I love the soft lighting of coffee shops and cafes and often take photos that mimic this ambiance. Today, I'd like to share some ideas on how to use lighting in capturing the atmosphere of a cafe.


I'm sure you all have unforgettable memories of cafes. Comfortable seats, subdued music, and soft lighting. The environment (or "ambient") that surrounds the coffee is packed with elements that shape the atmosphere of the shop. In famous cafes, even the behavior of the staff is considered an element of the brand experience and is stylized accordingly.

Climbing a Ladder to Shoot from Above


The atelier I once occupied had high ceilings of 3 meters, and the room was a bit dim as the natural light didn't reach far inside. I was fond of this dimness, which was why I decided to move in. Instead of illuminating the entire room, I used directional pendant lights to selectively light up the tables. It has a cafe-like feel, doesn't it?
To capture both this pendant light and the coffee at the same time, I devised a method of shooting by climbing a ladder.

_DSC9211I shoot the coffee by the window, where the outside light reaches, through the light of the pendant, climbing a ladder to do so.

The image of the coffee by the window is in sharp focus, in contrast to the blurred lighting. This results in a photo with a soft and warm atmosphere.

Overlaying Lighting with Human Silhouettes

When visiting cafes for coverage, I take privacy into consideration and try to find angles where faces are not visible as much as possible. If there's a pendant light, I can overlay the silhouette, enabling the capture of natural-looking photos where faces aren't visible.

202003296740I respect privacy by overlaying the silhouette of the light with people.

Utilizing the Flare of Lighting

Sometimes, I leverage the effect of whitening caused by the strong reflection (flare) of light. It may seem like a failed shot lacking sharpness at first glance, but it contributes to the atmospheric creation of cafes and tea shops.


In a dark room, overly bright lamps can cause overexposure. In the case of the pendant light in the top left of the photo below, I use a dimmable controller to reduce the amount of light from the lamp as much as possible, and slow down the camera's shutter speed to balance the darkness of the room with the brightness of the lamp.

_BasicNeedofLifePlus3699A lamp in the foreground making use of flare and a pendant light (top left in the photo) with adjusted light output.

Utilizing Reflections in Glass

The view from the window can be considered part of the environment surrounding the coffee. Borrowing the concept of 'shakkei' (borrowed scenery) from Japanese gardening, the lighting reflected in the window glass can also create a beautiful landscape.

The term "shakkei" (borrowed scenery) is a concept from Japanese garden design, which is actually known and used in English, especially in the field of landscape architecture and design. In general conversation, however, people may not be familiar with this term.


Using a ladder for an overhead shot

While this angle might not be feasible in actual settings or during a report, shooting directly from above with the help of a ladder can result in a fresh and unique composition, free of familiar perspectives.


Sharing the Ultimate Café Experience

Throughout my time photographing coffee, there came a point when I realized I hadn't actually been capturing the brown liquid of coffee itself. Invariably, my focus was on the rim of the cup or the spout of the drip kettle. While it may seem like I'm photographing coffee, my actual focus is on the surrounding elements.


By focusing on what's at hand, yet distancing from the subject, a broader range of the interior comes into view.

I believe that it's not just about the lighting, but the environment that surrounds the coffee - that's where the charm of a café or coffee shop truly lies. If you have a special coffee experience to share, please do let us know. Thank you once again for sticking with us till the end.