..

Great Job..

Namitha says:

How come I missed this post. I have to learn a lot more about light. I am saving this and definitely come back to it and learn more 🙂