Photography Cheat Sheet: Achieving Beautiful Backlighting

Backlighting can be a powerful technique for many types of photography. Today’s photography cheat sheet tells us how to achieve great results with it.

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.

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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.

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Portrait Photography Tutorial: How to Do a Hero Shot in a Few Simple Steps

The Hero Shot: it’s the headshot and portrait photo that so many folks want.

If I had to define the hero shot style of portrait, then I’d say that it’s a portrait photo that likens a person to the iconic poses of many comic book and fantasy super heroes that we’ve come to know and admire over the years. These photos and images are often depicting someone looking off to the side or with a very particular lighting. Undoubtedly, these images elicit a feeling that the viewer gets. And getting that feeling in the image is easier than you’d think.

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What is High Key Lighting? How The Popular Lighting Technique Works With Portrait Photography

High key lighting is a technique that has been used for many, many years now. For the most part, you can associate it with a certain Amazon patent, but high key lighting has been used year after year for portrait photography and cinematography. Essentially, it gives your subject this sort of angelic, bright and airy look. These days it is typically more associated with backlighting a portrait subject. So if you love working with natural lighting, then you’ll probably really like high key lighting.

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Tips on Doing Outdoor Portraiture At Different Times of the Night or Day

Don’t listen to anyone that tells you that wonderful portraiture can’t be created during anytime of the day or night. There are great ways to shoot equally great portraits during the day or night and they don’t always involve the use of a flash. Instead, they rely more on a photographer’s ability to see and understand light. For starters, you’re going to tell you to use spot metering. Now that you’ve got that locked in, here’s how you make great portraits.

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I Create “Dish Portraiture” as a Food Photographer

All images and text by Xavier D. Buenida.

This time, I want to tell you about one particular subject that influences the way I approach my food photography. A genre that at first it may sound odd as it sits on the complete opposite side of food but that it makes a whole lot of sense if you think about it: Portraiture.

For the latest campaign of a restaurant, I had to look at a lot of portraiture for inspiration and guidance on how to approach this shoot. When I get hired to shoot projects like these, I first look at the light and mood of the restaurant, then at the style of the dishes and then I work out how the client wants their style to be like. One shoot is never the same as no restaurant is either so there is a lot of research done beforehand.

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How to Use an 85mm Lens for Natural Light Portraits

Natural light is the choice of many photographers looking to render a specific look in a scene. It’s beautiful when use correctly–and it often is by many portrait photographers. When used by a photographer that acts very carefully about the images that they’re creating, it can inspire others and enthrall viewers with its captivation. But it isn’t always as simple as just going out in the golden hour and telling a portrait subject to stand there and look nice.

Instead, it’s a collaborative effort. And if you’re looking to get serious about portraiture, we recommend starting with an 85mm lens.

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Xpert Advice: The Art of Using Spot Metering

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Xpert Advice Using Spot Metering (1 of 1)ISO 4001-1250 sec at f - 2.8

There are three different types of metering modes that your camera has. In general, everyone uses and defaults to the evaluative metering setting–but that isn’t always the most useful mode for all situations. The three metering modes that Fujifilm cameras have are:

  • Evaluative: which analyzes an entire scene and makes the best estimation for how the camera should expose the scene.
  • Center-Weighted: which meters the scene based on what’s available around the center.
  • Spot metering: Which meters a specific area of the scene of your choosing.

In many situations, spot metering is a highly desired setting. It’s most popular with portrait photography since when you’re taking a portrait, the most important subject in the photo is often the portrait subject itself.

So why spot metering? One of the best reasons has to do with a very popular portrait technique using natural light: backlighting. Backlighting involves placing the sun or any sort of strong light source behind your subject so that they’re not squinting into the camera. But in the evaluative metering mode, the camera will most likely try to meter for the highlights and darken any sort of shadow detail into obscurity. In manual mode, you’re then going to need to overexpose by at least one stop depending on how strong the backlight is.

When using spot metering, placing the AF point over a subject’s eye or face meters for that area. This way, the subject is perfectly exposed and you can just keep on shooting. Depending on which Fujifilm camera you’re using, you’ll have either a switch to change the metering type or you’ll need to access this through the menu system.

So what about the highlights that are being blown out? The truth of the matter is that anyone that isn’t a photographer won’t sit there looking at the image complaining about the highlights being blown out. All they’ll see is a beautiful portrait; and that’s what matters. The main priority here is that your subject is perfectly exposed. Just keep in mind that not every photo needs to be an HDR image–especially not portraits.

Xpert Advice is a monthly collaboration between the Phoblographer and Fujifilm designed to teach you photography tips and tricks in a bite-sized package.

Useful Photography Tip # 141: Creating Light That Flatters a Portrait Subject

Model: Asta Paredes

Model: Asta Paredes

Want more Useful Photography Tips? Click here.

Let’s think about the way that we naturally see light in the world: the sun, street lamps, ceiling lights and many more are all above us. So with that in mind, it just makes sense to say that the light that we ordinarily see on a consistent basis is above us, correct?

That’s the basis behind today’s Useful Photography Tip: to get more flattering light on a subject we recommend that you place your light source above your subject but not directly above lest you create shadows under the chin and eyes. Instead, bring it above and to the front to evenly illuminate the person’s features. That means that what you’ll be doing is shooting a photo subject with the light source (like a flash or strobe) behind you, above you, and facing down towards your subject.

If you’re using natural lighting like the sun, then don’t put the sun behind you. Instead, put it behind your subject and spot meter for their eyes. This is called backlighting. In fact, we recommend that any constant light be backlit unless it isn’t very intense on the eyes.

Remember, it’s all based on how we naturally see light when shooting a portrait.

How to Emulate the Look of Golden Hour in Adobe Lightroom

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer How to Get the Look of a Sunset in Lightroom (1 of 1)ISO 8001-800 sec at f - 2.8

Model: Melissa Perry

Inspired by the Photoshop post that we found the other day, we went to experimenting in Adobe Lightroom to emulate the look of the Golden Hour. Granted, we’ve shot during the Golden Hour a lot, so by applying some of the same theories and principles in the video and combining it with the look that the Golden Hour gives you, we were able to effectively figure out how to make an image look like it was shot during this period.

Granted, it won’t work for every photo, but it will work for many of them.

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A Quick Introduction to Backlighting Portraits

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phase One IQ250 more with Nat (1 of 2)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 2.8

Model: Natalie Margiotta

One of the absolute best ways to photograph a person using natural lighting is to backlight them. If the sun is in front of them, then they’re going to need to squint. But if the sun is behind them, then not only is the subject not squinting but they’re also getting a free rim light.

Photographer Mike Brown did a tutorial on this a while back and specifically talks about needing to use exposure compensation or switching to manual mode to do it. You start off by positioning the sun behind your subject to give them a bit more of a glow and then overexposing your scene. Alternatively, if you spot meter with your camera, you won’t have to worry about overexposing the scene overall because the camera will meter for the specific spot.

If you haven’t tried backlighting, we recommend that you give it a shot and see just how beautiful a photo you can create. We’ve got a significantly more in-depth guide here. Typically this is done during the golden hour, but it is also a great way to shoot during the middle of the day.

Mike’s video on backlighting portraits is after the jump.

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Useful Photography Tip #121: Use Contrast to Make Your Portrait Subject Stand Out

Chris Gampat Film scans from pinhole and personal 2014 (2 of 17)

Want more useful photography tips? Click here.

When it comes to shooting portraits, your aim for the final image should be to distinguish the person more so from the rest of the scene. This can be done in a number of ways and one of the primary ways is to use the bokeh effect. By blurring out the rest of the scene organically, the viewer is forced to focus on the subject that you photographed. While this is true, there are elements of the image that can make the subject blend in more with the rest of the scene. For example, their clothing type is extremely important. If you’re photographing a person dressed in camouflage against a background of similar colors, it may be tough to spot them and make them stand out. So for starters, try coordinating the wardrobe with the portrait subject.

But beyond that, adding lighting to the scene is a great way to make your subject stand out even more. The image above is from some of my personal work featuring my friend Dane in a suit. To make him stand out from the rest of the background, I added artificial lighting in just the right spot. The light made him and his clothing stand out from the otherwise dark background. The light also hit the wall that he was leaning on and separated that from his body.

Add into the scene the fact that the light also illuminated his skin and you’ve got yourself a portrait subject that stands out from the scene and forces you to focus on them. But you don’t necessarily need artificial light to do this–you just need to provide lots of contrast. If you’re outdoors, you can backlight a subject and expose for the shadows to make them stand out from what will otherwise be a very bright and washed out background. Sure, you’ll lose the highlight details, but all that matters is that you make your portrait subject stand out.


Using an ND Filter to Balance Ambient Light and Studio Strobes

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Stephs first edits (17 of 18)ISO 160

When it comes to working with a flash during the daytime, one of the best ways to do this and ensure that your entire exposure isn’t blown out is to use an ND filter. To begin with, you’re supposed to use flash during the daytime to prevent shadows. You’ll start by positioning the sun behind your subject–but if you’re just working with ambient lighting then you’ll have blown out skies. And that method of backlighting is totally fine if you want that look.

But if you want to balance the background with your subject in the foreground, the best bet is to use a flash. One option is high speed sync or a fast flash duration, but one method that photographers have been using for years is the ND filter. We’ve used it too, but photographer Craig Beckta demonstrated this very well in the video below that shows the difference that an ND filter can make.

One big warning though: an ND filter can also affect your camera’s autofocusing abilities because it cuts down the amount of light in the scene that the sensor sees until the flash goes off.

Try it this weekend, and check out Craig’s video on using an ND filter to balance ambient light and strobe after the jump.

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Useful Photography Tip #110: Don’t Forget About the Rim/Hair Light

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A99 Studio Samples continued (5 of 9)ISO 100

Want more Useful Photography Tips? Check them out right here.

The importance of a rim light, also known as a hair light is very overlooked. It can add a lot of extra beauty and a beautiful halo effect to your subject whether it be a person or a product. The reason why it is often overlooked is because we focus on literally what’s right in front of us and not enough on what’s behind our subject.

Photographer Jim Johnson sent this tip into us:

“If you do studio photography, bounce a light off of the ceiling behind your subject. This accomplishes two things. It lights up your background & also gives your subject a nice hair light to boot.

This does not work well with follicle challenged (bald) people. I have a boom to which an older white lightning strobe is attached. It is bounced into white ceiling panels or I could use an umbrella if need be.”

What Jim is saying doesn’t only apply to rim lighting in this case but also the idea of making a background go to a seamless color–as is the case with photographing a subject on a seamless white background and having to crank the light up one stop higher than your key light.

More specifically, a rim light doesn’t always have to be created with artificial lighting. The easiest way to add a rim/hair light is to backlight your subject using the sun. This is where golden hour is usually best because of the nice, warm glow that it can give to hair. If your flash/strobe is capable of overpowering the sun, you can create a very evenly lit image and surround your subject in light.

This tip comes to us from photographer Jim Johnson.