Dark and moody food photography

Dark and moody food photography is a captivating dramatic lighting style, usually on a black or other dark background, that enhances the richness and textures of food. It often uses natural window light to create deep dramatic shadows and depth to an image by highlighting a focal point in the image with graduated shadows with soft natural light draped across it. It is my favorite style to photograph food or drink in, generally in a more editorial food photography style but can be used in commercial food photography as well, usually with natural window light but I have used off camera flash with lighting modifiers to simulate a soft window light as well.

I wanted to share this series of food photography images I have photographed as a professional photographer, along with producing these photoshoots as a prop and food stylist in my Chicago food photography studio to demonstrate how to best achieve this lighting technique. This is a form of tabletop product photography, where I generally like to style the composition of the image in a minimal setting, either with just the food or drink by itself or in a simple lifestyle storytelling scene. Either way the photograph is inspired by the ingredient and how it’s texture and simplicity in isolation is a form of natural art.

Some tips in creating dark and moody food and drink photography:

  1. Use low lighting: Use dim or low lighting to create a darker and more dramatic atmosphere. This can be achieved by shooting in a dimly lit room, or by using a low shutter speed to let in less light. It all depends on the setup available to you and the desired look and feel of the image.
  2. Use a shallow depth of field: A shallow depth of field will blur the background and make the food stand out more. This can be achieved by using a wide aperture on your camera, such as f/2.8 or lower but be careful to monitor your focal point to achieve your desired focus as your focus point can quickly become blurry with these settings. I suggest using a tethered shooting method if you can to monitor focus on a more micro level.
  3. Play with contrast: Use contrasting colors to make the food pop. For example, a dark background can make white or light or bright colored food stand out by making the subject pop and colors become more vibrant.
  4. Use shadows: Shadows can add depth and drama to an image. Try positioning your food in such a way that it creates interesting shadows.
  5. Experiment with angles: Try shooting from different angles to create a sense of movement and drama in your image. Understand composition with the rule of thirds, the golden spiral, grid, golden ratio, diagonal, and triangle. Sketching out how you are envisioning the image to look can help narrow down this process.
  6. Post-processing: You can use editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop to enhance the moody feeling by playing with the contrast, shadows, highlights, and colors with adding saturation or vibrance.

It’s important to note that for food photography in general lighting is the key to achieve the mood and feel of the image you intend and to make the dish or beverage look appetizing. You will need to experiment with different lighting setups and angles until you find the right one that creates the lighting style you are looking for.

Here are some examples of stunning dark and moody food photography using natural dramatic lighting I have photographed in the past:

Radicchio cut into three quarters set on a simple black slate board lit in a natural window light.

Cut in half radicchio with peeled leaves. I was attracted to photographing this vegetable because of the contrast of the white veins against the deep reddish purple leaf.

Radicchio cut into quarters set in a vintage cast iron pan with natural dark window light. Chicago commercial product photographer

Radicchio quarters set in a black cast iron pan.

Fresh cut purple kale with water droplets laying on a black stone surface next to a small pair of gardening scissors. Minneapolis food photographerPurple Moon kale leaves with gardening scissors in natural light on a black stone background.

Avinyo bottle with an art deco glass full of champagne. Dark dramatic natural light. Chicago drink photographerRetro art deco champagne glass illuminated with natural window light filled with a fine Avinyo Cava champagne.

Fresh red cherries in a silver colander on a dark black background. Madison food photographer

Fresh red bright red cherries with stems in a silver metal colander photographed from above on a black background.

Single bright red cherry with stem on a robin blue plate with dark dramatic shadows and lighting. Milwaukee food photographer

Single vibrant red cherry with stem placed on a blue plate, photographed with defined dark shadows.

Champagne Glass on a navy and gold art deco decorative background in natural light. Beverage photography

An isolated retro 1920s style champagne glass filled with sparkling champagne on a gold and navy floral background.

Thank you for taking the time to review this information! I am a Chicago based food and drink photographer but am available throughout the Midwest and have worked with clients in Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis. I also help brands bring their creative vision to life with visual Art Direction and Creative Direction.


Dark and Moody Food Photography