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What is Backlighting?

If you are a beginner or even an experienced photographer, then you know that learning photography is not a fixed-step. It is ever-changing, and you have new things to learn every day. It is the job of the photographer to remain in touch with different techniques used in the field. If you wanted to learn how to enhance your photography just by using the light, well, here you are. This article will not only answer ‘What is Backlighting?’, but it will also guide you on how to use backlighting to create dramatic photographs. 

What is Backlighting in Photography?

As the name suggests, backlighting in photography is a process in which you place the primary source of light behind the subject. As such, it can be the sun in outdoor settings or artificial lights in the studio.   

The difference between background lighting and backlighting is that, in the former, we use a light to illuminate the background. However, in backlighting, the light faces the camera, and the subject is placed between them.   

Using backlight photography, you can emphasize the subject and add depth to the image. This depth can be used to create a contrast between the background and the subject. Moreover, it can also add dramatic effects to the image, if used creatively.   

Although it is easy to know ‘What is Backlighting’, however it can be confusing for a beginner. As has been noted, this process requires a light behind the subject, but that light affects exposure. If it is not adjusted, then some parts of the image will be left underexposed. 

How to do Backlight Photography?

Portrait with backlighting - What is Backlighting?

Photo edited in Lightroom.

Step 1: Manual Settings

As you know, getting the exposure right is the challenge in this process. Therefore, shift to Manual Mode as soon as you start backlight photography. We have to overexpose the front of the subject to cancel the darker silhouette caused by the backlight. For this purpose, you can use a wide aperture and ISO of around 100. You can keep the Shutter Speed in the range of 1/100 and 1/640. 

Also, it would be better if you shoot in RAW, then as it will give you control in the post-processing.  

Step 2: Get the Light Right

In-studio, you can control the lighting however you want. But if you want to shoot outdoors, then the best time is the golden hour, as it provides a soft light. Next, you have to place your light source behind the subject. Make sure that the source is hidden and just the streams of light are coming from around the subject. 

This is the most creative step while learning how to do backlight photography. Try to experiment with both angles and positions to get the best perspective. 

Step 3: Fill Flash or Reflector

Backlighting can darken the subject. Therefore, you can use reflectors to bounce some light on the face of the subject to reduce the contrast and gain clarity. This can also be done using a fill flash. 

Step 4: Spot Metering

As you know by now, exposure is the key to getting backlight photography right. The best way to do this is by selecting Spot Metering. It will adjust the exposure of the subject based on the focus of the image. You just have to set the Metering to Spot and the camera will handle the rest.  

Step 5: White Balance

The strong light behind the subject does not only affect the exposure, but it also affects the vibrancy of the colors. In order to create amazing backlit photographs, you need to have a good grip on White Balance. Adjusting White Balance will prove to be beneficial in adding vibrancy and life to the image. 

Creative Tips for Backlight Photography

Girl in fields - What is Backlighting?

Silhouette Backlighting

You might be wondering that all of the above steps were to decrease the darkening effects caused by the backlight. So why are we counting it as a tip, right? Well, sometimes underexposed subjects can create a dramatic effect. As you can imagine, dark silhouettes on a golden hour background look pretty dramatic

Backlighting Translucent Subjects

Look for subjects that can allow the light to pass through them, such as water or even smoke. The idea here is to use them as a background and backlight them. This way you will get an added layer of drama behind the subject and the exposure of the subject will remain great. 

Street Backlight Photography

As discussed above, you need to use a reflector or a fill light to properly expose the face of the subject. However, if you are shooting outdoors, and you do not have any of these available, then you can use any light available. For instance, the neon signs or the street lights reflecting on the face of the subject will work great.  

Conclusion - What is Backlighting?

Backlighting will help make your photos more creative and intriguing. However, it can be quite tricky. You might have to face trial and error on a great number of attempts. But as it is true for every new thing you learn, give it time and do your best. 

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Have a nice photoshoot! 

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