Think that looks like natural light? Well it’s not. It’s totally fake. This is something that a lot of students struggle with, but once they get it, it will totally change how they see light. This is easy artificial backlighting for your food photos.
I’ve never shared my signature lighting style before. I’ve had photographers pretend they were photo assistants just to get into my studio to see how I’m lighting my food. I’m now sharing this with you for the first time.
The whole point of this style of light, is creating a large, soft, very diffused light source using a wall. The “wall” needs to be white, so if you have a white wall that you can put your table in front of, then that’s prefect. If you don’t have a wall – don’t worry, it’s super easy to create a fake one.
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Table of Contents
Creating Your “White Wall”
If you have a blank wall, but it’s a different color, then all you have to do is put something white up in front of your wall. You could use a white sheet, or you can use white seamless paper like this from Savage.
With the white seamless paper, you can just cut a large piece from the roll, and tape it on your wall. If you have two C-stands, you can also hang it from the C-stand arms, like you see to the right. This image shows a 9′ wide seamless but you can use the smaller 4 foot one instead, if you have a smaller set. I was using this wide seamless to hide the very green wall behind it.
You can use painters masking tape to tape up your white paper, or white sheet to your wall if it’s on the smaller side.
If you are photographing something small, then you could also use a 5 in 1 foldable disk instead of seamless paper, and use the white side right behind your set.
You are going to be lighting this white “wall”, and making this your source of light.
Your Lighting Set Up – The Right Way
Even if you are photographing something small, you do need to have some room around your subject to get this effect. You are lighting the back wall – that is it. Then, you are opening up your exposure to have the front, shadow side of your subject properly lit.
If you are using your camera meter, you have to put it on spot meter, and then put that spot right in the middle of your subject.
If you use a general, overall metering setting on your camera, your shot will be way too dark. Your camera doesn’t know that you are backlighting your subject, and will make it a silhouette instead.
The other trick to this style image is to NOT use a shiny surface. My surface is a matte, white laminate. The shiny surface will show a reflection, and will bounce more light around.
Notice in my diagram, I have two cards blocking light near each light head. This is to stop any light bleeding onto the surface from those light heads. It’s all about carving and controlling your light source.
If needed, you can put your cards on the surface as well – just make sure you don’t see them in your frame.
Also, notice that the placement of my food is all the way to the front of the set as far away from the lights as possible. This, is again to make sure that I am not getting any direct light onto my food. The light is only hitting the back wall of the set, nothing else.
When you are doing this set up with artificial lights, your eyes are going to fool you. Your eyes are going to adjust to the brightness of the back wall, and your food will look dark. All you need to do is to make your exposure bright enough to blow out the back wall, and get a nice saturated color on your subject.
The Wrong Way
There are tons of tutorials where people will literally put a light directly behind the set pointing right behind the food, directly into the camera. This is not a good idea. You will get a ton of lens flare because you are pointing your light directly into the camera’s lens. This technique I am showing you is the opposite. We are angling the lights so that the angle of the light is not going to blast the lens directly with light.
The above set up will give you lens flare. Lens flare will make your images washed out, have color loss, and can possibly give you flares of light that you don’t want. There is a creative way to use backlighting lens flare, but usually that’s not for great looking food photos.
You can also use fill cards in the front, if you just can’t get the ratios right on your food. This product shot to the left has a little bottle in the middle of my set. I have cards around the front, and towards the back as well. The front cards are filling in the front of the product with light, and creating soft highlights at the same time.
I cannot emphasize enough that your food needs soft light. I can always pick out images of food that were lit by a photographer who has a product photography background. They use way too much light on the food, and it’s really obvious to the trained eye.
The way of indirectly lightly your food will make beautiful soft light that is emulating natural open shade light from your window.
So, there you have it. A super easy way to backlight your food.
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