Breaking away from conventional wisdom – Backlit

If you are curious like me and always wondered how to achieve these dreamy backlit portraits shot under natural light conditions, then this blog entry is for you, as it covers the learning process I am currently going through.

It has always been my belief that the best way of making a portrait is having the sun behind the subject. You want to be shooting into the sun, giving your model a wonderful backlighting.

What is important when you head out on this road

  • Timing: This is incredibly important. The soft, yellow light of the ‘golden hour’ at dusk is ideal.
  • A fast lens: I am going to use my 50 mm f/1.4; some people prefer a longer lens, giving more space.
  • Location and preparation: A dark background will accentuate the light around the edge of a silhouette. As we have a very short window of opportunity, it is important to have all of the details of your shoot planned out and set up ahead of time – from the location to how you and your model are dressed.
  • Lens hood: This will avoid unwanted light hitting your lens, leaving your pictures with a washed out look.


Composition of the sun and your model

There are three kinds of backlighting: Hiding the sun behind the model, hiding the sun outside the frame of the picture and – last and most tricky – shooting directly into the sun. It is a safe argument that the first option is the easiest.

Camera settings

When shooting backlit we want to be using manual settings and that includes manual ISO. Try to set as ISO as low as possible, set it to 200 if possible. Do shoot raw, giving you 1.5 EV. Of freedom in the post processing tonal range. Select a wide aperture in order to achieve the characteristic lens flare. This will also give shallow depth of field. We want to be operating in the aperture range from f/1.4 to maximum f/5.6. Over exposing is necessary, otherwise, your target will be a black silhouette against a nicely lit background. You will have to experiment with your shutter speed, working in in the range of 1/100 to 1/640 second. Measuring the incident light of your target is preferable. Another method is to use your camera’s spot meter. Regarding focus, it is my experience that manual focus works the best. Cameras are definitely not very fond of autofocus against the sun.

Use your flash

Applying flash to your photos can soften the harsh shadows in the foreground of your image. Decrease flash power by -2 to -3 EV. You will increase both contrast and saturation. But be careful – using fill-in flash may spoil the dreamy look that you are trying to achieve with your backlit photos.    

Examples for Inspirations





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