Unflatten Your Food Photography With Backlight


In a recent tutorial over at The Slanted Lens, photographer Jay P. Morgan shared his favorite lighting setup for shooting food. Whether you’re shooting stills or video, if you want to capture stunning food imagery, you’ll want to take note of his lighting techniques for bringing food alive.

As with any subject matter, if you light it solely from the front, food is going be flat in the final image. When I shoot food I just love a top back light. As you raise the light up, you now have shadows that drop towards the camera, which gives you separation from the background.

In my opinion light looks better when you cross 90° – when you slowly get slightly behind the subject matter. In this case, we’re using the Rosco Silk 210 LED fixture to create our backlight. This has become my go-to light for tabletop photography. It’s got a great soft output and, in my opinion, its color rendering is second-to-none. If you’re shooting a lot of food/product tabletop work – this light is worth the investment.


I just love that top, backlit look, and if you add to that same kind of a “rim light” off to camera left side it looks even better. In this case, I added a Rosco LitePad Vector to add a little bit of a side light – still past that 90° mark, placing it behind the subject. The Vector gives me highlights to work with. Anything that’s moist in the shot will give us a reflected highlight, which will also help unflatten the light.


Some highlights are good. When you shoot with top back lighting, the biggest problem is creating too much reflection. In this case, for example, if the bread is facing the wrong way I’m going to get major highlights because of the incident angle off of the bread. If the bread is placed so that the shadows fall forward – just enough to get a little bit of highlight across the front of the bread – it looks pretty (and tasty).


The final light we needed for our products was a fill light from the camera. We put another Vector back behind the camera and opened up the shadows a little bit in the front… not much. We kept that very low because most of our subjects are in glass containers and we didn’t need a lot of fill for the foreground.


I’ve got a nice blue background that, once I light it, gives me more highlights in the bottles and separates it from the foreground. I kept this light pretty subdued, but you can raise it up to make it brighter or darker or bring in a white card to bounce some of the frontlight from the front bounce back in and open up the shadows of the objects in the front.


So there you have it – a wonderful glimpse into the world of lighting food (or any tabletop subject). This lighting setup will work for video as well as stills. Strobes or continuous light – it doesn’t matter. It’s the same principle. You can apply it each way. So get out there and shoot some food. Keep those cameras rolling and keep on clicking.


Watch the entire tutorial from The Slanted Lens, where Jay P. shows off camera-move technicques featuring the Sryp Genie, Genie Mini, and Magic Carpet slider to make his tabletop videos really come alive. You can visit the Silk 210 and the LitePad Vector webpages to learn more about the LED lights Jay P. featured in this tutorial.


Joel Svendsen

About Joel Svendsen

Content Marketing Manager: Joel's Rosco career began in Rosco's Hollywood office in 1999 – first in sales covering the Western US and the Los Angeles Film & Television market, and then as Product Manager for Rosco's Film & Television Products. In that time, his knowledge of Rosco's products and how they're used in each of our marketplaces makes him well suited for bringing the stories in Spectrum to life.