These Tips Will Level Up Your Backlit Portrait Photography Game

© 2020 Pauleth Ip / PI Creative

Are you a fan of the backlit portrait look but not sure how to achieve it? Let us show you how with our latest original infographic!

Backlighting subjects is a popular technique used in portrait photography, popular amongst portrait photographers who prefer to work with natural light. When properly executed, backlit portraits take on a natural and aesthetically pleasing quality. If you’ve wanted to give this style a try, but weren’t quite sure how to pull it off, we’ve got you covered!

Golden Hour

Golden hour is usually the best time to photograph backlit portraits. It’s the short period just after sunrise and just before sunset where the Sun is low enough that it creates a rich orange-reddish hue in the sky. This light is much softer than the harsh light you’d find around midday, and it bathes your portrait subject in a gorgeous, warm glow.

It’s Effective

When you’re backlighting a portrait subject, exposing them properly will result in the background becoming bright and blown out. It’s similar in appearance to a studio portrait shot against a bright background. It’s a great way to get rid of distracting elements within your frame, and to ensure that your subject is the focus of your image.

Spot Metering

One of the most important elements in creating a great backlit portrait is to make sure your subject is properly exposed. The default metering mode for most cameras will meter the entire frame rather than focus on your subject. For the best results, you’ll want to set your camera to spot metering and meter for your subject’s face to ensure it is properly exposed.

Cloudy Days Are Still Best

“A cloudy day is a natural light photographer’s best friend since the clouds will help to evenly diffuse the light emitted by the Sun, basically acting as the largest softbox possible.”

excerpt from An Introduction to Shooting Portraits in Natural Light

The same principle applies when you’re backlighting portrait subjects. Note that when the sun is being diffused by a cloudy sky, you’ll lose a bit of that signature golden glow. You can compensate for this by raising your white balance accordingly.

A Natural Rim Light

When you’re backlighting your subjects, you’re essentially placing the light source behind them while you expose for your subject. This will generally result in much of the background appearing blown out. Another side effect of lighting and exposing your portrait this way is that a rim light will naturally appear around your subject.

The Coatings in Lenses

Advancements in lens coating technologies have resulted in modern lenses that can mitigate chromatic aberrations very well while retaining a lot of contrast and detail. Shooting backlit portraits with older lenses tended to result in images that exhibited significant contrast and detail loss. We’ve covered this in more detail in Camera Lens Manufacturers Explain the Rise of Backlit Portraits. Truth be told, it’s really just a matter of personal preference.

For more ideas on how to take your backlit portraits to the next level, be sure to check out these other articles: