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People intuitively understand that lighting helps create a certain look in a photo or video – maybe it’s sultry and moody, maybe something more bright and cheerful. However, the techniques, skills and subtle nuances to successfully execute these different moods are often underappreciated. We wanted to “pull back the curtain” on our creative process and share how our talented photographers use lighting to get the perfect look.

In this series of photos, we maneuvered one strobe light attached to a soft box around a styled cocktail, evoking distinguished moods and creating unique textures. You can also execute these same techniques with natural light. Keep in mind, it can be a little more unreliable.

Can you see the difference? It’s the same scene but with four different lighting techniques. With them, we’re going to show you how to create your own mood through lighting.


#1 – Backlit

What is backlit photography? Simply put, it’s light hitting your subject from behind. This could be effective if you’re striving for a more moody photograph. It is also a great way to highlight and obscure certain elements in the frame.

For this shot, in particular, the backlit technique emphasizes the garnish and detail on the top of the cocktail. The light casts over the cocktail and illuminates the bubbles, mint leaves, ice cube, and lemon rind, capturing your attention first. This photograph is indeed ‘moody’. Because it is backlit, it has drama, high contrast and harsh shadows.


#2 – Right Side & #3 – Left Side

This lighting technique can also be referred to as split lighting, meaning that one side of the composition is well-lit, while the other side falls into shadow. For these two compositions, you can see that the lighting is very directional, casting shadows on certain elements in the frame.

For the right side lighting technique, the cocktail glass and the Hendrick’s Gin bottle are highlighted; yet, since the light hits these two elements first, and with their height, shadows stream across the smaller garnishes on the surface.

To compare, the left side lighting has more breathing room for the light to pass through and illuminate almost every aspect of the scene.


#4 – Overhead

What is overhead lighting? This is when your subject is lit from directly above. It creates a more produced, or, in other words, artificial feel. Rarely is your natural light source this harsh from overhead. So typically, to execute this look, you would need artificial light.

This photograph has a bright, clean, crisp, and professional look and feel. Commercial photography is used for sales, rather than visually telling a story to your audience. This overhead lighting technique reduces shadows resulting in minimal depth in the composition. From the Hendrick’s bottle to the mint leaves in the foreground, everything is illuminated, causing it to feel harsh, as well as a little bit flat.


The Winner – Left Side

As a result, left side lighting is the best lighting technique for this particular scene.

It encompasses all of the elements we wanted to highlight. The garnishes are fully illuminated as well as the cocktail and the Hendrick’s bottle, but tastefully. The variation in height of all of the subject matter combined with the direction of the light, allowed for the shadows to create depth and movement throughout the composition, rather than casting shadows on important elements. Your eye travels smoothly through the scene, starting with the background components and ending with the final cocktail in the foreground. Plus, don’t you love the way the light is hitting that sliced lemon in the glass? We do too!

Every cocktail, food or product that you shoot will be different. Changing the direction of your light source will inevitably change where the shadows fall in the composition. So, play around with your light directions and choose the one that best complements the entire scene.



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Kate Broussard

Kate Broussard

Kate has extensive experience in professional photography, content creation, online marketing and storytelling. She supports Room 214 and its clients through helping brands tell their visual stories and creating engaging content. She loves camping and hiking with her dogs, when she's not honing her killer dance moves.