14 August 2018 / 34 Comments

BECOME A STUDENT OF LIGHT – How to use backlight to create a WOW effect in your food images

If you want to improve your photography
Don’t take pictures of food.
Become a student of light and take pictures of it instead.

I love personal projects! I have recently challenged myself to shoot more with BACKLIGHT, squeezing 1 hour into my busy schedule every day to study light. I also  invited other photographers out there to study light with me and to play around with BACKLIGHT to see its power and  ‘the magic’ it creates. That’s how the #belightinspired INSTAGRAM challenge was born.

The aim of this challenge is simple: provoke you to think about light and challenge your seeing skills.

The results are taking my breath away! Check out the #belightinspired gallery on Instagram to see what images other photographers created and if you fancy participating too, here are the rules:
1. Study the light with me
2. Take a photo using a backlight
3. Post it on instagram with #belightinspired
4. Tag me in your images so that I can see what you’ve created
5. Runs throughout August


Your eyes are the most powerful piece of photography equipment. Your camera doesn’t take your pictures – you do! And to be a good photographer you need to master the art of observation first. You need to stop looking and start SEEING.

Don’t rush, take your time to see how light behaves. Only that way you will be able to understand it and use it to your advantage in your images . Notice how it changes during the day. All you have to do is to be present and pay attention.

I highly recommend noting your observations down – it helps to organize your ideas and thoughts.


Without a shadow of doubt – side light has taken all the fame when it comes to photographing food. Backlight seems rather unpopular and often overlooked….
but I am about to shed the light on why photographing with backlighting technique can create a WOW effect in your images.

So, what is backlight?

The term refers to the main light source being placed behind an object, person or scene to create a highlight that separates the subject from the background.

There are 2 important factors to be taken into consideration when it comes to technique of backlightning.

1. Your main light source is highlighting your subject from behind.
2. Your camera is facing the light source, so that means you are shooting into the light.
Which means your subject is placed in the middle – in between of the light source and the camera. Like in the picture below.


I often see overhead food images being used for backlight examples. But let’s have a closer look at what happens when you move your camera overhead. And let’s imagine there is a camera on that tripod, ok? 🙂 And it’s facing down to capture this flatlay  🙂

In fact, light hits your subject from the back and creates the shadow that moves to the front of the subject. However, the camera is not facing the light source here – it is facing down – your subject is not in between your light source and the camera.
Can you see that? 

We no longer talk about backlighting technique here, and since the light hits your camera on the side (not straight in a face 🙂 ),  the light here behaves the same as the side light, but rather than hitting your subject from the left or right side it hits your subject from the back side.

Let’s visualize that!

Image number 1 was taken overhead with a light hitting the subject from the back, however if I changed the orientation like I did in the image number 2 , you might as well think that the light is hitting my subject from the right side.
Can you see that better now?


So now that we know what backlight is and what angle you can capture it with, let’s talk about the magic.
Why I fell in love with backlight?And why I want you to fall in love with it too?

It is atmospheric! ETHEREAL.It adds depth and the magical glow to your images. It almost makes light tangible. 

What to take into account when photographing backlight?

1. Backlight loves texture

Backlight is all about highlighting the texture! And when the light meets the texture  – the magic happens!

2. Backlight will bring little but magical details to  life

Droplets of water on freshly washed tomatoes, sprinkles of sugar on the pie pastry, champagne bubbles in the glass – details that might have been lost with the use of side light, are beautifully enhanced and highlighted with the use of backlight.

3. Backlight doesn’t have to be soft light

This is something I have to explore myself yet! 🙂 But I am inspired by beautiful hard backlight images that have been created for this challenge by other photographers!

Just look at this image created by Catherine Frawley! WOW!

4. Backlight will keep you on your toes

Backlight is not effective in every situation! You have to pick the right subject – mindfully – and focus on the texture here. This type of light can be capricious and challenging. But it also forces you to train your seeing skills, to look closer, to dig deeper. It keeps you on your toes! Do your research and start from something easier.
Think about food that will have a ‘glowing’ effect – chocolate ganache, icing, nice cream or drinks will make a perfect subject for backlight. I also love how it highlights the glister of various fruit and vegetables – just look at these plums!

And a little warning here: backlight picks up every imperfection! If your ganache doesn’t look smooth – this light will intensify it even more.

5. Backlight can be reflected

Backlight creates a lot of shadows, which add dimension and depth to your images. But sometimes too much of a good thing might turn into a problem 🙂 To balance the image and make the lightning look more even – you might want to reflect the light back by placing a reflector or a white foam in front of your frame but making sure it’s not obstructing your camera. Exactly what I did in the image below.

6. Backlight can also be blocked.

Don’t be afraid of blocking your light, like I did in the image below to create the shadow on the top part of the image. With this little trick, I added dimension and avoided the background looking too washed out.


Don’t be afraid to overexpose part of your imagebacklit photos are not technically perfect in terms of exposure.
But don’t you love breaking the rules? I DO!

Playing around with backlight is not about perfection guys – it’s  all about having fun and experimenting to create something new.

Do you love shooting with this type of light? Share your experience in the comments below!
I am also here to answer all of your burning light-related questions!

Hugs, Bea x


    1. So happy to hear Erica!!! I truly can’t wait to see what you’ll create! Big hugs x

    1. Thank you so much Nisha!I used to think that backlight is very limiting, and although it’s not right for every situation I can see so many opportunities now that I worked with it more. So happy to hear it helps! Sending lots of love!

  1. HI BEA, this article. I have been trying to understand light(backlight) lately, but the problem I am facing is the part of the subject which is facing the camera becomes dark. I tried to use a softbox, but it didn’t help that much, which in turn leaves dark shadows and also my white background is getting a blueish tint. hope you can help

    1. Hey Adhyayan! Did you bounce some light back on the subject from the front? Just wondering… That usually helps in my images, sometimes I do lighten my shadow a little bit in post production too. It also depends what you photograph! What was it that you tried to shoot? Not every subject will be a great choice for this backlighting technique – backlight loves anything with a glowing texture – think chocolate ganache, soft ice cream, or a frozen smoothie bowl, drinks, most fruit and vegetables too. You really have to be mindful of the subject you photograph. Let me know your thoughts!

  2. Great idea to do a post about it. I was wondering whether overhead counts. I am the lady who wasnt sure about vinyl surfaces for backlight photography. It does depend on wffect one is looking for. Backlight does push the boundaries. I ve tried several items now thinking texture will work – still havent got the effect i wanted.
    Question: is it worthwhile dispersing the light coming from the back?
    Also, as you are friends with rachel, have you intentionally planned two challenges together? 🤣

    1. Hey Katya! I love that you pointed out vinyl surfaces here – I agree,they can be tricky for this kind of light! I’ll be happy to explore that idea a little deeper!
      I love the fact that you are trying!!!!And yes – backlight does push your boundaries! But it also makes you think and be more mindful – which I love. I did a lot of research before I started shooting with it to ‘get a feel’ of what kind of food works. I would say, try and play with something a little bit simpler first – like fruit and vegetables – there are some beautiful examples to be inspired by under the hashtag #belightinspired. Dispersing will make the light softer for sure, but if it’s an overcast day, dispersing will block some of the light and your scene will appear darker. Be mindful of that 🙂 Hope this helps!!! Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Your approach to light is just incredible Bea!! I’ve always been using side light out of fear of overexposure (always sound way too long since I’m completely new to food photography but anyway!) but at the same time I loved looking at those magical images. It’s so so amazing you’ve shared all this as I don’t think I’d ever understand how gorgeous it can be when you place the camera against the light with food. It’s almost giving me the same vibe as photographing someone in the sunset. Very long way ahead of me to master this but I’m in love with backlight and I cannot thank you enough for sharing all your knowledge! ❤️ Aneta

    1. Hey Aneta! It really is like photographing in the sunset! I am so happy to hear that you feel encouraged to play around with backlight! It really is a great challenge to exercise your seeing skills. And I truly can’t wait to see what you’ll create! Thank you for stopping buy, sending warm hugs your way x

  4. Very informative and beautifully written article Bea. I’ve learned parts of these from our conversations and your posts on this topic. Thank you for providing clarification on many fronts and consolidating all the key aspects together in a single post. 💗💗

    1. Hey lovely lady! How nice to see you on the blog! The way you master light Meera inspires me every day! Big love!

  5. I love playing with backlight though don’t get it right often. Thanks for the wonderful post Bea, I’ll be hanging around here a bit 😍

    1. Hey Deeba! Backlight can be tricky, I agree! But what I like about it is that it really makes you think about light – and it’s always a great challenge to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Backlight is not great for every situation, but I promise if you play around with it long enough, one day you’ll capture real magic!

  6. I completely agree with you, shooting in backlight means shooting light… and then the objects below. Your challenge is very motivating, I love looking at the others pictures and experiments! thank you!! !

    1. Isn’t backlight magical? I love it! Thank you Erica for your lovely words! So nice to see you on the blog!

  7. yes, I used a reflector card, my two subjects were pasta and a salad. maybe, yes my subject wasn’t right for this technique. I have posted the pasta picture using the belight inspired hashtag. I will also text you my raw picture. I get it, my subject wasn’t right. thank you so much, Bea.

    1. Just checked your image on instagram and I don’t think your subject is the problem actually – it seems to me there is too much light in your photo – just send you a DM on Instagram!

  8. Thank you so much Bea for this great blog post and for sharing your expertise so generously. I’m loving the challenge of shooting with backlight. It’s really making me stop and think about the light. x

    1. Thank you Annie!!! I can’t even express how happy your words make me! Can’t wait to see your backlit images 🙂

  9. Hello Bea, I love your picture examples. I have always avoided backlight until the London workshop, and then your Instagram challenge made me really want to give it another go.

    My question for you as a professional photographer is: as it’s your job, you know when the light is best in your studio, and you can make time to use that light at its best. As a hobby photographer, though, I often can only shoot at certain times – do you think it’s possible to shoot with backlight even though you know it’s not the best time for it and then try to make the best of it (because under the circumstances I often can’t do anything else), or would you rather avoid backlight if its not at its best?

    1. Hi Kiki! Excited to hear you want to give it another go! If you were shooting outdoors, then sunrise and sunset are the best times of the day to shoot backlight as the light is at it lowest angle. However as food photography happens indoors, and the light falls through the window, it really doesn’t matter what time of the day you take the shots. All of the backlit photos you see here have been taken during different times of the day, during different weather conditions. So shoot away my dear! Can’t wait to see your images!

  10. Thank you for another wonderful and helpful post, Bea! I often “forget” about backlight because I’m used to shooting from the side, and it’s definitely time for me to #belightinspired. Thank you for the inspiration! <3

    1. I know right!? I have been the same! Since I’ve been shooting backlight like crazy this month, I look at the sidelight photos I take and I am like ‘meh’, there is no magic glow 🙂 I turned from light inspired to light obsessed! 🙂

  11. Hey Bea!
    I’ve just tagged you and forwarded a tomato shot for your #belightinspired. It was a quick shot just taken with my old Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone. Not super styled up or a perfect composition. ..but I think it can show how back light can be quite dramatic. I hope these roasted tomatoes look as yummy in my pic as they were to eat.
    Have a great weekend.
    Love ‘n tomatoes from another ‘B’
    Barley 🙂

    1. Hey Barley! Tomatoes look so good with backlight! You picked the perfect subject! Heading to instagram right now to check out your image! Happy New creative week!

  12. What a wonderful article Bea! I missed this challenge but I will be working on all the tips and tricks you shared here. Your blog is becoming a great resource and I love all the articles that you have shared in the past few months. Please keep them coming as they are super super helpful.

  13. Thats a very informative post bea. Love your work. Wanted a clarification, does backlight work only in light or bright food photography or works well in dark food photography too

    1. Hey Pavithra! Thank you so much! It’s lovely to hear your feedback! It works with dark photography too! Think of a dark chocolate tart in darker surroundings. The backlight would give a chocolate topping that beautiful glister <3

  14. Hi Bea!! It’s been a long time since I visit your magic place last time.
    This post as usual is full of super valuable information, clearly made with love 🙂 Thanks!

    I haven’t been able to photograph with backlight either, you know, this month have been really hard and reflexive for me, my mom got very sick and at some point I felt that cold fear insight of me for the possibility of losing her, and it’s terrifying.
    Luckly this nightmare seem to have ended, today she is going home from hospital and I can’t describe the joy in my heart 😀 :D.

    This things make us realize what the really important, relevant things are in life, and make us be more conscious and grateful of every second of peace and beauty and simple everyday things we have, and sometimes take it for granted.

    I couldn’t think, work, sleep, I felt guilty for seeing or doing anything that made me feel better or made me smile 🙁 it’s weird. Now I finally can get back to my peacefull life where I find beauty and inspiration in everything 🙂 Now more than ever before 🙂

    Although I would’t say I needed a reminder to appreciate simple things in life, because I’m a person who actually tries to be aware of all the blessings, of a beautiful day of sun, of a good conversation, of that feeling of “everything is ok” “life is good” etc so I don’t know why these came to us. Anyway it’s always a good time to recharge those feelings and be more present.

    Big hugs my dear Bea!! and if you can… call your mom and tell her how much you love her 😉 say hi from me 🙂 now I’ll finally have the chance to continue making her recipes hehe.

    Sorry this had nothing to do with the post, I just felt like telling you…

    1. Hi Sara, thank you for sharing this with me. I am so sorry to hear about your mum being very ill. And I am so happy that she is ok now. I can relate to everything you are saying. Everything. I felt exactly the same when my dad was in hospital 2 years ago and had to undergo an open heart surgery. It was the hardest thing I ever experienced in my life. Your words are so true and speak right to my soul. I think it’s beautiful to be ‘awake’ and to notice beauty everyday and everywhere. Thank you again for reminder Sara – I did call my mum 🙂 I told her you made her recipes and she was so exited! Thank you for always being so lovely and honest! Warm hugs dear xxx Big hugs to your mum too xxx

  15. I love this topic and I could make really different and gorgeous photos with back light . It really makes the photo impressive if used in the right place and subject.
    Thank you

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