Be Brave and Embrace Beautiful Backlight

By Rebecca Nicolandos

There is always great attention placed on lighting in photography and it is a key element in making your photograph becoming a compelling image for viewers.

An image that has been carefully planned in terms of lighting will be one that stands out in our minds and one that we would like to hang on our wall. This is how we summarise capturing a truly amazing image!

So let’s start being more brave with our lighting choices! It is easy to chose the softly diffused or even lighting. It is easy to work with, and subtle on our subject. Use this as your ‘safe option’ and then at the end of your shoot, be brave and try something new! I always like to hold onto the fact that learning and improving is about challenging ourselves.

So, I challenge you to begin to embrace backlighting. Have fun and explore new techniques to make our images stand out in a crowd.

I highly recommend that you shoot in RAW rather than jpeg as I often need to alter the white balance and make slight exposure adjustments after the shoot to create the perfect result! These techniques are pitched at photographers who are using DSLR Cameras with the relevant manual controls to achieve these types of results.

Technique 1: The Classic Silhouette

The classic silhouette is achieved by exposing for the bright area behind the subject, which is often, but not always, the sky. As a result the main subject becomes black or almost black. The contrast range is so high that the camera decides to meter for the brightest part of the image. Silhouettes are a powerful way to simplify an image, but it is important that the silhouetted shape is interesting enough to maintain our interest. The silhouette can even tell a story, like the image shown here.

Technique 2: Backlight + Reflector

To move away from our image being a silhouette, we need to alter the contrast range so it is not so great. We can do this be adding in more light to the front of the subject. A reflector is a really great way to do this and what you see is what you get! If you do not have a reflector, you could use a sheet of white card or even a light coloured wall will do the same trick!

Technique 3: Make an Exposure Compensation

To create an image that has a more bright and glowy feel, you might like to try this technique. I usually try to find some leaves that bright light is beaming through. Next I compose my image and then finally make an ‘exposure compensation’ of between +1 or +2 stops. You can look up the term exposure compensation in your camera’s manual to work out where this setting on your camera can be found. You will lose some detail in your background, but personally I don’t think that it matters, this style of image is more about the brightness and feel of the image.

Technique 4: Use Fill Flash

If you would like to achieve the perfect balance between your foreground subject and retain the information in the background this is the best technique to use. You will need to take test shots to find the right settings with each situation.

For this technique it is good to use a flash that can manually be altered like a Nikon Speedlight or the equivalent one for your camera body. Shoot in your camera’s manual shooting mode.

1. Place your models back to the sun to make sure they are not squinting (so you are standing in the apex of the shadow)
2. Set your camera manually to it’s maximum flash sync speed (many camera’s can be set on 1/200th, but you must read your camera manual if you do not know)
3. Use your lowest ISO possible to work with the flash (work this out when you are taking your test shots, it is usually 100 ISO)
4. Using your manual settings, alter the aperture to match the chosen ISO

You might like to also read about Neil van Niekerk’s method of always testing his fill flash shots at 1/250 @f4 @ISO 100 when photographing backlit subjects! This article can be found at …

Remember to get the image looking as well exposed as possible when shooting and then further adjustments can be made if needed using your RAW files when you edit them.

Good luck and happy shooting!

2 Responses to “Be Brave and Embrace Beautiful Backlight”
  1. Nice article. Thanks Bec.

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