Backlighting is one of the most attractive forms of lighting for photography but it can present a big challenge, not least when it comes to exposure. In this tutorial Mark Hamblin explains how to master backlighting like a pro.
We’re all familiar with the concept of front lit images but if you turn around 180º and shoot towards the sun you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
Backlighting is a more a creative way to use sunlight and creates a beautiful aura around the subject giving your images greater impact.
To use backlighting most effectively it’s best if the sun is quite low in the sky so that it’s coming from directly behind the subject.
You can even use the subject to hide the sun and this will produce very dramatic results with bright rim lighting around the edge of the subject highlighting hair or fur.
Backlighting tips: 01 Add drama
Backlighting by its very nature increases contrast in your images. This adds to the drama of backlit images but it does make exposure more difficult because of the extreme range of tones.
Bright sunlight produces the most extreme backlighting effect but also the greatest contrast with black shadows and very bright highlights.
No camera can handle such extremes and so you either have to compromise and decide what is the most important part of the subject to expose correctly or shoot when the light is less intense.
Backlighting tips: 02 Create the right mood
The overall mood of a backlit subject is strongly influenced by how the picture is exposed.
In this softly backlit woodland scene I was able to capture all the tones but I still had to decide what exposure settings to use to get the effect I wanted.
In this case I used Manual metering mode and spot metering to take a meter reading from a trunk that I wanted to be recorded as mid-toned.
Using these exposure values meant that all the light and dark tones were correctly exposed, which I confirmed by checking the histogram.
Histogram: photography cheat sheets for achieving perfect exposure
Forest photography: tips for shooting your local woodland
High-contrast photography: how to expose a forest scene in strong light
Creative spot metering: how professionals expose in high-contrast conditions
See the light like a pro: everything you were afraid to ask about using natural light
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