Taking Dramatic Food Photos in Chiaroscuro Style

A popular style of photography on food blogs, Instagram and even recipe books, Chiaroscuro photography is also commonly known as “dark (box) photography”. This style features strong shadows and have a dramatic moody feel. However, what truly characterises this style is the skillful interplay between deep shadows and highlight areas. It is a popular term in artwork done since Raphael, Rembrandt, and even Stanley Kubrick’s Lyndon (in Italian, “chiar”= “light”, “oscuro”=”dark”), and serves to make a subject stand out. We will help you take a sneak-peek into this beautiful style.


Cheesecake – Godiva – Canon EOS – 6D – 50mm Sigma Art – f 4.5

The project was a high-end chocolatier, wanting to update his menu. I used black reflectors on 3 sides, with a gap on the left for a low hanging side light, with a diffuser for a softer touch. The black reflectors play up the shadows. Feel free to maneuver a white reflector to fill in just enough for your taste, on the right or top. Depth of field is essential for me when it comes to food, it automatically gives you size perception. It also helps focus attention on 1 element in your entire composition. Here is what the set up looked like.

My black box set up on location.

It does not mean to have a dark or under exposed image. My standard is to find a pure white spot in the image in addition to a pure black. The skillful light-dark interplay is key.

Rule 1: Control your contrast. It is true the shadows are hard, but transition slowly from your light area to dark with smooth hues and not hard ones. That is why use side light, control the amount of light, and the flow with a diffuser.This will bring out the three-dimensionality of the subject, yet give nice highlights on the edges.

Rule2: Use a dark background. Acting as light absorbent, this will add depth to the shadows. Subtle details are important, you can add small items or sprinkle flour or sugar powder. These specks will catch the light and add depth to your composition.

dark box photography by shapes defined dubai crepe

Rule3: And this is regarding food photography in general. It looks simple, but always use a stylist. There are a lot of tricks of the trade that will make food look fresh, rich and appetizing. Your job is to simply capture a beautiful sheen, the shine on the edge that gives a gloss to the food. For that, the importance of camera placement, opposed to the side light, or even semi-back light, is important. Too much and the food will look over exposed, too little and the food will look dull.

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Shapes Defined Studios for Client: Godiva Dubai
Art Director: Rachael Fares
Food Stylist: Food Art Concept
Photographer: Omar Safa
Assistant photographer: Ferrarie Custodio

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…and do try the chocolate balloon at Godiva

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