Steal This Dramatic One-Light Studio Lighting Setup for Food Photography – Fstoppers

I am going to walk you through how these dramatic food shots were created using only one flash and simple light shapers to imitate light coming through a window frame.

I wanted to create a shoot that felt monochromatic in regard to its styling and lighting, so I chose food ingredients that were either very light or dark in appearance to provide the subject with a high level of distinction. The background was a white textured board that allowed the broadest range of contrast for the scene. My camera was positioned directly overhead to capture a classic flat lay commonly used in food photography.

I used a Canon 5D Mark IV a camera of choice for me along with a 24-70mm lens. I love prime lenses, but the flexibility of this zoom is indispensable when testing and determining how best to crop the image while having the camera overhead. 

On this shoot, I had a heavy-duty Cambo studio stand. However, a Manfotto tripod and an overhead arm with sandbag is a great option as well. Like with any shoot that involves precise shadow placement, I do not advise shooting handheld. I shot everything tethered with Capture One straight to a computer screen.

I decided to start with an image of spoons and spices (as seen above). It is the closest setup of the planned three, and I chose to place a hard light low down to create the long, dark shadows. I used an Elinchrom studio flash with standard 21cm dish and barn doors, which further directed the light and allowed it to pool. I then added two black poly boards on either side to create a prominent shaft of light.

Below, you will see the next image in which I wanted to create a window frame just out of my crop. I increased the gap between two poly boards and added a strip of thick black card between them. Using pins to position the horizontal line was extremely useful, as I was taking shots and repositioning as I found better angles. The scene still needed a vertical window frame element, so I used a wooden batten attached to a heavy wooden box, which allowed easy repositioning to accurately create the shadow I wanted.

The shot of garlic had a similar setup, but I wanted to feather the shadow on the bottom right. To do this, I moved the poly board on the right farther away. This action made the shadow softer, and a little more light was let through to break up the bottom section of the image. 

I hope you enjoyed this lighting walk-through and learned something new today. The results of any lighting setup will look different depending on shooting location, distance of lights, and the flags used. My advice is to experiment and have fun until you get the results you like.