How to Guide: Create Dark Food Photography (With Just a Box)

Ever wondered how food photographers create those really bold images of still life or dark food photography? The answer is so simple, you’ll be shooting away like a pro by the time you’ve read this post.

All you need is a box surrounded by negative fill.

Want To Shoot Dark Food Photography Just Like This?

With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.
With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.

How To Guide: Create Dark Food Photography (With Just A Box)

What You Need

Deep Box To Shoot In

Negative Fill Cards (Black Foam Core)

Clamps or Sticky Tack (Blue Tack)

For best results use an old wooden box if you have access to one. The texture of the box will add to the image.
Your box should be deep enough that it will create a shadows at the bottom of the box and the subject inside.

The Set Up

With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.

The set up for shooting in a box to create dark food photography is just a matter of setting your food in the box, and surround it by negative fill (black foam core).

To set up, place negative fill cards around your box to reduce light bounce into the box.

For this dark food photography set up, your focus should be on the placement of the black foam core.

Negative Fill Card 1

Your first negative fill card should be placed on the opposite side to the light source to reduce light from bouncing back into the box.

Negative Fill Card 2

Your second negative fill card should be placed at the back of the box. I’ve done this to reduce the light bouncing from off my white walls back into the box.

Negative Fill Card 3

The last negative fill card to create dark food photography has been placed between the light source and the subject. This is to reduce the light falling onto the subject.

You’ll want to play around with the distance from the light source of this negative fill card to see how it reduces the light.

With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.
With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.

In these surrounding images, if you look closely you can see how the light is falling on the grapes in the box.

The result of moving the negative fill card 3 changes how the light is falling onto the subject. Below you can see the box has more light the further the card is from the box. The closer the card is to the box, the less light and more shadow.

Play around with the negative fill card between the window and the subject to increase/decrease light.

With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.
With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.

The Results!

From the set up above, these are the shots that I captured.

I love the depth and the dark space. I feel like it draws me in, whilst not detracting from the bold statement of the raw beauty of the grapes and artichokes.

With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.
With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.
With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.
With just a box and some negative fill you can create dark food photography images. Click to read how to guide and behind the scenes images.

Are you ready to create dark food photography or still life images? Have an old box you’re excited to put to good use now?

I’d love to see what you come up with. Leave a link in the comments below so we can all take a peek at your work!

RELATED: How to Recreate Moody Natural Food Photography Lighting

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41 Comments

  • Reply Melissa September 1, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    Oh i can’t wait to try this rachel. Can you advise on the equipment you use in this shoot to hold your fill card? So sick of falling reflectors onto my set knocking glasses of liquid over. Also your tripod type 😊sorry for all the questions. Ha.

    • Reply Rachel September 2, 2016 at 2:06 pm

      Isn’t that the worst? It does make for a better story than I just broke my favourite glass wear washing it up (doh!). I have a few Manfrotto 5001B lighting stands. Just helps with the hands free. My tripod is absolute gold but doesn’t come cheap. It’s a Gitzo carbon Fibre Tripod. Ball head is additional.

      BUT, you don’t have to spend so much money. When I first started I used a clothes rack (like this) to clamp my reflectors too, or hang a sheet to diffuse.

      • Reply sharon benton November 17, 2016 at 9:11 am

        I looked at the Gitzo tripod, as it came highly recommended – and it’s a very nice tripod indeed! However, just starting out, I decided to go with Enduro. It was about 1/2 the price and is very stable. It holds my 5D Mark 3 very well. It may be a little heavier, but that means I just get a better work out setting up and carrying around – right! LOL! I’m very happy with it. Maybe one day, a Gitzo…

        • Reply Rachel November 18, 2016 at 5:59 pm

          Yes it’s not necessary to get the best all the time. You get something you can afford and that will work. Then you see what you like and what functions are missing and go from there. It’s better to have a cheaper tripod than none at all (and when I say cheap, I just mean not expensive!).

    • Reply Tim Walter September 2, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      There’s never enough help holding modifiers. When shooting on a tabletop I use large metal bookends and magnets. It works great.

      • Reply Rachel September 9, 2016 at 8:52 am

        You’re on the money there Tim! Love the problem solving. What a great tip. Get on this everyone!

  • Reply Marisa Franca @ All Our Way September 1, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    I ditto what Melissa said! I have some clamps but for some reason, I can barely open them and they won’t hold the cards. And now that I have a heavier camera my tripod is all wrong. It’s a really iffy thing if I try putting my new one on there. The head on the tripod isn’t very versatile. I like the idea that your head has that long reach that looks over the box. If I would try that with my tripod you’d see the legs. 🙁 Nicole from The Spice Train does some really great shots with the dark moody look. I always think it’s great to expand your wings. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re doing. Now to find an old box 🙂

    • Reply Rachel September 2, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      SO many feels there Marisa!

      If you can see in the images, I have a 5kg (10lb) sand bag on the top of the tripod to stop it from falling top down (as yes the camera is super heavy and will be unbalanced).
      I know what you mean by seeing the legs. Mine actually can be taken apart so that you can swap the side in which the arm extends to avoid this. This kind of feature will be available on better models of tripods.The Manfrotto 055 series can do this.
      Yes those clamps can be really tight to get open, I do hear that. You just need something simple like this, which I have seen at a couple of dollar stores.

      Yes she does! Super cool.

  • Reply Justin @ SaltPepperSkillet September 2, 2016 at 2:35 am

    I love this and can’t wait to try the setup! So beautiful.
    I did something similar with grapes a while back, but not completely boxed in. You can check it out on my IG at https://www.instagram.com/p/BHBIg4yDZ84/

    • Reply Rachel September 2, 2016 at 2:19 pm

      Oh great! So simple and such rewarding results. I totally think this is something to hit up before halloween! Awesome image! How beautiful is that light?

  • Reply Jonathan Thompson September 2, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Love these shots Rachel, you’ve no idea how long this kind of shoot has been on my to shoot list. Maybe your long distance kick up the proverbial is what I’ve needed.

    • Reply Rachel September 2, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Oh great! I kinda do. Like me it has been a year in between shots, time just gets away from us. This is for sure a long distance kick up the bum! Those cherries you shot for the baking tray would be killer in a box like this! Mmmm, that gives me an idea for the summer.

      • Reply Jonathan Thompson September 2, 2016 at 4:53 pm

        Thanks Rachel, the Murdered Cherries are quite popular and the set up on the tray was almost accidental. I have trouble with cherries after living in Canada. The Okanagan cherries are soooooo good in the summer and I can eat my way through a bag of fresh cherries no trouble at all. The tiny little packets you see here in a supermarket are pretty sad. Home sick for Canada again, it’s been a trait this year. Time to save up for a trip.

  • Reply Brynley King September 2, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Rachel! You are seriously amazing!!! This is so stunning!

    • Reply Rachel September 2, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      Fun hey Bryn! Lovely to see your face around here xx

  • Reply Meg @ With Salt and Wit September 3, 2016 at 1:15 am

    They are beautiful! Would you mind sharing your settings? I always have trouble with dark photos as my photos always turn out under exposed. Exposure is always my problem! ugh.
    Thanks!

    • Reply Rachel September 9, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Hey Meg! Happy to share the setting I used to capture this shot. The thing is though, my settings aren’t really going to help you. See the settings I used worked for the light I had, (time of day, intensity, direction, distance from light source etc), the depth of box, look and concept. You could take my settings into any other conditions and you wouldn’t get the same results. What will help you is really understanding the relationship between your settings, ISO, aperture and shutter speed. If you aren’t shooting manual, the camera is deciding the settings for you and it’ll never be able to capture what you’ve envisioned. My hope is to offer some 1:1 coaching later this month so that’s something we could chat about so hopefully you’re on my list!

      For this shot: ISO 200, f/5.6 at 1/4 sec.

      Feel free to email me if you’d like to see something about this up on the blog!

  • Reply 5 Tips For Capturing Dark And Moody Food Photography | Beyond The Eats September 5, 2016 at 9:46 am

    […] Tip 2. How To Guide: Create Dark Food Photography (With Just A Box) via TwoLovesStudio.Com […]

  • Reply Alejandra September 13, 2016 at 7:40 am

    Thanks indeed for sharing Rachel! I love it!
    I’ll take the challenge to create an A – Z project of fruits and veggies this fall as you suggested on your post “5-steps-to-discover-your-food-photography-style” and applied this technique you shared.
    Thanks again, your amazing!

    • Reply Rachel September 16, 2016 at 11:27 am

      You’re welcome Alejandra. That sounds great. All the best with it!

  • Reply Justin @ SaltPepperSkillet September 28, 2016 at 12:15 am

    Hi Rachel,
    Watching the video was super helpful to see how you work. My question is about using the gradual filter and then the adjustment brush. Was the gradual filter necessary since you ended up masking out the details anyway? Or do they work together? Thanks so much!

    • Reply Rachel September 28, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Hey Justin! Thanks for watching, glad that you found it helpful. Great questions. There are so many different ways you can approach editing and none are right or wrong necessarily. Essentially, you’re correct, you could just use the adjustment brush. I tend to start with the gradient filter as it allows you to gain control and even up the particular item that you are targeting (which in this case was exposure and shadows). By using this tool I was able to get a more even playing field to tweak to what I needed. If I used the brush I would have had to be careful that I was applying the correct level of decreased exposure to that side of the image, as there was a large difference in exposure. My work flow is to get things even and then work from there so I do use those tools in conjunction with one another.

      • Reply Justin @ SaltPepperSkillet September 29, 2016 at 11:57 pm

        Hey Rachel. That really makes sense to do it in that order. 🙂

        • Reply Rachel October 3, 2016 at 9:48 am

          Perfect! Sometimes there is a method to the madness.

  • Reply Helen November 13, 2016 at 4:08 am

    I happened to stumble upon your blog and this has been such a huge inspiration and help in understanding more about food photography. I love the way you write, it’s like I’m talking to a friend. Self-teaching myself is hard but it’s neat when there’s helpful sites like these. Thanks for sharing Rachel 🙂

    *subscribes*

    • Reply Rachel November 15, 2016 at 7:47 am

      Hey Helen, I am so pleased to hear that. That’s so kind of you. I try just to be myself when I write. Happy to have you along for the journey.

  • Reply Leslie | Bessie Bakes November 14, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Thank you so much for this post!!! What a beautiful look you have created with the dark shadows. Would you have any suggestions if I wanted a similar look and feel for a head-on shot of someone holding a loaf of artisan bread? I’m only using natural light currently, but I do have one Lowel ego light. Would you need a large black background, and one in the opposite side of the light just like you have here?

    • Reply Leslie | Bessie Bakes November 14, 2016 at 1:08 am

      Oops, here is my correct website in my name for reference. I’m wanting to do a large header photo on my home page and replace the existing one.

    • Reply Tim November 14, 2016 at 11:46 am

      Do essentially the same thing, but larger (and vertical). Black velvet (and black labs) is the best light sucking material, and that’s what you want – light sucking.

      • Reply Rachel November 15, 2016 at 7:53 am

        Cheers Tim! Well put. Great advice for people.

      • Reply Leslie | Bessie Bakes November 15, 2016 at 9:18 am

        Thanks Tim! I don’t have any black velvet, but I do have black linen. I’ll have to see if it sucks up enough light. I have a couple pf pieces of black foam boards too that I can use.

        • Reply Tim November 15, 2016 at 10:14 am

          There’should nothing like velvet, but foam core is a good second. Good luck and have fun.

    • Reply Rachel November 15, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Tim has some great points here. What you are trying to by replicating the ‘box’ on a larger scale is ‘suck’ the light and stop it from bouncing around and creating fill. Most of us shoot in our houses and we have nice bright white or light walls. This will create a lot of fill light and light bouncing around as we shoot. Think about the box, this is the opposite. You’d want to suck up all the light and have a dark background, and sides. Does that make sense for you? Do you have a moodier room you can shoot in? Or corner of your house outside that doesn’t get too much light? There is video on editing this image in the resource hub if you haven’t had a chance to look at it!

      • Reply Leslie | Bessie Bakes November 15, 2016 at 9:16 am

        Thanks for the response Rachel! Now that it starting to get darker earlier in the day where I’m from, I can definitely find a moodier spot in my house. I’ll have to check the light in different areas, but I think it should work.

  • Reply Kiki November 25, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Hi Rachel, I finally tried this yesterday. For a first try, it turned out quite well.

    I did encounter a few snags, one of which was that with my 50 lens I’d really need to make the tripod higher, but then I didn’t get all 3 legs to have the same height, as apparently my tripod doesn’t have notches. It always seems to be crooked when I don’t extended to the whole 1st stop. If I pull it out further, I’m not tall enough to look through properly, so I’ll have to get a little step-on stool.

    For my next try, I’ll have to fiddle with my fill card 3 more, definitely need a little more practice. Also, I didn’t have a dark box, so I lined a paper box with black photo paper; the result is very dark, so not sure this is the best thing. I need to find something else to use.

    Did you shoot this with a 50 lens?

    Thanks for the inspiration – it really made me want to get into this more!

    • Reply Rachel November 30, 2016 at 9:15 am

      I often have to use a step stool as well. That is quite common. It can take practice to get a tripod level there is a little trick that I use to make sure the camera is. I don’t think it matters if the tripod isn’t bang on level as long as your camera is more or less so. I used my 85mm for this to get nice and tight. To get this look you will need to edit the image. Have you checked out the editing tutorial in the resource library?

  • Reply Ian - DigitalPhotoForest May 3, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Hi Rachel
    I’ve only just come across your site and the tips on here are super useful. It really helps to know that we can create such amazing things at home with something so simple. The paint is drying on my box right now! Can’t wait to try it out.

    Thanks for the great site and tips.

    • Reply Rachel May 10, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Hey Ian! Thank you so much for those kind words. It means a lot to me that you stopped by to try this out. Please do share some image with me and the community. We’d love to see what you’ve been up to!

  • Reply Joe May 10, 2017 at 1:51 am

    Hi Racheal

    Can you send me the links to the videos of the light room of you doing dark food photography.

    I have a food art exhibit in August and I want to use this technique in some of the photos. I very seldom see artist using the technique i find it very artistic.

    • Reply Rachel May 10, 2017 at 10:52 am

      That sounds great Joe! I would love to see what you come up with. You can find the videos in the Resource Hub. I can see that you have access, so you can simply log in with the password and should be able to find them. If you’re having trouble with the Resource Hub, send me an email to let me know.

  • Reply Joe May 21, 2017 at 10:15 am

    Hey Rachel

    Im having trouble logging in to the resource hub

  • Leave a Reply

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