How to Master Backlighting for Natural Light Portrait Photography

Want the dreamy look that remains popular in portrait photography today? You might want to learn how to master backlighting when shooting in natural light.

If you hold a preference for natural light portrait photography, you might find backlighting as one the effective techniques to use for creating dreamy images. It’s not as simple as just shooting outdoors with the sun behind your subject, but a technique with the goal of a moody yet balanced look for portraits. In this quick video tutorial, Sydney-based fashion photographer Julia Trotti show us how it’s done and we can master it. Backlighting is just one of the techniques at your creative arsenal once you choose to do portrait photography in natural lighting. It gives your photos that dreamy and flattering look that many photographers are going for fashion editorials, wedding photography, and even themed portraits. With Trotti’s tips, you can start experimenting with this technique in no time.

We’re often told not to shoot against the light or else we’ll get a really bad shot. But with backlighting in natural light, you can actually create a nice and ethereal effect to your portraits — provided you keep a few tricks in mind. First, it’s best to shoot while the sun is still close to the horizon — early morning or late afternoon — so you get a nice, diffused light (and even the glow of the Golden Hour). Next, if you have to shoot with the sun still high up and creating harsh shadows, make sure you choose locations with elements that work as natural reflectors. Anything white or light-colored that can bounce some light to your subject’s face would be good for this.

As for gear and camera settings, Trotti usually uses 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.2, and 85mm f1.2 lenses — all great for shooting portraits — with her Canon 5D Mk4. These lenses have wide apertures that let in more light, so you can shoot without a reflector. But if you work in locations with natural reflectors as mentioned above, you can still end up with nice results with a kit lens. She shoots wide open at f1.2 or f1.4 and at ISO 100, then meters her subject’s face to keep it properly exposed. To retain as much of the highlights, she underexposes by a stop or two, then fixes it a bit in post. Check out Julia Trotti’s YouTube channel if you want more of her portrait photography tips and tricks.