8 Tips for Backlighting

Shooting into the light is my favorite. I receive emails all the time from people asking what the trick is to backlighting. Most often people say their images are dark or they can’t focus into the light, don’t know how to find the light or have no clue how to position their subject. While this takes lots of practice & requires different settings/set ups for different lighting situations, here are some general tips. I hope this helps some of you!

8 tips for backlighting via Click it Up a Notch

8 Tips for Backlighting

1. Spot Meter.
It is necessary in order to illuminate your subject. If you meter in another mode your subject will be too dark.

2. Overexpose.
Don’t trust your meter when shooting into light. You will need to overexpose the meter to get proper exposure (unless you are going for a dark, dramatic, silhouette type feel). Keep an eye on your highlights & the details in your image…you don’t want to over do it because lost detail is hard to get back during processing.

3. Lens hood.
Use it! It will help your camera focus when shooting into the light. If you don’t have one, you can cup your hand around your lens to shield out some of the light & grab focus easier.

4. Study.
Watch the light around you all day everyday. Think about how it falls when indoor & where/what times the light would be nice for portraits. Obviously if you want to achieve backlit images outdoor you will need to stick as close to sunrise/sunset as possible for those golden tones & soft light.

5. Move around.
If you don’t like the look you’re achieving simply move around your subject to change the way the light affects your image: to produce haze or rather to clean up your image. Similarly you can move your subject to achieve the same results. Even just standing up or crouching down in the same spot will give you different results. Play around & see what you like best.

6. White balance.
Try to get it right in camera! I use Kelvin outdoor & usually indoor as well (sometimes I use my expodisc indoor). Generally I begin around 5580 K while shooting an hour or two before sunset. This is just a starting point, then I will assess & tweak if needed. As the sun gets lower & warmer I adjust my kelvin temperature accordingly.

7. Back button focus.
Maybe it’s just me but I think using BBF helps lock in sharper focus. I toggle then use BBF for extra security then press the shutter.

8. Wear white (if possible).
Carrying a reflector is kind of a pain. Editing color casts is also kind of a pain! Take the easy way & reflect some light back on to your subject by wearing white.

Read more about backlighting

- Secret to Backlighting: Video Q & A
- 6 Steps to Create a Haze Effect in Photos

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Hi! I'm a natural light photographer from Houston, TX in love with capturing my family's everyday moments & my client's too...thank you for being here at Click It Up A Notch with us! Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter My Camera Bag: D3S | D700 | 50mm 1.4G | 85mm 1.4G | 24-70mm 2.8 | 70-200mm 2.8 | 105mm 2.8 | 16mm 2.8 | Tamron 90mm 2.8
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Comments

  1. Gorgeous example images Kelly + great tips!

  2. Love these tips! So, when you spot meter, you’re metering off the subject, right? Just checking. I’ve never thought about wearing white! That’s excellent.
    Amanda recently posted..This Is Why I’m Hot.

  3. Beautiful as always!

  4. I’m a huge fan of backlighting and appreciate your post! Thanks, Kelly!
    Jean recently posted..The Ponytail and the Gymnast

  5. Fabulous tips Kelly! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi Kelly, I love your instructional style – clear, crisp and to the point. I haven’t tried using Back Button Focus – but I will bring out the manual and give it a try. I shoot in RAW, so I haven’t really had too much difficulty correcting color casts, but the Kelvin idea is great. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.
    Donna recently posted..Some Kind of Photographer

  7. Kelly, What a great set of tips and beautiful photographs! Cheers, Rob

  8. Hi, Kelly,

    So, if I’m trying to do back lighting, I want to overexpose my photo vs having it as balanced as possible? How much overexposed should I go for? Just do what looks good to me?

    Thanks for you simple tips. A big help!
    Shannon Hemauer recently posted..My Ad on “Click it up a Notch” is Live

    • hi shannon! you don’t want to overexpose in excess to the point where your subjects skin is blown or they are lacking their natural skin color & look washed out. i only mean that you want to overexpose from what your meter tells you to do. if you have your meter directly centered when shooting into light, chances are your image will be too dark. to properly expose the skin, i am usually 1-3 lines away from the center of the meter but again this all depends on your situation & your desired outcome. look at your highlights & at the back of your camera & adjust to taste. and keep on practicing! it’ll eventually become so routine for you that you will know exactly what to do when dealing with all different kinds of light. thanks for reading my article!

  9. I’ve never tried the bbf yet but and curious about trying it! When you say to overexpose, how do you get the light in the background not to be so blown out?

  10. Top tips! Thank you.
    I have not tried BBF, but feel inspired to after reading your post!

  11. Nice post but I don’t agree with number 2. I actually do the opposite. Underexpose. Then I do the magic with LR.

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