8 Tips for Backlighting
Lifestyle, Light

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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.

Download this FREE manual mode cheat sheet!

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

Free Lightroom Presets

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  • May 17, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    Gorgeous example images Kelly + great tips!

  • May 17, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    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.

    • May 21, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      yes, you’ve got that correct…i meter off the subject :) thanks for visiting ciuan!

  • May 17, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Beautiful as always!

  • May 17, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    I’m a huge fan of backlighting and appreciate your post! Thanks, Kelly!

  • May 17, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    Fabulous tips Kelly! Thanks for sharing!

  • May 18, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    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.

  • May 20, 2013 at 10:49 AM

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

  • May 21, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    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!

    • May 21, 2013 at 11:49 AM

      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!

  • July 6, 2013 at 11:00 PM

    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?

  • April 19, 2014 at 2:41 AM

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

  • April 21, 2014 at 11:48 AM

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

    • John Biggs
      November 18, 2014 at 10:30 PM

      Daniel, although this is not what #2 means, digital cameras have far more available data in the brights. It’s a bit to explain but Google ‘expose to the right’. You are giving up a lot of detail with your method.

  • Brooke M
    February 18, 2015 at 10:12 PM

    I shoot Nikon. Question about BBF. Do I need to re-assign my BBF button to do metering as well or can you meter just like normal with the shutter button ?

  • chuong nguyen hong
    May 1, 2015 at 10:31 PM

    Ideas and tips are ao helpful

  • Maria Manjelo
    June 19, 2015 at 4:35 PM

    Good photography tips. Thanks for sharring

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