Dark Food Photography

If you browse food photography as much as I do, you may have noticed the trend toward moody and dark dark food photography.

These photos may have been snapped mid-day but they look more like they were photographed in late evening, illuminated by only the tiniest amount of light.

I’m pretty obsessed with this particular food photography style right now.

Moody cake
The sultry photos that I consider “dark and moody” have a rustic, rich texture and an appeal that can be chalked up in equal measure to styling and props which compliment the presentation.

Take a look at this link to Dark and Moody Food Photography on Pinterest to see stunning examples of this technique.

Oooops, looks like I left off a bit of icing.

Moody and dark9

While I’ve admired the look for a long time, I’ve recently started experimenting with the dark and moody effect myself.

Throughout this post, I’ll share a few of my first efforts with this technique starting with chocolate and other elements from my cake styling shoot.

Moody chocolate2

The manipulation of natural light on a subject is so important in creating the moody look but this is something I really struggle with.

I continue to practice and through trial and error, I’m slowly figuring out how to find the best light and how to make it work for me.

   Moody linen3

As I study the dark and moody technique and how to achieve it, I’ve discovered that some of the look is often achieved with the help photo-editing software and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

I think it’s safe to say that most bloggers punch up their photos In some way with software whether it’s sharpening a photo or adding a punch of color.

Moody and dark

The trick is in learning how to balance the use of software without going overboard so the subject still looks natural.

It also helps to have a dependable light source which can also be manipulated with reflectors, diffusers, fabrics and various light/black boards among other things.

Moody set graphic

Here’s a look at the setup for the ingredients portion of this shoot.

My support/backdrop board was originally an old picnic bench and you can see how I transformed it in a previous post HERE  and you can see my previous post on how to make generic backdrop boards HERE.

The diffuser (available online/camera shops)  helps soften the harsh light that pours through the window and the black foam core (available at office supply or crafts store) gives me the dark background that I’m aiming for.

Take another look at the first photo in this post.  That darkness behind the cake is just a piece of black foam core board.

Moody ingredientss3

The angle of the photograph is another valuable consideration.

Now, I’d love to have one of those tripods with the overhead arm but until then, a step stool will have to do.

Until I spring for a new tripod, I just place the entire prop board flat on the floor and straddle the board and snap the subject overhead.

Moody chocolate comp2

I’m still learning how to use Adobe Lightroom but these photos were edited using the program’s sharpening, vignetting and exposure settings.

I can definitely see the difference in the Before and After shots.

Can you?

Moody after

I think this next photo comparison is even more dramatic.

Look closely at the brown bowl in the background and the copper pot in the foreground in the BEFORE photo.  Quite visible, right?

However, both areas almost seem to fade away in the darkness in the AFTER photo and as a result the small bowl of chocolate is elevated as the central focus.

Moody duo

Here are a few more practice shots where I played around with the photo editing software to change an original photo into a more dark and moody one.

You may remember these pictures from my previous post on how to make Focaccia Breadsticks.

Moody duo3

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the styling and props used also go a long way toward creating that dramatic, organic presentation.

I was thrilled to come across this stack of old baking trays in my mom’s basement.

I’m so glad she didn’t toss them.


These are exactly the kind of well-seasoned (OK… burned) items that can add texture and interest to food photography especially dark and moody efforts.

If you have an interest in photo prop-hunting, you can check out a few of my previous posts on the subject HERE, HERE and HERE.


Here’s a look at how I used one of these “well-seasoned” baking trays to shoot a Rotisserie chicken.

I was going after that same dark and moody effect here.

Dark and moody chicken2

I’m  really happy with that dark, almost industrial-looking background created by the tray.

I suspect few people would ever guess that the chicken’s textured background was just an old, seasoned baking tray.

Chicken roast setup

Meanwhile, wood carving boards and chunky cheese boards make for another beautiful element in food styling.

I actually collect wood cutting boards and bread and cheese boards and you can read more about that in a previous post HERE


As I continue to practice this dark and moody food photography technique, you’ll definitely start seeing more examples of my progress here on this blog.

In the meantime, I certainly can’t end this post without taking a great big, decadent four-layer slice, right?

 Moody iced cake

By the way, I used a regular chocolate box cake recipe for this cake but what really boosted the delicious factor was the butter cream frosting.

The butter cream recipe only takes a few ingredients and you can find the recipe in a previous post HERE.

Moody iced cake2

Moody graphic4

Thanks for stopping by.

See you back here next week. 


  • Anna

    Thank you so much for sharing these tips. I love how you broke it down into easy to understand information. Your photos look great and I am keen to get practicing.

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      That’s great Anna. I’m glad you found some useful information.
      Good luck on your photography efforts.
      Feel free to drop me a direct email if you have any other questions or get stuck on something.
      Happy week to you.

  • Amanda

    Thank you so much for these great tips! This type of photography is exactly what I’m interested in! You have lovely pictures. I look forward to learning more from you.

  • Luisella

    Thank you very much for sharing your precious tips!
    (and your Pavlova seems so…yummy!!!!)

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks so much, Luisella.
      Do try the Pavlova recipe when you can. It’s so simple, light, sweet and delicious.
      Happy day to you.

  • Sandra Garth

    This is my favorite type of food photography and thank you for the tips. I’ve done a few on Instagram and have been raiding the thrift shops like crazy. Thanks again!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks so much Sandra.
      This dark and moody photography is definitely popular. I’m still learning too.
      As for props, don’t forget to tap friends and family for their old “burned” baking trays before they toss them.
      Happy day.

  • Aby

    Hola , me encanto tu articulo , soy de Mexicana y me fascina este tipo de fotografia , recientemente la descubri , no es sencilla pero me encanta el resultado, la practico soy fotografa de reposteria , que gusto encontrarte , saludos .

    (Translation: Hi, I loved your article, I am Mexican and I love this type of photography, recently discovered, is not simple, but I love the result, practical I am a photographer of pastry, which is how I found you. Greetings.)

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Hola Aby, muchas gracias. También me gusta mucho a este tipo de fotografía oscura y cambiante y tomar algo de práctica. He estado en él por cerca de un año y todavía estoy practicando todos los días. Buena suerte con sus esfuerzos y mantenerme informado sobre su progreso. Tienen un hermoso fin de semana.

      (Translation:Hi Aby, thanks so much. I also love this type of dark and moody photography and it does take some practice. I’ve been at it for about a year and I’m still practicing every day. Good luck with your efforts and keep me posted on your progress. Have a lovely weekend.)

  • Jenna

    I am forever “practicing,” thanks for the new inspirations, your work is beautiful. I have new respect for my darkened baking sheets 🙂

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Oh, you’re so welcome Jenna. Definitely hang onto those old baking sheets and raid your mom’s kitchen (or basement) for hers too-lol. Happy day.

  • Marsha

    Beautiful post; great tips, thank you!

  • Sheila

    Your photos are beautiful. I want to see if I can do this. I use photo editing…mostly to lighten things up because I have low light in my house. I love the drama of your dark backgrounds. Love. Sheila

  • Jennifer Reidy

    This article was absolutely fantastic. Your talent is beyond belief. I was so excited to come across it as I’m trying to switch to a more moody photography look as a planted style for my blog. I love bright but think dramatic is where my food blog fits best. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous and so inspiring. Thank you for this late night read that got me pumped to do great things tomorrow! Just bought a ton of new props today for the occasion at Home Goods and pulled some things from the garage 🙂 Thanks again. Look forward to subscribing and following your blog 🙂 Sincerely, Jennifer
    Owner of the gluten free food blog Froment Free (fromentfree.com est. Nov. 2015)

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks for your kind words about my photography, Jennifer! Even after all these years, I still try to practice daily and I constantly search for fresh inspiration and courses to learn more. Good luck with your moody photography. I love that style too. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled off the beaten path for prop gems too. Some of my favorite pieces were discovered at flea markets.

  • Elisa

    WOW! you practice well. Love it!

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks so much Elisa. Yes, practice eventually gets things close to perfect. I still learn new things everyday and I’ve been practicing for years-lol. Good luck with your photo efforts and thanks for stopping by.

  • James Sheng

    Thanks for the great info. Now I need go practice.

  • Carmella

    I think that dark and moody photos are actually harder to get right, yours look great! I’m glad that you made sure to point out that part of it is done in post and that’s ok

    • Lisa Tutman-Oglesby

      Thanks Carmella! Yes, what would photogs do without a little editing here and there? I used to think the lovely dark and moody shots I admired all over the web were shots “straight out of the camera”. I now understand that some of the prettiest photo work out there, includes some degree of editing. I’m still learning-lol. Good luck with your photographic efforts.

  • Gary Miles/Dingel's Oven

    Lisa, STUNNING! INSPIRING! Love your shots!
    I am a start-up, specialty foods baker (one man show). I want to shoot my products in the style of your work. I just bought an iPad Mini 2, and thought I would try some set-ups/shots. The iPad also accommodates clip-on lenses… OLLOLens products.
    Do use use a wide angle lens for your work?
    I am good with PhotoShop, so I hope to replicate some of the Lightroom effects.
    Thanks so much for your ideas Lisa.

  • Corinne Rodrigues

    Oh you are brilliant! I’m in love with those ‘clock-face’ plates! 🙂

  • [email protected] Designs

    Wow….your photographs are magnificent….so enjoyed the behind the scenes of your photography….

  • Thimbleanna

    Beautiful Lisa! Thanks for the great tips and the behind-the-scenes photos!!!

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