Food Photography

4 Must Haves For Beautiful Natural Food Photography Lighting with Jo Anderson

I am super pumped to have my partner in crime and Gold Coast food photographer, Jo Anderson from the Luminous Kitchen on the blog for this guest post.

Jo's been creating some amazing images with incredible lighting, and she's here today to share her humble set up with you guys.

Get ready because her lighting is phenomenal! You'll love it.


Have you ever gone to do a food shoot only to find no matter how delicious the food looks or how well you’ve styled the set, it just doesn’t work?

Chances are your food photography lighting is letting you down.

I believe food photography lighting to be singlehandedly the most important component to creating beautiful food photographs. It’s the way you use light in your images that can really define your signature style.

In the beginning it took me a while to really understand light because I was so taken with using props to create a food story. I completely overlooked the impact that light can have on an image and the emotions I was trying to convey.

Then the penny dropped! I began to study light and I noticed how it changed in colour, direction and intensity not only during the course of the day, but across the different seasons as well. Slowly my images began to improve and I started to really understand how light behaves and how it can be tamed and sculpted.


If you’ve been trying out different food photography lighting techniques for a while you’ll know that not all light is created equal.

When we built our house I made sure I put a south facing window into the garage which I use as a “studio” because although it is blue toned shaded light for most of the year, it is always indirect. All I need to do is diffuse it with some netting material and it works as a really good “I don’t have to think about it” set up.

My favourite light to work with however is the soft, glowing light that comes from really diffusing hard direct sunlight.

I was so excited when we moved in and I realised that I have a 2 hour gap in the morning when the direct morning light hits the frosted glass of our back door and creates some spectacular glowing light. Again in the afternoon it appears when it hits the frosted glass on our front door. So I constantly move around the house and shoot wherever the light is best.

4 Must Haves For Beautiful Natural Food Photography Lighting | Create soft, glowing light around your house for epic food photography with just 4 simple things. Pin to save for later!
4 Must Haves For Beautiful Natural Food Photography Lighting | Create soft, glowing light around your house for epic food photography with just 4 simple things. Pin to save for later!

4 Must Haves For Beautiful Natural Food Photography Lighting

You too can create this beautiful, soft and glowing light you see in my images with just 4 simple things:

1. Window through which direct sunlight shines

2. Muslin Cloth or Baking Paper to diffuse the light

3. White Foam Core to reflect the light

4. Black Foam Core to create depth in your shadows

4 Must Haves For Beautiful Natural Food Photography Lighting | Create soft, glowing light around your house for epic food photography with just 4 simple things. Pin to save for later!

1. Window With Direct Sunlight

In order to create soft and glowing light you need to have a window through which direct sunlight shines. When the direct light shines through the window it’ll create strongly defined shadows. To tackle this and create the beautiful soft, glowing food photography lighting you will want to diffuse the light.

2. Muslin Cloth or Baking Paper to diffuse the light

To diffuse the light I tape baking paper to the glass or use clamps to secure some thin muslin material across the window. These will both cause the light to be scattered as it shines through and you will have soft beautiful light to work with.

3. White Foam Core Reflector

You might find that you still need to use a reflector to bounce some light back onto the set. Now the shadows in the image will be really soft and feathered, the highlights will be light and bright but not blown out. All you need is a bit of white foam core which you can pick up for a couple of dollars at your local craft or stationery store.

4. Black Foam Core for Negative Fill

If you find you want to add more contrast and depth of shadows to an image using glowing light just use black foam core. The black board (which you can pick from any craft shop) will absorb light and take some light away from the set enhancing the shadows.

You can see the difference negative fill makes when you compare the two shots below.

Look at the difference between the 2 mandarin shots where I used the black fill and where I just used the reflector. The two images tell very different stories.

4 Must Haves For Beautiful Natural Food Photography Lighting | Create soft, glowing light around your house for epic food photography with just 4 simple things. Pin to save for later!

Bright Light Can Decrease The Saturation of Your Subject.

One thing to note when using this type of light is that the colours of the food can get washed out with strong directional light. In order to really make the image pop I always bump up the vibrancy of the colours and increase the clarity slightly in Lightroom during post processing.

4 Must Haves For Beautiful Natural Food Photography Lighting | Create soft, glowing light around your house for epic food photography with just 4 simple things. Pin to save for later!

If you don’t have a window in your house that gets direct sunlight don’t fret you can still create a bright image. Using indirect light with a reflector to add and bounce light back onto your set and use your camera settings to make sure you are getting a really good exposure.

Who else loves this soft, glowing light?

I hope you guys found this helpful! Please leave me a comment below.

Jo Anderson The Luminous Kitchen

Jo Anderson is a food stylist, photography, passionate foodie and creator of The Luminous Kitchen.

Originally from Cape Town, South Africa , she now resides on the Gold Coast. After many years working as a cook on yachts around the world, Jo's styling and photography talents are sought after for ebooks, cookbooks and recipe apps. Jo is passionate about teaching all that she has learned along her jounrye and helping others develop faith of their own foodie talents. Something she focuses on in her in-person workshops and online food photogrpahy courses.

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  • Reply Karené August 11, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    This is such a wonderful reminder of how simple it can be! Such stunning soft clear tones in your images! I’ve never used the black foam core, but seeing your examples shows the benefits beautifully – I can imagine it working wonderfully when using a dark grey background, for a more moody effect. I’ve also planned a big window in my new studio – which will have some direct and some indirect light. I cannot wait! Thank you for sharing this!

  • Reply Debs August 11, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    Love your style Jo! I’ve been following you on Insta for ages and always wondered how you got your look.
    Thanks for the tips and info. Really useful! x

  • Reply Jess @Nourished by Nutrition August 11, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    This was such an great reminder/tutorial and simply put! I haven’t had the time to work focus on my photography but now I am starting to have more time since I’m out of school. I’m so glad I’ve subscribed to Rachel’s site and was able to read your tips Jo. Thank you. You both are such an inspiration!

    • Reply Rachel August 24, 2016 at 9:41 am

      So glad to have you Jess!

  • Reply Marisa Franca @ All Our Way August 11, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    This is really helpful, Jo! I love the light bright look. It looks clean with the food being the star. I’ve been fretting about having too much light in our dining room. We have huge south and east facing windows. With winter coming on here, my south window will be bright since our huge tree will shed all of its leaves. I truly appreciate you and Rachel sharing your setups. It helps in my learning process. Thank you!

    • Reply Rachel August 24, 2016 at 9:41 am

      You are so very welcome as always Marisa.

  • Reply Jonathan Thompson August 11, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    Hi Jo,
    That is truly some beautiful, silky light. I’m not at all envious that you have such great locations around your home to shoot all day. In fact I love the graphic that the door, window light has on a lower shot. It’s an element we don’t have but I look for it out on location. It’s funny how me and Debs talk about buying our next home (or building it come to that), how our photography and home will be part of our studio too. The living studio I guess I’d call it. I’ve looked at getting a roll down defuser blind for our south facing window, instead of wedging a big defuser in the window. Simplifying the set up mean you can better concentrate on the creating process.
    I’m so glad you mentioned the washed out colours too and how you tackle that. I find it gets left out of many posts and tutorials.
    Your work is simply stunning from every aspect. Thanks for sharing and inspiring my wife and I. You ladies are awesome.

  • Reply Jo || The Luminous Kitchen August 12, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for having me on TLS Rach! Such an honor.

    Jonathan – what a great word to describe it – silky light and thank you so much for the kind words.

    Marisa – Having too much light is never a problem as it can always be modified and blocked. Having too little light is a problem because without artificial light its very hard to add light to your set. Winter is a great time for food photography especially with overcast days that produce some beautiful white light.

    Jess – Its such a pleasure. I’m looking forward to seeing some of your creations!

    Debs – how wonderful to hear I’ll have to find you on Insta!

    Karen – You’ll be amazed at the depth that a black foam core board can add to an image. Thank you for reading.

  • Reply Angelica August 14, 2016 at 10:51 am

    This is amazing! As a beginner food photographer I’m still strugling to find the right light. I don’t have any south facing Windows in my house, but I will be trying with every window in every room and I will find it! Thanks for the tips 🙂

  • Reply Michele Garcia August 15, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Hi Jo, thank you for sharing this tutorial! I have a south-east facing front door with a window that I covered with a frosted privacy film when we moved in a few years ago, and since I started working on my photography skills through a 365 challenge this year, I finally noticed the lovely glowing light that comes through it, especially during certain times of the morning. The light can be strong, so your tip about covering the window with baking paper was helpful and not something I’d thought of since it was already covered with the frosted privacy film. I’ve got a big box of half-size sheet pan parchment paper that I bought at a local restaurant supply store, so I’ll tape a few sheets together and tape it over the window to see how it softens the harsher aspects of the light the next time I use the front window as a light source. Thanks again for the tips, thank you Rachel for sharing your knowledge through your site and Instagram account, and thank you both for your beautiful images!

  • Reply Life Images by Jill September 16, 2016 at 12:46 am

    thank you for this post Rachel. I’ve always loved natural light, and chase it around my house. I’ve just discovered your site, and I’m delving through it . Thanks Rachel.

    • Reply Rachel September 16, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Hey Jill! Lovely to meet you. Natural light sure is a wonderful thing. Jo Anderson is such a great photographers and love that she was able to share this with us. Keep in touch!

  • Reply Victoria October 13, 2016 at 8:12 am

    I loved this post! Learned so much!!!!! Thank you so much! I will be trying out this light settings next time! Have a lovely week!

    • Reply Rachel October 13, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      That’s great Victoria! Have a blast with it. x

  • Reply Kiki November 25, 2016 at 3:32 am

    I’ve always wanted to try a luminous curtain for diffusion but haven’t even got curtain rails at my windows – your baking paper tip is great, I’ll try that!

    • Reply Rachel November 30, 2016 at 9:08 am

      It really is genius isn’t it. Jo is great at thinking out of the box.

  • Reply Andrea January 18, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Thank you, Jo and Rachel, for the wonderful advice. I always struggle with lighting and these tips are super helpful!

    • Reply Rachel January 18, 2017 at 6:53 pm

      You are so welcome Andrea! Glad you found something that could assist you! Let us know how you go and send in some images – we’d love to see them. Happy shooting.

  • Reply Tammy October 11, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for your information here. I’m currently working on my Photography degree at AAU and this was very helpful. I’m doing my final for my Still Life class on Food. Thanks again for the tips.

    • Reply Rachel October 11, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      That’s super awesome to hear Tammy! Jo definitely has a way of capturing luminous light 🙂 Best of luck with your final.

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