We are taught as photographers to learn to see light. See light in all it’s forms. Even in scenery shots, where is the light coming from? Can the light be used to be more dramatic if it was coming from the back, as backlight. How about portraiture? So many wonderful portraits have been taken using backlight. It is a beautiful and dreamy effect in photography that has become quite popular.
Most people don’t notice light. But visual artists do. Light is one of the essential ingredients in your photographs.
Light can be tricky to deal with until you understand camera settings. But once you’re familiar with your camera, light is wonderful to play with in your photos.
Personally, I love backlight. It adds a sense of drama and beauty to your photography.
I’ll show you examples of backlight with food, landscape, and portrait photography (studio and outdoors).
What is backlight good for?
I love backlight because it adds depth and drama to an otherwise flat, two-dimensional photo.
Backlight helps to bring out the texture of objects that you photograph (sidelight is good for this as well). Texture is created through a combination of highlights and shadows. Since photographs are two dimensional, texture adds depth to your photo.
A strong burst of backlight adds drama to your photo. Think about the bursts of light at a rock concert or other performances. The temperature of the backlight (warm or cool) adds to the drama of the photo.
The backlight source might be in your photo along with your subject (as with the sunset photo above). Or the light source can be outside of the frame (as long as it illuminates your subject).
Any source of backlight can be used creatively, but sunlight, windows, and strobes are among the most popular.
The principals of backlight are the same no matter what camera you’re using, even your phone.
It’s great to begin practicing backlight with food. Backlight can be used to illuminate steam and bring out the texture of the food.
While any light source will work, many photographers love using window light to illuminate food.
Your food photos will be less flat and have more pop to them when you use back (or side) light. Just look for a window or any other light source. Get creative and use the light from fridges, stoves, and lamps.
The great thing about practicing backlight with food is that if you can’t reposition the light source, you can easily reposition yourself and the food.
Landscape and Nature
Once you get the hang of backlight with food, use it to add drama to your landscape photos. In most cases, you won’t be able to reposition your backlight source since it will likely be the sun. However, you can always reposition yourself in relation to the sun and your subject.
I love to incorporate backlight into portraits to accent the emotion. Beautiful or intense moments are brought out even more with the use of backlight.
The best part about backlight in a studio is that you can position your light source any way you like.
When using natural light, you’ll have to position yourself and your subject according to the light source.
One of the biggest problems about backlight is that your photo may turn out as a silhouette when you don’t want it to.
You’re likely using a semi-automatic setting such as aperture or shutter priority. Your camera sees the bright backlight and meters itself accordingly. You can use exposure compensation to help you avoid unwanted silhouettes. Try setting your exposure compensation to +1 or +2. You’ll need to experiment according to the light conditions.
If you’re experienced then manual mode might be the best option for you.
Practice backlight with everything
Once you get the hang of it, you can introduce backlight into all sorts of situations. Use it to bring out texture and to heighten dramatic moments.