Mixing natural light with strobe to freeze movement in food photography
Mixing natural light with strobe!!!? What is this witchcraft? Movement in food photography? Now I’m not talking about capturing the peas as they fall off your plate or your beautifully stacked chocolate chip cookies as they fall over, one more time. Sometimes there’s some fast action and excitement, kind of. In order to capture the movement, in this lighting set up, you need to mix your lovely soft natural light with a pop of strobe to freeze the action of whatever’s moving.
In the example I’m going to give you today it’s simply the throwing of flour onto the counter top while making pasta. You could equally use this technique to freeze falling castor sugar onto freshly baked tarts or any other yummies.
The main light, or key light, is window light, camera left. My exposure is dictated by the window light. ISO 1250, f4, 1/60th. With a shutter speed of 1/60th sec, there is no way I’ll be able to freeze the flour as it’s thrown across the surface. I’ve already dialled in the settings required to get the exposure I’m looking for, using the natural light. I could increase my shutter speed, to freeze the action, but I would need to raise the ISO much higher to compensate, making the camera more sensitive to the light from the window during the faster shutter speed. I didn’t want the higher ISO noise to deal with, so this is my preferred solution.
I use Canon Speedlites. They have a very short flash duration, meaning the amount of time light is coming from the Speedlite is very short indeed. I have it on good authority that the light pulse is 1.8 ms (Milliseconds). That’s faster than I can eat a slice of chocolate cake… But only just. It is therefore possible to freeze fast moving subjects using nothing more than the flash duration.
Back to our example. I have set the exposure for the natural window light. I’m using the strobe as fill light, so it will be producing less light than the key, or window light. The Speedlite is mounted, camera right, in a 76 x 76 Lastolite Ezybox to soften the fill light and help it blend into the scene, about 2/3 stop less than the key light. Although there’s less light from the fill, it’s still able to freeze the action of the flour with the very short flash duration. Mixing natural light with strobe. It’s as easy as that. All’s you need a bit of practice to get the balance right for the look you want.
One more handy reason to have my flash in use for that shoot. I could very quickly up the power a little and use it as the key light source to grab a couple of other shots, helping me work faster.
There you have it. Mixing natural light with strobe for food photography is a very valuable tool for your kit bag. It’s a little more advanced but it works a treat.
That’s it for this food photography tip. If you have any questions please drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll happily answer them for you.
See you next time.