Lowel EGO Lights for Food Photography

Thai Beef Salad

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.

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–

Plain house lights

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.

Now with the lovely built-in flash

Too harsh, the white is blown out, there are unflattering shadows and the reflection is distracting.

Magical EGO lights

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?…

Point and Shoot with EGO

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.

btw, point and shoot flash SUCKS

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?…

Where to buy:

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.

***

Here are more food photography posts:

Green Beans with Garam Masala Butter and Toasted Hazlenuts Green Beans with Garam Masala Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts (light setup)

Kona Kampachi Kona Kampachi on Citrus Soy Soba (see my step by step photo analysis)

Sparkling Ginger Lime & Mint Cooler Sparkling Ginger Lime & Mint Cooler (see my step by step photo analysis)

Escargot Escargot with Garlic Butter and Splash of Cognac (see my step by step photo analysis)

Comments 168

  1. Sheila

    Thank you so much for this advice!! You just made my life easier. This has really saved me a lot of time researching what kind of lights to get. I just got mine yesterday and my boyfriend and I took some test shots and it works great. I’ve always had to wait until the weekend to take pictures because of my 9-5, M-F job, but now I can take pictures in the evening. Woo-hoo!

    And yes, you’re right about needing two lights but one will have to do for now.

  2. Lys

    Jaden – THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I’ve been perplexed by all things lighting and this spells it out perfectly. Granted I’m moving soon but you know I’ll be bookmarking this to purchase after I get settled in the new digs!

  3. sjs

    I finally splurged and got the ego lights. still trying to master lighting in general… shadows are a friggin pain in the ass!!

    email me a pic of your setup! the cardbard reflector is what helps you with your shadows. jaden

  4. bal

    I just came across your website and I love it! Great stuff. Would you please post the lighting set-up for the Thai Beef Salad photo? Looks incredible. Thanks!

  5. Mausi

    Thanks for those very useful information about light and camera and how to take good food pictures. It was really educational and I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

  6. Angie

    Great Resource, I need some serious help with my photos. I have a vintage rebuilt SLR and a bunch of lenses, and no knowledge. I also have a nikon coolpix that I have been using for convenience, but I realized I know nothing about how to use either camera. I am pretty sure I can build the case for the bulb, I did a similar project before. Your pix are amazing!

  7. Allison Arevalo

    I was just thinking about what I was going to do when the winter months roll around. Thanks so much for this post. I am absolutely going to purchase these lights.

  8. Sriram

    Hello,
    Jaden thanks so much for this crisp and to the point article on using EGO lamps for food photography. I have been struggling to take decent pictures and think I have found the answer. Do you also use a tripod, or that isn’t a big factor?
    Regards

  9. Kathy

    You can buy the bulbs by themselves for about $10 each at 1000bulbs.com
    You want full-spectrum daylight bulbs that are either 5000K or 5500K and 90 CRI (I won’t go into detailed explanations, just look for those terms when you shop for photography bulbs). I get mine from
    http://www.1000bulbs.com/23-Watt-Compact-Fluorescent-5000-Kelvin/12033/
    I need the same lights for jewelry photography (I use the same bulbs, slightly different lighting setup). (not affiliated with 1000bulbs, just a happy customer–however, you can find these same bulbs lots of place, sometimes even at Home Depot or Lowes)

  10. Sarah, Maison Cupcake

    Hi Jaden, I heard about these lights from Meeta at What’s for Lunch Honey blog during her talk at Food Blogger Connect in London last week. Now that I’ve seen your comparison shots I’m even more convinced I would benefit from one and having shown him the photos, even my husband agrees (hooray!) Thanks for a very useful post.

  11. megan

    Thanks so much for this post. I need all the photography help I can get! In your opinion, which would be a better first purchase – a tripod or one of these lights? I have to space them out :) Thanks so much!

  12. Priscilla

    Terrific. I do the photos/recipes for a company recipe newsletter (now blog) and find myself trying to time it for the best natural light. Been wanting to make this investment for a couple of years. Many thanks!

  13. Sarah

    Thank you so much for this review and especially the comparison shots. I’ve been stuggling because my full time job is an hour long commute so in the winter, by the time I get home from work, have dinner made, and am ready to take pictures, it’s pitch dark outside. $100 is well worth it to have lighting that can simulate daylight and I have to get a pair next paycheck!

  14. Diana (girlfeedsboy)

    Um, can we say “I totally need one two of these!” I hate using flash and even though SLRs are awesome, I still struggle with lighting. Thanks for this post. Awesome post, really awesome!

  15. eatingRD

    thank you!!!! I’ve been looking for a lighting kit since the light in our kitchen is horrific and I leave before the sun comes up and get home after it’s down. This is great!! You just used a white piece of cardboard?

  16. eatingRD

    Is there a tripod you would recommend? There are so many to choose from, I’d like to stick around $100 with a locking plate option. Thanks!

  17. megan

    I commented here a few months ago and you recommended I buy a tripod (which I did, and I LOVE it, so thanks!). My next question is about the difference between these sorts of lights and some sort of photo studio tend thing (like this one http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001B8G4R8/ref=oss_product). Obviously you use the EGO lights, but do you know how they compare to studio tent lighting like the link I provided?

    Thanks so much! I have so much to learn and your tutorials are so helpful.

  18. SteamyKitchen

    Hi Megan,

    I haven’t tried that product, but I don’t like using those popop tents – takes up a ton of space and it’s hard to wrangle those tents back into the packaging. EGO lights has cover that diffuses the light, so no tent is needed.

  19. Jean

    Once I get more of the technical details of blogging down, I’ll be tackling my photography. Thanks for this information. I know it will be invaluable to me.

  20. Rhona

    Hi Jaden,
    love the photos you took using the lowel! i got one too but I couldnt get the effect you get with it. I need to use the flash as well with the lowel to give it that magical look. i need to experiment more the angles of the light and where to take my shots but thank you for all the post about the Lowel Ego lighting. Hope you can show where to situate the light.
    Thanks!

  21. Rosemaryandthegoat

    I ordered my light today and if I find it helps I will order another one. I ordered a new zoom lens and speed light this weekend also so now I just need to learn how to use my new Nikon D3000. How do I get bokeh???

  22. Rosemaryandthegoat

    I got my Lowell ego light in (only ordered one). I still getting rejected from foodgawker and tastespotting for lighting issues. So I went out and bought to clip on lights and hung them over my winebar (75 watt equivalent and my picture still doing look bright light yours. Should I invest in another lowell ego?

    1. SteamyKitchen

      Hey Rosemaryandthegoat: Why don’t you post your photos and a picture of your setup on foodblogforum.com (just join as a member and post your photos in the Photography forum) you’ll get a ton of other bloggers who will happily give you feedback. It’s hard to give you advice w/o seeing your set up, where you’re lighting is, etc.

  23. eduardo cano

    hello.. i just read your recomendation and im really buying this little babies!
    really price worth and easy to move, just what i needed, thanks for taking the time to review those!

  24. sara

    Ohmygoodness, I could just hug you. You managed to answer all my Ego light questions in one fell swoop. And your “studio” setup photos are priceless. Thank you!!

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  26. Sharon

    Thanks for the tips! I am the marketing director for a bakery manufacturer in San Diego and we make both branded retail, and custom products for many grocery, restaurant, and diet companies. Our branded products are professionally photographed, but I wanted to purchase equipment for use in-house to snap new projects that come up, so our sales people have decent photos to show customers. I just purchsed the set of EGO lights and a MyStudio Professional Table Top Seamless Photo Studio.

  27. Veggie101

    Wow…you are truly spot on about these wonderful amazing lights. Ordered two and just finished testing them out, and I’m SO STOKED that I can finally get back to nighttime cooking! Seriously, this is life-changing LOL. And you’re right about needing two: I think you could get away with using one (plus lots of reflectors/white boards) depending on what you’re shooting, but for food, two is definitely a must. I’d say these lights are 99% close to natural lighting!

  28. Gracie Ritter

    Thanks for the terrific review — I’d been wondering about those lowel lights and wasn’t sure if i would need one or two. I’d also had the same reservations about paper backgrounds, and ultimately came up with a much better and very cheap option with endless possibilities — since this sort of backdrop is most needed for posts about freestanding treats (like brownies, etc.), I wait until Hobby Lobby has a sale week on scrapbooking materials and stock up on 12×12 scrapbook background sheets for a quarter apiece. I keep a ton of them in a drawer, and use them for special posts. As long as you use a macro lens, you’re not going to need more than 12×12 area anyway, and it works amazingly. Makes things so dynamic when a little pattern is just what the doctor ordered.

    Here’s an example of what I mean — and it cost me a quarter, so no worries if grease or crumbs happen:

    http://redkitchenproject.com/2010/08/20/the-brownie-that-broke-my-heart/

    Anyway, thanks for giving exactly the sort of review I needed to talk myself into a lighting purchase! Keep up the great job. I always love poking around your archives!

  29. Kim

    Hi, Jaden,
    I’m a new follower. I can’t tell you enough how much I LOVE , LOVE, LOVE……….your blog! Your photos were the best i’ve ever seen, i started searching for the name of your photographer for your site n OMG, that’s you…………Your site is my wish come true……….
    I have been searching for delicious Chinese food recipes that had step by step photos for couple of years and n your site never came up. Your PHOTOS ARE INCREDIBLE, GREAT, FANTASTIC, should i go on :)………..!!! Thanks for taking the time and effort in posting all those AMAZING RECIPES N PHOTOS. I really appreciate your FREE cooking and photo lessons. I have always wanted to take a photography classes but couldn’t make the time, being a single mom. But recently i got into food photography …….just as a hobby since i cook alot. I knew it involved lighting cuz when i took a pic. in my kitchen, then went to the table near the window, the pics looked so much better. I can’t wait till i get the Lowel EGO Lights !! I can tell by your blog U WOULD MAKE A WONDERFUL NEIGHBOR………..hahahahah !!! hope i get a chance to meet you someday to share recipes with you ……

    CONGRADS ON YOUR SUCCESS !!!!

    Thanks again, Jaden.

  30. René

    Thank you very much – the picture comparisons were very convincing!

    I’ve ordered 2 of these and can’t wait to start using them!

    — René

  31. Simply Life

    After trying several DIY lighting experiments that have all resulted in yellow pictures I just purchased this after reading your post – thank you so much for sharing this and I hope the one light will make the difference I’ve been going for!

  32. Jen Laceda

    Hi Jamie,
    I am a food & travel blogger AND mother of 2 (soon to be 3) kids. Plus I have a full-time hospital job. In the Fall and Winter, by the time I get out at 4:30 pm, light is gone. And I get so frustrated (read: depressed) at this! These Lowel Ego Digital Lights were my saviours!!! In a way, they are kinda like those lights for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)! Can you tell I work in mental health? LOL!!! But these lights have totally kept me sane and have allowed me creative freedom! Sometimes, my only time to cook and photograph is after my kids go to bed…these lights allow me to do my projects at night (and at a budget since I am not a pro). I LOVE them to death. Without them, I’ll be lonely in the winter :( Thanks for sharing your experience with them!

  33. scarlett

    dear jaden
    i love your site, and you can’t imagine how helpful your advice on food photog is! very much appreciated.

    BUT: i’m afraid it seems those super cool lights are not working in europe/in switzerland, due to volt..? (apart from the shipping costs being incredibly expensive…)

    now i’m really crushed. been looking for a dealer in switzerland or germany all weekend, but with not much success… do you have any advice?

    a smile
    scarlett

  34. Raj @ Velvet Aroma

    Hi Jaden! Thanks for the tips! I was going batty trying to figure out what lighting equipment to buy. Now I can’t wait for my next shoot with these awesome lights!!

  35. Phoodie

    If you don’t have the $200-$300 to spend on the actual EGO set, the EGO lights use 30W / 120V E26 base compact daylight florescent bulb with a color temperature of 5,500K and a CRI (color rendering index) of 93. So essentially you could get any kind of lamp or fixture you wanted as long as you’re using these bulbs and some kind of light diffuser (could be as simple as tissue paper or a cloth draped over the lamp) you can re-create the same kind of quality light.

  36. Corona

    Very please that I found your post. I lose light really early in my apartment so this will make a huge difference!
    Thanks! Your photos are amazing!

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