Hi, I'm Jaden, a professional recipe developer, food columnist and food photographer specializing in fast, fresh and easy recipes for the home cook. Most of my recipes are modern Asian! About meFast, fresh & easy recipes for the home cook.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Thai Beef Salad above taken probably around midnight, on auto settings with my Canon Rebel XT,
Lowel EGO lights for food photography are magical. During late Spring to early Fall months at the Steamy Kitchen household, my photo “studio” was the ratty ottoman and a $3 foam board near a big open window. Ahhhh….I so miss those late sunset evenings where I could still capture wonderful natural lighting even at 7:30pm.
Now in the winter months, by the time the clock rolls around to 5pm, my light is gone (sniff sniff) and I don’t like using my flash. For the cookbook, I needed a solution that would provide me light, even when I cook at 10pm after the rugrats go to bed.
So I set out to find an inexpensive, portable solution and came up with the Lowel EGO lights.
They are portable, lightweight, provide a wonderful, soft, even lighting and relatively inexpensive for professional photography lights. Each light is less than $100 – and really, you only need one. The Lowel EGO lights are great for food photography, especially for food bloggers because each light weighs less than 3 lbs, and are small enough to hide in a closet. Each Lowel EGO light comes with (2) full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs which do a fantastic job of mimicking daylight.
For food shots, the one variable that makes the biggest difference in the quality of shots is the lighting. Yes, camera is important, but only secondary to lighting and sharpness. Let’s talk about sharpness first – if your food photo is blurry, it ain’t gonna look good. Fortunately most point and shoot cameras allow you to select which area you want to focus on. Most of you know how to take pretty sharp photos.
Lighting is the big wild card and can vary from hour to hour, from one side of the room to the other, and the type of light bulbs you use. If you are lucky enough to get good, natural, filtered light (i.e. not directly under the harsh sun but rather through a window, indoors, or even a piece of vellum taped to the window to give a nice diffused glow) then that’s your first choice. Your second choice would be to get lights that get as close to the look of natural sunlight as possible – so that the colors in your photo will look as true-to-life as possible. For food, its important. Does gray chicken look appealing to you?
Ok, here are some comparison shots for you–
No fancy lights, just the cheap-ass Home Depot ceiling fan with 3 lights. The photo is bland, too orange and the flowers are flat. White of the label looks pink.
Too harsh, the white is blown out, there are unflattering shadows and the reflection is distracting.
And now…drumroll please…..beautiful natural, vibrant colors and textures.
This is the setup: only one EGO light + a plain, white cardboard used to reflect the light.
When I snapped this pic below, I must have moved the light and reflector back. The light should have tilted down and leaned down on the front edge and the reflector was placed closer to the bottle/glass.
Wanna see my point and shoot camera in action?…
Just for comparison, here is my 6 year old point-and-shoot camera whose battery doesn’t last for more than 2 minutes (because I dropped it in water 5 years ago). Pretty damn good. It’s not about the camera sometimes! If you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend improving your lighting first before investing an expensive digital SLR camera.
I guess you’re all wondering if these Lowel EGO lights are worth the expense:
For the winter months when I don’t have good natural lights in the late afternoon, the Lowel EGO was great. I could take photos that looked wonderfully bathed in natural light. Working on the cookbook, it’s been indispensible. I would suggest getting 1 light first and trying it out. As I mentioned, $100 for professional lights is pretty darn good. I don’t think I’ll need them when the days grow longer and I can get back to my lovely ottoman next to the big glass sliding door.
This month, I’ll continue my posts on lighting – and show you before and after photos of food.
Where to get these magical lights?…
One Two EGO lights* + magic light bulbs is $88.90 sold by Adorama via Amazon. I’d recommend buying here, since it’s guaranteed by Amazon.com. And you know they’d never piss off a food blogger.
*Another few weeks of playing with the lights and I’ve found that 2 EGO lights works way better than 1.
You could also get a set of 2 lights + magic light bulbs and the sweep. $219.95 sold by Adorama via Amazon. It comes with the white, plastic sweep (see my photos – I use the sweep for reflecting light) and sheets of very flimsy colored paper to clip onto the sweep so you can have a continuous background. IMHO, it’s useless for a food blogger. The paper crinkles and tears easily. Any drops of sauce or oil and it’s stained for good. Plus, food looks much better against neutral or natural fabrics, surfaces and papers. I just can’t think of too many dishes that would look scrumptious against a school bus yellow piece of construction paper. You could use a piece of $3 foamboard from the office supply store to use as a light reflector.
But wait one stinkin’ moment – it’s cheaper to buy them all separate. $88.90 per light x 2 plus $23.90 for the sweep/papers = $201.70. WTF???? Ok, buy them separate.
You could just get the magic bulbs by themselves, they are $19.99 each. You could screw them in your own light fixture, but I’ve found that the bare bulb is too harsh. You could use a shade to cover the bulb, but unless it’s pure white and semi-opaque, you’re wasting your money on the bulb. Well, if you’re McGuyver, I’m sure you could rig up something!
Buy here and I get a teensy weensey commission from my Amazon store – just enough for a double espresso latte!!
Buy two EGOs and one Sweep:
*Even though the photo for the sweep doesn’t show the construction paper, it does come with it according to the description in Amazon. The Lowel EGO lights each come with 2 magical light bulbs.
Or….if you want just the light bulb:
B&H Photo sells the same set for $229.95 – B&H is a very well-known photography retailer in NY. I actually bought this set from B&H – one of the light bulbs arrived broken and it took 2 weeks for a replacement bulb to arrive. But, that being said, I still buy stuff from B&H – my expectations are just a tad bit lower if I ever run into problems.
Kona Kampachi on Citrus Soy Soba (see my step by step photo analysis)
Sparkling Ginger Lime & Mint Cooler (see my step by step photo analysis)
Escargot with Garlic Butter and Splash of Cognac (see my step by step photo analysis)