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Using Backlighting to Enhance Your Images

It’s the lighting that can be seen in portraits as rim lighting, softly illuminating hair and clothing, and helping to separate the subjects from the background. It can also be found in landscape images – as the sun setting behind a mountain, dipping below the horizon – or partially obscured by a tree.

1. Know When to Go

In order to capture beautiful backlighting, you’ll need to know when to find it. One of the best forms of backlighting is found during golden hour – morning and late evening – when everything is awash in a golden glow. During golden hour, the sun is at a lower angle in the sky, and the lighting is softer and far easier to worth with. Golden hour is ideal for capturing portraits, landscapes, and even nature and macro images.

2. Capture Beautiful Portraits

Perhaps one of the most common uses of backlighting is for portraiture; especially during golden hour, when the soft, late afternoon lighting produces beautiful, flattering light. Positioning your subjects with their backs to the sun can also help you to capture some gorgeous highlights.

With portraits, using a wide aperture will give you a shallow depth of field, allowing you to draw the subject into focus while softly blurring the background and foreground. You may want to consider purchasing a reflector, to help bounce some of the light back onto your subjects’ faces for a beautiful, more even exposure.

3. Photograph Amazing Landscapes

Backlighting also works spectacularly well for landscape images. For landscapes, you’ll usually want to look for solid structures; such as a house, building, lighthouse, or tree to include in your composition, and depth and interest to your image. If the sun is especially bright, positioning something in front of it can help to block some of the bright light; resulting in a beautiful starburst effect.

Important: take care to protect your eyes. You’ll want to avoid looking directly at the bright sun through the lens.

4. Create Silhouettes

Another great thing about backlighting is the chance to create some silhouettes. Sunrise and sunset present especially good opportunities for silhouette photography. To capture silhouettes, position your subject in front of the sun, then use spot metering to meter on a bright part of the scene to create a silhouette effect. For a fun, starburst effect, try to position yourself so the sun is partially obscured behind an object and use a narrow aperture like f/22.

5. Consider Spot Metering

Metering is how your camera determines how much light is in a scene. In most cases, your camera can accurately determine the correct exposure, but with backlighting, it often gets confused and underexposes the subject. To ensure the best exposure for your images, you may want to consider spot metering; which will allow you to focus on the area of your image that you would like to have properly exposed. If you don’t feel like switching your metering mode, adjusting your exposure compensation by +1.0 is often enough to expose your subject properly.