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How to WOW! with Gorgeous Backlit Images

by Jamie Rae, Contributing Editor 

When I first began my photography journey, I was quick to notice the spectacular images that graced the pages of seasoned photographer’s blogs. I loved the glow that some photographers seemed to be able to create behind their subjects. I found out later that this was called backlighting. I knew that this was a technique that would enhance my images, so I dove right into learning! Here are a few tips that I learned along the way.

Practice:  My first piece of advice is to practice, practice, practice! I know this may seem like it should be the last tip in this article, but backlighting is something that you really have to work on if you want consistent results. You can practice on just about anything, whether it is a gorgeous model or an apple hanging from a tree. I remember using flowers- anything works as long as you have your light behind your subject. When I first started, my results were not that impressive. It can be easy to get discouraged, but in time you will see results.

Shooting in Manual:  I highly recommend that any photographer begin to shoot in manual as soon as they can!  This will not only help with your backlighting, but it will also cement your understanding of proper exposure. When shooting, you will want to expose for your subjects face. With the light coming from behind your subject, the sky will be blown out (white), but that is ok! We are after gorgeous skin tones and that sweet ring of light around your subject.

Lighting: You will also want to consider the time of day you are choosing to shoot in. For  soft backlighting, I typically will shoot in the last hours of the day, or in the first hours of light if you are energetic enough for it!  When back lighting in the middle of the day, the sunlight will be very harsh, and you will need to find a way to significantly block the harsh sun (such as a grove of trees or row of houses).

Positioning: In order to achieve that proper halo around your subject, the light will need to be slightly blocked in some way. I have used everything from blackberry bushes to cement walls to rolling hills to sand dunes. You can also have your subject block the light. Below, you will find an example of when I repositioned my subject slightly so that her upper body was blocking the sun.

Pretty backlight coming over sand dunes:

Get Creative: Once you feel comfortable with backlighting your subject, you can start getting creative with sun flare. Sun flare is a refraction of light coming through the glass lens and can occur when shooting directly into the sun.  This can be seen as haze (below), or an actual flare of light. Depending on style, some photographers will embrace sun flare, while others avoid it by using a lens hood and ensuring their light source is properly blocked.

Practice! My last tip, again, is to practice! If done well, backlighting will propel your images into a whole new level of beauty. You will start to become known for your ability to harness light and create that gorgeous glow.

Jamie Rae is a natural light photographer in Portland, Oregon.
She loves helping women tell their unique story of beauty through photographs and does so through portrait and wedding photography.
She lives for learning, lovely light, and the occasional daily chocolate.
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