Some photographers absolutely love backlighting and others shy away from it. Shooting into backlight can make it hard to focus, create muddy images, or even completely wash out your subjects with bright golden light. However, once you learn to control your lighting, you can create images with greater depth and visual impact.
Our contributors are sharing their must try backlighting techniques.
What is the Definition Backlighting in Photography?
Backlighting is achieved when you place your subject in front of the main source of light. This light source can be artificial or natural light like the sun. This is a more advanced lighting technique since it requires you to adjust your settings and focus to get a properly exposed image.
What is backlighting used for in photography?
When you place your subject in front of the light source it created a separation from your subject and the background. This can be used to create a bigger sense of depth in your photo.
___ Different Backlighting Techniques to Try
Creating Silhouettes with Backlighting
Silhouettes are a great way to use backlighting to create fun and unique photos. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when creating a silhouette photo. First, you want to look for a background where your subject is against the sky without anything behind them (it helps if you get down really low and shoot up towards your subject if you need more sky). This could be your subject standing on a hill, on the beach, just about anywhere with open sky behind them.
Second, tell your subjects to spread apart if you have more than one person in the photo (for example, have them stretch their arms out holding hands with each other). If you have just one person make sure that they have space between their arms & legs otherwise you end up with more of a blob silhouette.
Third, you will want to meter off the sky to set your exposure so that they sky is in color & the person is underexposed which is what gives the silhouette look.
Play around with the positioning of the subject and experiment with this — you can add in objects like umbrellas to add extra detail to the story, use varying perspectives, and end up with creative photos!
Backlighting for Sunflare
One really intriguing way to play with backlighting is with sun flares. When trying to achieve a sun flare, I find it best to move my camera until I get just the right amount of sun that I desire peeking from behind.
For this image, I kept moving my body and camera until just the right amount of sun was peeking from behind the window frame to create the look I was going for. My settings for this image were ISO 640, f/1.8, 1/125ss. Because I wanted a sun flare instead of a sunburst, I used a small aperture of f/1.8.
Backlighting is my favorite type of lighting, It is so much fun! One of my favorite types of backlight is rim light. When using rim lighting, allow your subject to block the light source so that the light is shining from completely behind your subject and accentuating just the edges of your subject.
Often I even underexpose or meter for the highlights to allow the rim light to take center stage. I love that it can add a bit more interest to an otherwise ordinary moment. Another tip is to try converting these images to black and white. The extra contrast makes for a beautiful conversion!
Backlighting with Dust
If you are looking to use backlighting in your photo you want to head outside during golden hour, the hour before sunset. If you have trees blocking the horizon you may want to head out at the beginning of golden hour as the sun will set behind the trees and makes it harder for you to have the sun come pouring into your image. On this evening, I had my kids standing in front of a tree with the sun peeking in through the leaves. However, as we started to walk home I found this empty spot and ask them to stop. Little did I know that a car would drive down the dirt road kicking up dirt which created the most beautiful haze behind my subject.
Once the dust settled down it lost some of the glow I had with the dirt. I couldn’t believe how beautiful dirt in the air with the sun coming in behind it could be.
I love a little bit of rim lighting when shooting into backlight. However, I sometimes find it difficult to shoot during golden hour with my kids. As my kids get older, golden hour has gotten more and more elusive and now I find myself reaching for my studio lights instead.
I really wanted a dark background in this portrait, but my daughter’s hair is also really dark. I didn’t want her to blend into the background, so I added a strobe behind her. Typically, I’d angle my key light and back light at 45 degree angles on the same side or place a strobe directly behind my subject.
For this image, I wanted a more “angelic” feel, so I had the strobe behind her, but about 8 feet up. This gives more of a halo effect on the backdrop and her hair.
Indoor Backlit Photography
Often times when people think of backlighting they do not think about how to use it indoors. However, understanding how to use backlit photos indoors can add depth and interest to your photos. This is especially true if you combine backlit photos with sun flare indoors.
Although most people shoot outdoors during golden hour, I encourage you to try it indoors as well. When the light spills in your window you can create stunning images.
Below is an image that was taken during golden hour as the sun poured into the kitchen. You will notice I do not have a typical subject (a person) in this photo as I wanted to move quickly to photograph the light. However, that doesn’t stop this photo from telling a story. Small details are included in this image that has depth and beautiful light.