No, this is not just to take a photograph of your food before eating it to post on Instagram. Food photographers are artists. They make use of light to bring out the beauty in food. There are plenty of ways to light food, because food is just so diverse and has a lot of elements to it. An effective food photograph should make the viewer want to eat or buy the food. It should start cravings and entice the audience to dine at the restaurant and try it out.
Usually in magazine shoots or big productions, a food stylist works hand in hand with the photographer. That makes it easier for the photographer to focus on the lighting, compose the shots and set the overall mood of the photo. It would be ideal to have a stylist to have one less thing to worry about during the shoot.
In lifestyle and food photography, natural light is always preferred, as it gives a nice soft touch to the product. But using strobes to imitate this natural lighting can also be done, especially when natural light is insufficient.
Just like any photo, using just one light source will give you harsh shadows on the other side of the subject. To address this issue, the foam board will be your best friend. Foam boards are commonly used in food photography as they bounce of light efficiently, filling in the shadows.
You can use a rectangular soft box for the shoot or continuous lights with a diffuser. Place the light on the right or left side of the photo to start. Imagine your light source imitating sunlight coming form your window. You can place it leveling the table or just a little higher.
Next, place the foam board on the opposite side of the subject to fill the shadows.
Moving your light source to different sides also moves the direction of the shadows. You can try moving your lights to the left or right, front or back and see which angle suits your requirements.
You should look out to mimic natural lighting, even in the studio. Mimicking natural light is art. It takes skill and experience from the photographer. You will need a few extra lighting tools to achieve this. You can use a portable lighting kit with a large softbox. This mimics the effect of a huge window.
Keep in Mind
Starting with one light allows you to do basic setups and still achieve a high quality photo. An excellent light source can go a long, long way.