Lighting Portrait Tech

How To Effectively Use Backlighting in Photography

A portrait of a young child jumping with joy, shot using backlight photography

On this article we’ll present you learn how to use backlighting for flattering portraits and the way to create an accurate publicity with it.

Backlighting in images occurs when the primary mild is behind your topic and dealing with the digital camera.

Don’t mistake this for background lighting. That illuminates the background. Backlighting illuminates your topic from behind.

Backlight images could be difficult, particularly for those who’re used to utilizing the auto publicity modes in your digital camera. It’s straightforward to create an disagreeable publicity with a robust mild behind your topic.

A portrait of a young child jumping with joy, shot using backlight photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Why Is Backlighting Difficult?

Mild behind your topic dealing with in the direction of your digital camera has a robust affect on publicity.

If you don’t take a cautious mild meter studying and set your digital camera nicely, your topic will seem too darkish and underexposed.

A backlit photo of purple orchids

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

With auto publicity settings you will have to compensate for the robust mild affecting your digital camera’s selection of publicity.

With guide mode it’s essential to select applicable publicity settings so your topic is properly uncovered and appears the best way you need it to.

At occasions you want your topic to seem darkened, making a silhouette impact. Once you need your topic to be properly uncovered, you will have to make sure your digital camera meter reads the sunshine reflecting off your topic solely.

How Can You Expose a Backlit Photograph Nicely?

Through the workshops we train I discover that the majority newbie photographers have their digital camera mild meter set to default mode. Lots of them are sometimes not conscious of the opposite metering choices.

A close up portrait of a female model shot using backlight in photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Technique 1: Use Spot Metering

I choose to set my digital camera’s publicity meter to the ‘spot’ mode for backlit pictures. On this mode the meter will take its studying from a really small space of the composition, relatively than the entire body.

It’s going to more than likely take a light-weight studying from the purpose that it’s targeted on. Totally different makes and fashions of digital camera differ on this, so seek the advice of your digital camera guide to make certain.

For those who take a spot meter studying from the mistaken place in your photograph your publicity might be incorrect.

Studying to make use of the spot metering system will assist you make extra precisely uncovered backlit pictures. It is going to additionally make it easier to achieve a greater understanding of sunshine.

You can also make use of the spot meter in any lighting state of affairs, not just for backlighting. I exploit it regularly, so have programmed certainly one of my digital camera’s perform buttons to activate the spot meter once I press it.

Technique 2: Use Guide Mode to Decide Publicity

Alternatively, you should use your digital camera’s monitor to find out the publicity. Many cameras, when set to guide mode, will present how the publicity will seem on the monitor in reside view mode.

By paying cautious consideration to the sunshine reflecting off a backlit topic you can also make publicity changes to acquire the look you need. You will notice the impact of those modifications in actual time in your digital camera’s monitor.

You’ll be able to depart your publicity set to the default mode in case you are not sure about utilizing the spot meter or guide mode. When you’ve got taken a photograph of your backlit topic, verify your monitor to see the way it appears.

Whether it is too darkish, use the publicity compensation and dial in plus one or plus two compensation. Take one other photograph and evaluation. Maintain tweaking the compensation till you’re proud of the best way your topic seems to be.

This technique can be slower to make use of due to the necessity to take quite a few photographs and examine every earlier than making publicity changes.

Use a Reflector to Soften the Distinction

I virtually all the time use spot metering for portraits, taking a studying from my topic’s face. This provides me the knowledge I have to create a photograph so their pores and skin tone might be uncovered appropriately.

Sometimes, I’ll use a reflector to bounce mild again into their face so the distinction within the photograph isn’t so excessive.

A portrait of a rice farmer at work shot using a reflector to bounce the light

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Including mirrored mild onto a topic will assist deliver a stability. In my portrait of this rice farmer, I used a big reflector to allow the publicity on his face to be just like the publicity within the background.

The photograph under was made and not using a reflector and my publicity was set for the background, so my topic is darkish.

Had I set my publicity for his pores and skin tone and never used a reflector the background would have been very overexposed.

An overexposed portrait of a rice farmer at work - how to use backlight for portrait photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Exposing For The Background

Typically it would be best to expose your photograph so the sunshine within the background is sweet and your topic is underexposed. You’ll be able to create silhouettes like this.

The silhouette of a pagoda against a stunning sunset

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Making a spot meter studying from the background provides you with a extra correct publicity setting than in case you make an averaged studying.

When you have your publicity meter set to learn from the entire body it’ll additionally take your topic under consideration and provides a studying accordingly.

This will likely trigger your background to be considerably overexposed. It will range on how a lot of your composition your topic takes up.

Nevertheless, you select to make an publicity studying, be very cautious of the sunshine supply. In case your mild supply could be very robust it’ll have a big impact in your publicity.

Photographing immediately in the direction of the solar when it’s at a low angle is a state of affairs the place your publicity might be adversely affected.

I needed some element to be retained within the foreground of this photograph of a shelter within the rice fields. Had I included the solar absolutely and used averaged metering, my photograph would have been rather a lot darker.

I might have misplaced all element within the foreground as a result of it will have been underexposed.

The silhouette of a rice shack at evening time - what is backlighting in photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

I positioned myself so the solar was partially blocked by the tree. Setting my digital camera to make use of the spot meter, I then made a studying from the minimize rice within the foreground.

After making an publicity I then checked the picture on my digital camera’s monitor and tweaked the publicity till I used to be glad with it.

The best way to Use Backlight for Artistic Images

Backlighting most frequently leads to a composition which isn’t evenly uncovered. When you’re of the assumption that a good bell-shaped histogram is fascinating, give it up now. It’s not going to occur in backlit pictures.

However this isn’t a nasty factor. The truth is, forgetting about technical perfection will allow you to seize some fascinating results utilizing the backlight.

Take this picture of a fern, for instance.

A fern leaf shot with backlighting photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Composing the photograph of a fern, I might see all of the element within the background. I purposefully set my publicity for the fronds of the plant. The background can be underexposed.

Having the sunshine coming from behind the fern, and the background being within the shade, my primary topic was remoted.

Get Artistic With Translucent Topics

Translucent topics look fabulous when they’re backlit. A few of the mild passes by means of smoke, water spray, leaves, flags and different translucent issues.

This enhances them with a considerably surreal luminosity.

Search for a lot of these issues the place you possibly can compose them with a darkish background to make them actually pop.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Place the Mild Supply Low to Create Inventive Flare

Backlighting in images can produce many assorted types of images. Relying on the place the digital camera, topic, and lightweight supply are in relation to one another you’ll have totally different outcomes.

A light-weight supply which is low, down, and behind your topic may cause lens flare. That is nice if it’s the impact you need, or lens flare can wreck a photograph.

To attenuate lens flare use a lens hood and place your self so the sunshine shouldn’t be coming into your lens.

Hiding the sunshine supply behind the topic can work when your topic is giant sufficient and shut sufficient to your digital camera.

A dreamy portrait of a female shot using backlight

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

When the sunshine supply is larger, you should still get some flare. If I are not looking for this, I’ll typically shade the entrance of my lens with my left hand.

The upper above your topic the sunshine supply is, the much less dramatic the backlighting impact can be.

A pagoda surrounded by water - backlighting in photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Transfer round your topic. Watch how your digital camera place modifications the best way the sunshine seems because it falls in your topic.

Should you can management the place your mild and topic are in relationship to one another, you’ll be able to place them to your satisfaction.

When you can’t transfer them, chances are you’ll want to think about returning at a special time of day to seize the picture you take into consideration.

Utilizing the solar as a light-weight supply requires that you’re able to make your pictures on the proper time of the day.

In case you are someplace within the morning and the sunshine just isn’t proper, contemplate the way it might look within the night. You may be capable of produce a photograph with much more fascinating backlighting.

Take Balanced Road Portraits With Backlighting

Robust distinction in backlit photographs can create drama. If you add one other mild supply or reflector as a fill mild in your topic it brings stability to your publicity. That is how I want to mild my portraits.

On the street, I’m on the lookout for conditions the place backlit topics have one thing reflecting mild onto their faces.

This instance of a lady purchasing on the market has mild reflecting off the white plastic field in entrance of her onto her face.

A portrait of two street market vendors shot using backlighting

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Controlling the sunshine through the use of a reflector helps me get hold of higher exposures when I’m making portraits utilizing my outside studio.

With none reflection again into the topic’s face, their pores and skin tone can be too darkish. On this photograph of the Karen lady there’s additionally mild reflecting off the tray of rice.

A portrait of a karen woman against a black backgrounf - backlighting in photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Submit-Processing Backlit Images

Backlit pictures typically profit from no less than a bit of tweaking in publish. JPEG information won’t stand as much as a lot manipulation, so don’t overlook to shoot in RAW.

Sometimes with photographs the place there’s excessive distinction, the digital camera won’t render particulars in each the lightest and darkest areas. Publish-processing backlit photographs to reinforce these areas will assist make extra fascinating photographs.

Within the photograph of the market scene above, I lightened the person’s face. There was not a lot mild mirrored onto his face as there was on his buyer’s face.

The photograph seemed a bit unbalanced, so I dodged his face and shirt a bit of. I additionally darkened the background and foreground to deliver stability.

With a darkish background I’ll most frequently deepen the shadows and blacks to intensify the impact. With portraits, I’m cautious to retain readability in my topic’s face and good pores and skin tones.

A portrait of a Lahu Man - How To Use Backlighting in Photography

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Experiment! Backlighting could be tough. The extra you practise, the extra you’ll perceive how every state of affairs, topic, and lightweight supply behave in another way. And also you’ll have the ability to use backlighting extra successfully.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin’s skilled background is in editorial and business images. Please enroll in his FREE course for newbie photographers which can construct your confidence in images. You’ll discover ways to make sense of digital camera settings and achieve a greater understanding of the significance of sunshine in images.
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