Backlighting Your Subject Successfully

backlighting, golden hour, sunset, haze, photography, portraits

Backlighting is typically used in the industry to describe a photo where your subject has the sun lighting them from behind. The photographer shoots into the sun, capturing the light streaming in around their subject which adds a hazier look to their images. How much that subject is backlit and how much sun flare is let into your image is up to the photographer. Here are some tips to create beautiful backlit images.

Time of day

backlighting, golden hour, sunset, haze, photography, portraits

The easiest way to create backlit images is to shoot in the golden hour either before sunset or just as the sun is rising. The higher the sun, the more harsh your backlighting will be. If you wait until the sun is just about to fall over the horizon or just has, you’ll get a much softer look. However, this time slips away quickly. So it’s best to end your session during this time when your clients are already relaxed in front of the camera. It all depends on the effect you’re going for! In the photo above, there was only a 30 min difference in time. The sun was higher on the left so the backlight is harsher than that on the right where the sun had begun to drop down.


backlighting03 (1)

A great way to create that “halo of light” effect on your subject when the sun is high is to find a spot where the sun hits their head, but there is something in the background to diffuse and contrast with it. Whether that’s trees, a building, etc, it will create more separation between them and the bright sky.

Lens selection – There are so many different looks you can create based on your lens selection. By using a wider lens (like a 24 or 35) you’ll get more of the entire scene. If you use a telephoto lens, you’ll compress the depth of field and still allow a lot of light into the lens. Shooting at a wider aperture  will allow more sun into your camera creating a hazy look.

Focus – Sometimes with backlighting, focus can be an issue. If your autofocus is having trouble locking in focus, try this trick. Using your left hand, block the sun coming into your lens. Then lock focus on your subject, and bring your hand back down allowing the sun to come in. Backbutton focus works especially well in this situation, because you can lock it in and not worry about it losing focus when you press on the shutter release button.

Keep in mind that depending on how hazy your image is, you’ll have to add some contrast back into your image in your post processing. It also helps the tones in your image to be richer if you slightly underexpose your image in camera. In these situations, shooting RAW really helps you keep the dynamic range in your image and allows you flexibility while editing later.

What are your tips for getting that perfect backlit image?

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