Backlighting is my jam... specifically natural backlighting using the all beautiful, rarely tamed sun. But I am not special in this regard! Most photographers drool over well executed backlighting and there are tons of reasons why!

-Backlighting helps-

  • Frame subjects 
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  • Brighten everything up
backlighting basics foreground
  • Add dimension  

In fact, if the sun is out, I'm almost always turning my subjects away from it and using it to liven up my images. If you've ever been to a portrait studio, they often have a separate flash pointed at the back of your heads to produce the same effects! 

Here's the problem, though. It's not easy.

Well... it's not as easy as shooting in even, consistent lighting (for example: open shade). With a strong light source behind the subjects, it can be difficult to have detail in the background, keep the subjects out of dark shadow, and avoid sun flare.

Here are a few things to aid you in your journey to rockstar backlighting:

-There are TWO major light sources- 

We all think of the one behind the subject, but I'ld argue that the one in front of the subject is MORE important. That's the lighting source that is going to determine the skin tones, overall color cast, and help brighten up the front of your subjects. 

Since we only have one sun moving through the sky, paying attention to natural reflectors (everything that reflects the sun's light) will be your saving grace. My favorite natural reflectors are concrete, large white buildings or other large white/off white reflectors.


If nothing else, just make sure there is nothing blocking the open light from hitting your subjects, such as trees or shade. I'ld never position my subject facing a dark forest for example!  

-Stay between 45 and 90 degrees-

Sun flare happens when the sun shines directly onto the glass of your lens. Since the flare often softens the focus, I rarely like lens flare. To avoid it, I'll shoot between 45 and 90 degrees off of the direction of the sun (or other backlighting source). For those of you that don't like to work out angles, if your subject was standing directly in front of the sun, you would want to move to the left or the right. 

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-Tame the sun-

Trouble arises when there is a huge difference between the strength of your back lighting source in comparison your front lighting source. It often causes either the detail in the background to be overly bright or the subject to be strongly shadowed.

I've never been able to dim the sun, and I'm told that I aught to stop trying. I've found a few other ways that can produce a similar effect. 

1. Diffusion. Allowing the sun's rays to be diffused through trees, for example, will help tame the rays hitting your subject.

backlighting basics

2. Photographing in the early morning or evening when the sun's rays are not as strong (often called the golden hour) will also help! It's often why you hear photographers drooling over the "glowy" light, not to mention that it adds the warm tones that everyone adores. 

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