When shooting against the light, it’s easy to wind up with nothing but silhouettes. But, with some adjustments, you can get more flattering results through the backlighting technique. The key here is to put a light source behind your subject to create a rim light without overpowering it to cause a silhouette. A photography cheat sheet shared by Lifehack gives us some tips on creating the balance necessary for the backlighting technique.
As the term suggests, backlighting involves placing the main light source behind the subject or having the subject positioned facing against the light. The cheat sheet below comes in the form of a flowchart to help you get started with mastering backlighting with or without the use of flash.
If you have a hotshoe flash and a remote trigger, you can position the flash within a few feet behind your subject. You can place it at a slight angle as well, but make sure it doesn’t appear in your shot. This ensures that the light source provides a nice and subtle rim-light along the outline of your subject. Set the flash to manual and adjust the power if you want the rim-light to be more prominent.
What if you don’t have a flash? You can still achieve backlighting by positioning your subject in front of a light source or shoot in such a way that your subject is in front of one. Set the metering mode to Spot and place the focus point over your subject. If you’re shooting outdoors, it’s best to do this during the Golden Hour (early morning or shortly before sunset) so the light is still nice and soft.
Lastly, you’d have to make some test shots and check the histogram to make sure that you get a properly exposed result. If the histogram reading peaks on the far right, your shot is too bright; on the left, and your shot is too dark. To balance your exposure, adjust your exposure compensation using the plus or minus button to lighten or darken it as necessary.
Backlighting is actually one of the most popular techniques in portrait photography. Check out these tutorials for backlighting natural light portraits and intro to backlighting portraits if you’re particularly interested in that application.