How to mimic natural light in a studio

FoodStill lifeStudio

Being able to witness natural light and recreate its patterns within a studio is one of the most challenging tasks a photographer can encounter.
However, it is also one of the most significant assets a photographer can have, and fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated to learn.

Rob Grimm break down this process with easy-to-understand language and demonstrate how to mimic natural light in the studio. Rob also shares some insights from his journey as an artist and how an in-depth knowledge of lighting has helped him build a successful career as a photographer.

I am a commercial photographer specializing in food and beverage photography. I have been in the business for thirty-one years, but I have had a camera in my hand since I was eight years old. My father was an artist, mainly a potter and painter until he became interested in photography when I was very young. We built a darkroom in our basement and set off on our photographic journey together.

Much of our life revolved around photography and the creative process.


Over the years, II have been able to work with great clients because I feel driven to understand the brand’s story and then figure out how I can best bring that to light. As a result, I have moved away from other types of photography and doing personal work because I want to truly concentrate on my client needs.

That might sound strange to have a photographer not pursue personal work. But when I don’t have a camera in my hand, I pursue other creative outlets.

Keep a fresh mind

I had a furniture design business for several years, and I am still driven by spending time in my shop creating something.

My studio has become a hallmark of who I am as an artist because I am continually building things and rearranging things to make the space more of a home. I spend a lot of time with my wife and daughters and get out on the water to row as often as possible.

All of this keeps my mind fresh to come back behind the camera to create inspired images for my clients.

At least, that is what I believe.

“What you learn from one genre of photography can easily be applied to another.”

The techniques I have used in this video apply across the spectrum of photography subjects.

I intentionally selected a shiny, slightly obnoxious subject here while remaining in my lane of food and beverage photography. But these techniques are universal to photography, and quite frankly, I think they should be used on a variety of subjects.

That is the wonderful thing about photography; what you learn from one genre of photography can easily be applied to another.


The importance of shape and size

The shape and the size of the modifiers are critical to the way I work. For this demonstration on natural light, I used a Rotalux Deep Octabox for my main light and a Rotalux Square box for the fill.

The Deep Octabox has the directional quality of a specular source of light similar to the sun. This not only gives me the proper main light but allows me to craft shadows that feel as if they are created by natural light.
The Rotalux Square box is rather wide and shallow, so it throws a broad pattern of light which is needed as a fill source.
Choosing the right source for each light on a set is absolutely critical to create convincing light.

I often see emerging photographers using a light because they have it available without really thinking about the source or the shape. That is a mistake. I could, for example, reverse these lighting sources and balance the highlight and shadow ratios, so they were correct.
But because the source is wrong, the final image will just look off.

This is one of my go-to lighting setups for natural light, particularly with food photography.

Other modifiers, such as a silver-lined beauty dish, are often used on my sets to change the shape and throw of my light. I have to look at the subject combined with the type of mood that I want to create and then choose my modifier accordingly. Some of these changes are very subtle, but they are important to me and the way I craft my light.



Color has played such a huge role in my work since the beginning. The direction I choose to take a color grade depends entirely on what is in front of the camera. Everything from the skin tone of the subject, to the wardrobe, to the makeup, to the background I choose plays a role.

Over time I have developed a handful of foundational color profiles. They are presets that work as a great way to try different looks quickly, and once you find one, build from there.
If anyone is interested in these foundational presets, I sell them over on my website!

“I almost always choose to shoot with strobes.”

Images on a schedule

While there have been many occasions where natural light is just so beautiful that I cannot resist it, I almost always choose to shoot with strobes.

For client work, I have to have consistency and repeatability. Natural light fluctuates with clouds and the length of the day as the seasons change. When working on a client project over multiple days, I have to be able to accomplish everything on the shot list, and I cannot be shut down by the setting sun.

Many of my projects can take place over multiple months or years as we build on an existing ad campaign, so consistency in my lighting is a critical component to my approach.
For me, the greatest challenge in commercial photography is creating images on a schedule.

We gather all of these people together for a shoot, and tons of time goes into pre-production. But when the shoot day arrives, everyone has to work in sync to make sure we finish the job, and everyone can go home to their families.

When I started in the business, I never thought that the clock would play such a big part of a production. But it does because, as the old saying goes, “time is money,” so projects need to be efficient and timely. All the late nights in my studio early on in my career gave me the confidence to produce art on a schedule. This was a challenge I never anticipated. 

What I enjoy most about photography is solving the challenges my clients throw at me. While I have been doing this for three decades, I still enjoy figuring out how to achieve the client’s needs and create the images they desire for their brand. The process of making images still feeds my soul and makes me eager to get into the studio each day.