Camera Settings for Food Photography in Low-light Conditions

food photography low-light conditions

When you are at a restaurant or a cafe, being a food blogger or a photography enthusiast the first thing you do when your food comes to your table is to click photos. But there are situations when you might struggle to get properly exposed photos or get irritated because you are not able to capture sharp photos. One of the reasons for these issues could be low-lighting conditions in the restaurant/cafe or on your table, and you do not have any external flash or light source.

In this article, I would be talking you through some basic camera setting using which you can capture well-exposed and shake-free photos

Which camera mode to use while doing food photography in low-light conditions?

Never let the camera decide the exposure for you, instead take the control in your hands. To do so, you need to get rid of the automatic mode and start using the manual mode or at least get started with aperture priority. There is nothing wrong in using the automatic mode, but it is better when you take charge of the exposure by manually adjusting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Your camera does not know how much blur effect you need out of a particular photo or whether you are using a tripod or not, it is you who should adjust the camera setting in order to get desired results.

By using the aperture priority mode, you can adjust the aperture value and get the desired depth of field (blur effect). Having said that, the camera will take care of other two factors that affect the exposure: shutter speed and ISO. So if you wish to get shallow depth of field (mode blur effect), select a lower F number and your camera will on its own detect the required shutter speed and ISO depending on the available light.

The best possible camera mode would be manual mode as it allows you to control all three factors affecting the exposure of the camera: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. This could a bit confusing and difficult to use for those of you who have been clicking photos in automatic mode, but once you get used to the manual mode you would never move back to the automatic mode.

food photography low-light conditions

What Aperture value to use while doing food photography in low-light conditions?

The first thing that you should adjust on your camera should be the aperture value of your lens. It is recommended that you invest in a lens which can allow you to shoot at f/1.8 or at least f/2.8 as small F number lets in more light. By using a wide aperture (small F number) you allow more light to enter through the lens at a defined shutter speed.

Since you would be clicking photos in low-light conditions, try and use the minimum aperture value available on your lens. Using f/1.8 or f/2.8 would let in maximum possible light at a given shutter speed. The additional benefit of using small F number is that you would get shallow depth of field (more blur effect), thus keeping the subject that you focus on sharp and the background gets out-of-focus.

food photography low-light conditions

What shutter speed to use while doing food photography in low-light conditions?

Shutter speed defines the duration of time for which the light enters the camera. A fast shutter speed will let in less light but will give you a sharp photo as it freezes the motion of the subject, whereas a slow shutter speed will let in light for more duration of time but might introduce shake while clicking handheld.

While clicking photos at a restaurant in low-light conditions, you should ideally be clicking at a slow shutter speed at which you know there wouldn’t be any camera shake while clicking handheld. While shooting handheld, some people can click sharp photos at 1/30 sec but some people might be comfortable with 1/50 or 1/60 sec. To be on a safer side, try using a shutter speed anything between 1/60 sec and 1/100 sec so that you let in light for the desired exposure and also avoid introducing shake in your photos.

What ISO value to use while doing food photography in low-light conditions?

Adjusting the ISO value lets you increase or decrease the sensitivity of the camera sensor. A higher ISO value will make the sensor more sensitive to light, thus increasing the exposure, but it will also introduce grains in the image. Whereas low ISO value will keep the sensor less sensitive to light and it also eliminated grains in the image.

As you would be clicking photos of various dishes in low-light conditions, you would have to increase the sensitivity of your image sensor in order to properly expose the frame. But why increase the ISO when you can adjust the shutter speed and aperture?

As I mentioned above, if the lighting conditions are such that even after setting the minimum possible shutter speed of 1/60 sec (to avoid shake) and aperture value of f/1.8 or f/2.8 you are getting underexposed photos, the last resort is to increase the ISO. This will let you increase the exposure in your photo and capture a perfectly exposed shot. Yes, this might introduce grains in your photo after increasing ISO value to a certain number depending on your camera model, but at least you would get a sharp image and shallow depth of field. he best way to click photos in low-light conditions

One of the best ways to click handheld photos in low-light conditions is to set the ISO to automatic. You specify the shutter speed and aperture and let the camera pick the ISO value as per the available light. This will let you focus more on the framing rather than worrying about getting the exposure correct.

food photography low-light conditions

What White balance mode to use while doing food photography in low-light conditions?

Every restaurant or cafe would have different lighting and thus the temperature of light falling on the food would vary place to place. There is no specific white balance mode that will allow you to get the temperature correct, thus you will have to manually browse through different modes and choose the one that gives you the accurate color temperature.

The way I do it is, I ensure that I am always clicking my photos in RAW format and set the white balance to automatic. At the time of post processing in Lightroom or Photoshop, the first thing I adjust is the white balance. Clicking photos in RAW format allows you to adjust the white balance at the time of post processing, thus you can focus more on framing and composition.

What if the lens does not focus on the subject while doing food photography in low-light conditions?

One of the issues that you might face while clicking photos in low-light conditions is the inability of the lens to focus automatically on the subject. In such situations, you need to switch the lens focusing to manual and adjust the focus ring manually to set the focus on the desired spot.

I hope these camera settings help you click sharp and well-exposed photos at a restaurant or a cafe, even if the light conditions are not that good. If you have any other questions, feel free to share them in the comments below.

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About Author

Kunal Malhotra
Kunal Malhotra, a photography enthusiast whose passion for photography started 6 years back during his college days. Kunal is also a photography blogger, based out of Delhi. He loves sharing his knowledge about photography with fellow aspiring photographers by writing regular posts on his blog: The Photography Blogger. Some of his favourite genres of photography are Product, Street, Fitness and Architecture.