I love shooting with backlighting. Backlighting is one of those acquired tastes in photography that can give your work a completely new dimension. Reason? Because not too many photographers know how to use it, and certainly, not too many people know how to set it up correctly.

Backlighting

To begin using backlighting in your photography you first need to have a clear understanding of what backlighting is. Backlighting refers to placement of lights towards the back of the subject being photographed. You don’t have to push it as far as 90 ˚ directly behind the subject. Just an acute angle of 60 ˚ or so behind the subject will get you the result that you are after.

backlighting in photography

Contraluz / Backlighting by Gabriel González

The end objective of backlighting is to separate the subject from the background. Thus, when light is coming from the back of the subject the edges are illuminated and the subject is highlighted against the background, it is an example of backlighting.

You would think this would result in the subject’s face getting underexposed. Not really. Once you get a hang of the placement of the lights and adjustment of the power, you can mix it up with reflectors and natural light to bring up the exposure on the subject’s face.

But having said that, backlighting sometimes lead to a slightly contrasty lighting result. Again, at other times when no fill light is used the lighting results in a flatter, less contrasty image.

It thus, can be both a moody lighting set-up as well as a less contrasty lighting setup depending on the and a slight imbalance with deeper tones are its highlights.

You can use backlighting when you don’t need the background to be emphasized, or just a hint of the background elements is all that is required for a photo. You can use backlighting when you need a low-key effect for a portrait or profile shot. You could even shoot landscape photos with backlighting.

There are scores of other situations when you may use backlighting. Street photography is another example when backlighting can be used. Golden hour is another example that I can think of when backlighting can work. The sun is lower to the horizon. The light is almost parallel. Strong backlighting can sometimes produce less contrasty images.

How Many Lights Do You Need?

To begin experimenting with backlighting you need only one light. One light placed at an acute angle behind the subject and aimed directly towards the subject’s back separating him / her from the background. As explained above, you will know that you have nailed the set-up when you can see a distinct edge, an illuminated outline of the subject defining him /her against an otherwise underexposed background.

Two lights would be my set-up of choice as I want a slightly less contrasty effect. I will also go the distance as to use a broad softbox set-up at an angle behind the camera and firing directly towards the subject. The light itself would be powered down so that it fires at less than full power. Additionally, there will be no grids on the lightbox. A grid will make the light beam narrow, something that I don’t want for my photos with this setup. I might do that in case I need a more contrasting look.

The ratio of lighting would be 1:2 between the key light and the background lights to start off. But that’s just me. It’s my way of shooting. You are free to experiment with this set-up. Use one light or two with or without a softbox. Three lights would be optimum.

The Use of Gels in Backlighting Set-ups

A tool that is rarely used these days and Photoshop and other editing tools is to blame for their demise is gel. Gels come in all shapes and colors. My favorite are the orange, yellow and blue gels. You can achieve a lot of cool effects with gels provided you know what you are doing. Wrap them around a speedlight and immediately you change the mood of a photo.

How about an extended golden hour? Use a strobe fired at full power from about the same height as the camera wrapped with an orange CTO gel. Voila! You have yourself an improvised golden hour light. You can shoot with this for an extended amount of time, beyond the normal golden hour.

backlighting techniques in photography

Pottoka by Alejo

With a cool blur gel you can mimic a funky light effect. Use two or three speedlights fired at reduced power from above (but within the frame) in unison gelled with different colors and you can mimic a stage light set-up.

Ben Novoselsky

Ben Novoselsky

CEO and Founder at Phowd.com
Entrepreneur, geek, photo enthusiast.
Ben Novoselsky

You may also like

Rajib Mukherjee July 11, 2017

Camera Settings Presets for Shooting Different Scenes

Camera settings presets are a combination of buttons and dials that can be used to recall a ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 22, 2015

What is Focus Stacking?

Landscape photographers are obsessed with the idea of sharp images. They use a multitude of methods ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 9, 2016

Advantage Of Shooting Film In The Digital Age

Old But Not Obsolete
The dawn of digital sensor also brought in the demise of film. In many ways ...

Ben Novoselsky October 27, 2014

7 Silly Mistakes I Made as an Amateur Photographer

1. Leaving the lens cap on

Amateurs are guilty of making some of the most cardinal of mistakes. ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 21, 2016

Lighting techniques for shooting in studio environment

A studio setup allows you to be creative in ways you could never ever manage without lights. There ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 10, 2014

An introduction to creating timelapse videos

Timelapse videos have become somewhat clichéd these days with an increasing number of photographers ...

Kelsey Fox December 18, 2014

How Properly Holding Your Camera Can Lead to Better Photos

The way you hold your camera is almost as important as choosing the right kind of camera to shoot ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 6, 2014

Everyday photography ideas

I wrote a detailed article on the topic of photographic inspiration recently. The aim was to keep ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 26, 2015

Photographing a landmark at night

Often, when traveling through a foreign land we find ourselves in front of an iconic building or ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 8, 2015

Great Images Come From Great Underlying Stories

I am a photographer who loves making photos of people and places. So every now and then I pack my ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 26, 2014

Don’t copy the masters’ style blindly, create your own style

Growing up as photographers one of the biggest source of guidance are the works created by already ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 3, 2016

Getting Started in Low Light Photography

Introducing Low Light Photography
For those of you who primarily shoot with a smartphone or even a ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2016

Product Photography Tips to Get Started

Apart from portraiture, product photography is one of those few genres which can provide a steady ...

Ben Novoselsky April 6, 2017

Correct Framing in Portrait Photography

Framing is an integral part of the whole process of image making. Be it landscapes, or portraits or ...

Ben Novoselsky September 12, 2014

The Basic Rules of Photography and Common Mistakes

Everyone, even professionals, makes mistakes, although their mistakes are rare and usually caused ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 6, 2016

Essential Tips to Improve your Photography

If you have recently migrated from a compact point & shoot to a DSLR you no doubt will be very ...

Ben Novoselsky September 17, 2015

About focal length and background distortion

You may have heard professionals talking about the right focal length and how choosing anything ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 23, 2015

Benefits of joining a photography class

Digital photography is a vast field of specialized knowledge. Well, even if not many ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 3, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Shoot Environmental Portraits

As a genre, environmental portraits are a challenge of sorts for most photographers. It is because ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 25, 2014

Photography inspiration: How to keep shooting images

As an amateur we see images taken by photographers like Eric Kim or Jeremy Cowart or Chase Jarvis ...

Ben Novoselsky July 28, 2016

Why Adjusting White Balance Can Lead to a Better Image

One of the challenges faced by photographers on a daily basis is adjusting white balance of their ...

Ben Novoselsky August 6, 2014

Auto Exposure Bracketing: Everything You Wanted to Know


Multiple camera shots with different expose combined in HDR photo
by sumitrodda


If you are just starting out in digital photography, you have probably never heard about auto exposure bracketing (AEB). If you are an enthusiast photographer, probably you have heard about this but never quite mastered the concept to use it with confidence. Regardless of your expertise in digital photography this article can help you master an extremely important feature of your DSLR, i.e.; auto exposure bracketing (AEB).

Читать дальше...

Ben Novoselsky May 18, 2017

Best Metering Mode for Landscape, Portrait, Wedding Photography

One of the most fundamental aspects of photography is to meter a scene. Metering denotes measuring ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2015

Five features on your DSLR camera that you probably never use

Your camera comes with three handy metering systems. If you are using a Canon system camera yours ...

Ben Novoselsky October 6, 2016

Some Basic Food Photography Tips

If you are a genuine foodie it would be a natural transgression to want to shoot images of the ...

Ben Novoselsky July 14, 2015

Five Natural Light Shooting Tips

You may have heard, nature and natural light photographers often say this – you must head out at ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2015

How editing your stock photography can lead to more sales

Before you can start selling your images on microstock websites you ought to know a few things ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 5, 2016

Five Ways You Can Use An External Flash In Outdoor Shooting

This article is meant for photographers who want to learn how to use an external flash in outdoor ...

Ben Novoselsky May 2, 2016

How Does Hyperfocal Distance Affect Your Images?

Landscape photographers often use the terms focusing distance and hyperfocal distance in relation ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 7, 2014

Understanding the Basics of a Good Exposure

Exposure is the key concept that governs all forms of photography where light in some form or the ...

Ben Novoselsky August 3, 2014

5 Useful Tips for Making Great Images in Low Light

Cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D3X have completely changed the playing field when ...

Rajib Mukherjee February 25, 2015

How to Make Your Backgrounds Blurred

Sometimes you may need to blur out the background of your images. Let’s say you are shooting ...

Ben Novoselsky November 13, 2015

Shooting Wide Panorama of Cities

Even with a wide angle lens you need to realize that there is no way that you can shoot a wide ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2017

Background for Portrait Photography

Background for portrait photography – An Introduction
Backgrounds assume a critical importance in ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2015

Light Painting in Photography: An Introduction

Light painting is a very interesting technique in photography that predominantly uses artificial ...

Ben Novoselsky May 11, 2015

Understanding Lens Vignetting

A technical term that you are likely to hear a lot is lens vignetting. Lens vignetting (sometimes ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2017

Wedding Photography – the History of the Genre

The history of recording a wedding dates back to a time long before photography came about. The ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 30, 2016

Introducing Canon Dual Pixel RAW Technology

Last week, the much awaited Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut. The rumor mills have been abuzz for ...

Ben Novoselsky August 12, 2016

About Flash Sync Speed Limitations and How to Work Around It

We often hear about flash sync speed and how we normally cannot use a flash to sync at extremely ...

Ben Novoselsky August 19, 2016

Why You Should Invest in a Tripod

There are probably a hundred reasons why you should invest in a tripod. I am not going to detail ...

Ben Novoselsky August 21, 2014

Tips for Shooting Fireworks Photos

Every Independence Day, or even Memorial or Labor Day, it’s common — a given, even — to see ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 11, 2016

An Introduction to Hyper-lapse

What is a Hyper-lapse?
Hyper-lapse is one of those cool photography techniques which uses a ...

Ben Novoselsky June 29, 2017

7 Main Mistakes when Retouching Wedding Images

If there were one genre of photography that you could do without retouching then that genre would ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 23, 2015

Understanding ISO, the least understood of the three exposure parameters

If you look at the main aspects that govern exposure, you would obviously realize that there are ...

Rajib Mukherjee December 21, 2015

Some creative uses of Depth of Field

The main shooting mode dial on your camera has the letter(s) A or Av (depending on the camera ...

Ben Novoselsky April 20, 2015

Low angle photography tips

One of the least used perspectives in photography is the low angle. I bet every photographer thinks ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 22, 2016

How to Photograph Christmas Lights

Watching the Diwali lights come on one by one, at each house in our colony I couldn’t stop thinking ...

Ben Novoselsky July 2, 2017

Best Books on Portrait Photography

In this discussion we shall take a look at some very useful books on a particular genre of ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2016

How do you tweak the Sunny 16 Rule in Photography?

You are out with your family on a bright sunlit day. The kind of day on which photographers prefer ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 6, 2016

Basic Real Estate Photo Tips

The following real estate photo tips will help you to get started as a professional photographer. ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 19, 2016

Choosing the Best Travel Photography Lens

A lot of amateur photographers find it difficult to zero in on the best travel photography lens for ...

Ben Novoselsky July 18, 2016

How to Work with Leading Lines in Your Photography

Leading lines are one of the most important aspects of photography. They have the power to draw a ...

Ben Novoselsky December 23, 2015

Outdoor Photography Beyond the Golden Hour

Landscape photographers love shooting during the golden hour of the day. They love the warm mushy ...

Kelsey Fox June 29, 2014

6 Tips for Shooting in Harsh Light

Whether they dabble in photography or shoot with the pros, most photographers know that there is no ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 17, 2016

How to Bounce an On-camera External Flash to Produce Better Images

Having purchased your first external flash you must be super-excited. You must be experimenting ...

Ben Novoselsky May 14, 2017

Survey of Photo Contests by Industry

Does photo contests make sense in participating? – For Recognition
Absolutely. There is no better ...

Popular posts

Ben Novoselsky June 25, 2015

A Review of Online Photo Printing Options

One of the things that photographers are guilty of and I am referring to both amateurs and ...

Ben Novoselsky November 6, 2014

Portrait Photography Lighting Tips

Portrait photography, especially when we talk about studio portrait photography, as a genre, is ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 4, 2015

AF Tricks and Tips for Wildlife Photography

When it comes to wildlife photography, choosing the right auto-focusing mode can often make the ...

Ben Novoselsky November 24, 2014

Awesome Tips for Photographing Groups

Photographing groups can be extremely difficult. Usually, the need for large groups occurs at ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2015

Light Painting in Photography: An Introduction

Light painting is a very interesting technique in photography that predominantly uses artificial ...

Ben Novoselsky June 18, 2015

How to Price Yourself as a Photographer

A question often asked by entry level protogs is how much to charge for their services. Many find ...

  • Simply put , this is called the Cost of Doing Business (CODB) and the best CODB calculator for photographers can be found at NPPA.org (The National Press Photographers Association). Her is the link: https://nppa.org/page/3275
    IF it doesn’t work, just go to NPPA.org and put calculator into the search box.

    Then join and organization that “has your back” – ASMP.org, APA.org, PPA, etc