A Countertop Lighting Setup
When taking pictures of food in a kitchen you will almost always have to create your own lighting environment. Restaurant kitchens are usually lit by overhead fluorescent lighting that won’t help you make a beautiful picture of a dish. In these situations, you will have to make your own light. There is a problem, though. What happens when the shooting space is so small that you can’t fit a softbox or light stand into the kitchen? If you ever find yourself with only a counter top sized area to shoot on, this lighting set-up will create the shot you need!
You most likely already own everything that you need to create this set-up. You will need foam board or other white reflective board, a piece of diffusion material and tape.
Take the foam board or other white reflective board and cut it into two equal size pieces. Tape these two pieces together to make a V. The V should be able to stand up on its own when opened. The pieces of foam board should be large enough so that your flash can fit inside of the V. On the open portion of the V, you will tape a piece of diffusion material over the opening to create a triangle.
In the above example, I am using diffusion material from a small soft box that I already own. When stretched across the V it will create a triangle with two sides being white foam board and the third side being the white diffusion material.
This triangle soft box will sit on one side of your subject. On the other side you will need a piece of white foam board or other type of reflector. With a cutting board between my reflector and the triangle light box, it takes up about 2 feet of counter space. The size of your triangle light box is up to you. When opened, the one in the example is 14 inches wide. Choose a size that will easily fit on a counter top. The whole set-up collapses for easy travel and portability.
With this set up, you have several options on how to position your light. You can have the flash bounce off the foam board to create an indirect light source or you can have the flash fire straight through the diffusion material for a more direct light source.
Here is the set-up with fill and indirect diffused lighting. The indirect light source will give soft shadows on the subject.
Here is the set-up with fill and direct diffused lighting. Notice how the direct lighting has more defined shadows and a brighter highlights behind the egg roll.
Here is the set-up with no fill and direct diffused lighting.
If you want a fill level in between the fill and no fill look, remember that you can move a reflector closer or further away until it creates the look you desire.
Sometimes, you have no idea what shooting environment you will find yourself in. It is ideal to shoot in a large restaurant space with plenty of room to move around, but sometimes plans change and you have to be flexible.When in a bind and you have to shoot in very small working conditions, this lighting set up will help you get the look you need.
For more tips on food photography lighting tips check out issues 1-7 of photographing FOOD.