Alternative Lighting & Composition

Why Transmitted Light Photography?

This is the fifth and last in a series of posts about transmitted light photography. This is about lighting from a perspective that I believe most of us are unfamiliar with, and one that shows a subject from a previously unseen perspective: its interior.

In this last post, let’s look at a simple question: Why transmitted light photography?

As I’ve previously noted, transmitted light photography enhances the dramatic mode of subject, produces a soft ethereal glow from apparent interior lighting, provides a visual perception of extended depth of field, and shows a dependence on colored filters to show exciting internal features.

Some photographers may ask: Can’t an image with the same qualities as a transmitted light photograph be created by image-editing software on a computer? Isn’t any difference you may visualize in a transmitted light photography simply a lighting artifact? Are backlit images true representations of the subject?

I agree with the first assertion, in that it is entirely possible to replicate or create a first copy photograph of a transmitted light subject using photo-editing software such as Photoshop. Many similar glowing, texture rich and imaginary manipulations are possible with this powerful tool.

But the key word I want to emphasize here is “imaginary.” Many computer-edited photographs are simply reflections of what the operator thinks the subject should look like by adjusting the actual lighting conditions and colors, and extending the depth-of-field. Some computer-edited images are indeed interesting creations, but do not always true replications of the world as we see it. Transmitted light photography brings a subject’s hidden features into view, not in an imaginary re-created format.


Without knowing in advance how transmitted light will react with a subject’s interior, I contend it would be very difficult for a computer editor to produce an authentic representation of the subject. Moreover, a transmitted light photograph often displays hidden geometric lines, shapes, patterns, textures, and colors of which a computer editor would be unaware.

Transmitted light photography allows the viewer to see a subject from a normally invisible perspective. It’s almost analogous to opening up a new world to which our eyes have been previously blinded, similar, perhaps, to some animals’ vision into the ultraviolet and infrared spectral regions, which are beyond our narrow vision range.


I hope you incorporate transmitted light photography into your “bag of tricks”. Why rob yourself of a powerful, simple method to portray many subjects at their fullest artistic potential?

You may become so enthralled by transmitted light photography that you won’t want to photograph translucent subjects by any other technique, as I now do.


Read the fourth post in this series: Subjects to Photograph by Transmitted Light Photography.

Tell us what you think!

Latest Tweets

Stay Informed

Click here to register with Focal Press to receive updates.

about MasteringPhoto

MasteringPhoto, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for hobbyist photographers through pro image makers. No matter what your passion is—from people and landscapes to postproduction and business practices—MasteringPhoto offers advice and images that will inform and inspire you. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of photography, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.