Backlit portraits: how to give your subjects a golden halo effect

Backlit portraits: how to give your subjects a golden halo effect

In our latest outdoor portrait photography tutorial we show you how to use clever framing of the sun give your people pictures a golden halo effect. Read on to find out how to make your own atmospheric backlit portraits!

Backlit portraits: how to give your subjects a golden halo effect

Using the sun to backlight shots of people is a brilliantly effective way to add a summery, sunkissed feel to portraits, and is especially popular in fashion and wedding photography.

In this tutorial we’ll show you how to get the look by positioning the sun behind your model and creating a warm halo of light around them. To get the best results in this trickly lighting situation it pays to switch White Balance, focus and exposure to manual.

We shot our model, Athene, on a July evening, and waited until 8pm for the sun to be at the right height to frame her face. Anyone with blonde hair is perfect for this, as the sun will shine through and light up fair hair. Here are our suggestions for getting a perfect contre jour effect…

How to frame backlit portraits

How to frame backlit portraits: step 1

01 Switch to manual
Manual avoids your camera overcompensating for the light and silhouetting your model. A wide aperture, such as f/5.6, creates shallow depth of field, and ISO100 is fine. Experiment with shutter speed – we found overexposing two stops with a setting of 1/125 sec gave just enough definition.


How to frame backlit portraits: step 2

02 Get in focus
Shooting into the sun means autofocus will struggle. One trick is to shield your lens from the sun with your hand, focus on your subject’s face, then take your hand away and shoot, but it’s less hassle to focus manually. Remember, do not look through your viewfinder directly at the sun.


How to frame backlit portraits: step 3

03 Find the right angle
To avoid blowing out your photo, and to keep your subject’s features defined, you’ll need most of the sun behind your model’s head. Experiment with positioning and camera settings until you find an effect you like – and don’t worry about lens flare as it can create an attractive look.


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