The definition of backlighting
What is a backlight? Backlighting is when the primary source of light is at the back of your subject, lighting them from behind.
Backlighting can produce stunning images, which may come as a surprise to amateur photographers who have been advised to always shoot with front lighting. This advice is often given because it is the easiest lighting to expose for, and backlighting presents a unique set of challenges. However, backlighting is a visually striking form of lighting, that can even make your subject appear as though they are lit from within. Backlighting is a creative style of lighting that can be used to modify the aesthetic of your photos and to add a sense of depth to your images.
If you’re curious about how to do backlight photography, look no further. In this post, we will be looking at 10 tips for composing great images using backlighting. We will also go over a couple of extras:
- Backlight photography tips (including backlight flash photography)
- Backlight photography settings
- Backlight photography ideas
Backlight photography tips
1. Manual settings
Our most crucial backlight photography tip is to use manual settings. It is extremely difficult to create a backlit photograph using automatic camera settings. Backlighting has the effect of making your subject appear dark in the camera, so you must adjust your camera to overexpose the photo.
2. Spot metering
Although we have suggested a shutter speed (below), it can be difficult to get your exposure right in backlighting circumstances. One way of finding the right shutter speed is to use spot metering on your camera to measure the light. With spot metering, the camera will only read the light from your subject’s face to attain the right exposure rather than exposing for the scene’s overall light.
3. Shoot during golden hour
If you want to make use of natural lighting, golden hour is the optimal time to shoot, As we mentioned in our article on golden hour, when the sun is low in the sky, it is the perfect time to get backlit portraits. The late afternoon sun will also work well if the golden hour is inconvenient. Most backlight photography examples you find are shot in the golden hour, but you can also use studio lighting for backlighting.
4. Keep the sun out of the shot
Some photographers like to have the low sun in the shot, but this is incredibly difficult to expose for. We would recommend keeping the sun behind your model, just outside of the frame, or partly behind your model.
5. Don’t bother with autofocus
Your camera is going to struggle with the influx of light, and it is unlikely that it will be able to autofocus. Instead, stick with the manual settings we have suggested.
6. Use a lens hood for clearer images
Using a lens hood is helpful to focus on your subject and keep your image crisp when shooting with a backlight. You could also block the light from your lens by partially covering it with your hand.
7. Create a lens flare
We just mentioned using a lens hood for clearer images. However, some photographers love the lens flare effect you achieve when the light dazzles your camera; in which case you should avoid using a lens hood, and experiment with your angles to achieve the lens flare.
8. Use a fill flash
When your background is significantly brighter than your subject, (such as when using backlighting), it can be useful to use a fill flash, which helps to evenly illuminate your subject, and eradicate shadows. This is especially useful when shooting portrait photography; as you are unlikely to want shadows on your subject’s face.
9. Use a diffuser on your flash
Putting a diffuser on your flash helps to soften the light, and prevents the light directed at your subject from looking unnatural and harsh.
10. Angle the flash upwards
When using a backlight, especially from the sun, you don’t want it to look like there are any other light sources. When you angle your flash at an upwards angle towards your subjects, it keeps the light looking natural and soft. It counteracts the shadows, but it still looks like your sun is the main source of light.
Backlight photography settings
Here are our recommendations for camera settings when practising backlight photography.
Your aperture depends on what look you are trying to create – do you want to focus the whole scene or do you want to isolate the subject from the background? If you are trying to achieve the former you will require a narrow aperture, e.g. f/22, f/16, f/11. We would recommend trying isolating your subject from the background, as the shallow depth of field complements backlighting beautifully. For this, you will need a wide aperture value, which could be anywhere from f/2.8 to f/5.6.
As there is a lot of light is aimed directly at your camera, you can keep to a low ISO of 100.
The shutter speed will vary depending on the amount of light, and the aperture you have selected, but it will fall into the range of 1/100 to 1/640.
Backlight photography ideas
- Golden hour portraits: Golden hour is the perfect time to create portraits where your subjects are surrounded by a golden glow.
- Nature photography: You don’t just have to shoot portraits with backlighting – nature photography looks great with backlighting, too.
- Artificial lights: Natural backlighting produces a soft, ethereal glow. But if you want to try out a more dynamic, editorial look, consider using studio lighting for your shoot.
We hope you found our top 10 tips for backlight photography useful! If you require a portrait photographer, book with Splento. At Splento, we provide you with reliable, on-demand photographers at an affordable price. Contact us today to enquire about your photoshoot.