A simple, yet stunning, backlight trick for still life photography

Backlight technique for still life photography: step 3

Backlight technique for still life photography

Off-camera flash is a great way to create a backlight effect that can boost your still life photography. It’s an easy technique to master, and can add real depth and character to still lifes.

The trick is to create a lovely light rim around your subject, which will show off its shape and edge detail – the prickles of our thistle look great when they’re lit from behind.

The idea is simply to position a flashgun behind your subject, so that the light points directly at the camera. The challenge then is to make sure that lens flare doesn’t creep into your image; any stray light that enters the lens directly will be ruinous (find out how to eliminate harsh shadows when using flash).

Luckily, flare is easy to avoid if you use a mix of exposure adjustments, light positioning, ‘snoots’ and reflectors (for more on how to to combat flare, see our guide to common lens problems – and how to solve them). These enable you to direct, focus and reflect light.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED: Flashgun, card and electrical tape

Backlight technique for still life photography: step 1

Step 1: Light control
Fold a piece of card into a cone shape, or ‘snoot’, and attach it to your flashgun with tape, as shown. Use other pieces of card as ‘flags’ – place these around your subject to block out stray light and minimise flare. Put the flashgun behind your subject, pointing at the camera.

Backlight technique for still life photography: step 2

Step 2: Firing the flash
To trigger the flashgun, you can use a remote flash trigger. However, depending on your camera make and model you may find that it’s easier to use your pop-up flash’s slave mode to fire the flashgun – how you do this will vary between cameras, so check your manual.

Backlight technique for still life photography: step 3

Step 3: Lights, camera, action…
The flashgun might confuse the in-camera metering, so go manual and use the histogram to establish a good exposure. We shot at 1/125sec at f/8 and ISO100. Chances are you won’t get the effect right first time, so move the reflectors and flags until you do.


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