Backlighting Tutorial

by Guest Contributor Lidia Boicu

So you’ve seen a lot of backlit pictures and you just fell in love with the beautiful warm tones you see in the pictures but failed many times when you tried to do the same thing in your sessions?  Well, I hope this simple tutorial will give you some great tips on how to create beautiful backlit pictures.

I think every photographer that does backlit photography has their own way of doing things but here is my way of creating those beautiful backlit images.

Best time for the shoot
Backlit photography requires that the sun and the light is on the back of your subject so that means that you will have to shoot very early in the morning right after the sun rises or late in the evening before the sun sets.  The time will really change in the summer where you have to take the pictures later in the day, sometimes I start my session around 7pm and then in the fall when the time changes and the day gets shorter you might have to start your session around 4:30pm as the sun will set by 6:30pm.

Spot Metering
You will have to set your camera on Spot Metering that way the camera will read the light from your subject’s face rather the the overall light in the background.

Source of light
A big misconception about backlit photography is that you just have to worry about the light in the back of your subject and even though that is very, very important in order to get those beautiful skin tones and have your subject’s eyes have beautiful catch lights you have to also be aware of the light behind you. If you are in an area that has lots of trees behind you, you will find it very disappointing that even though the background looks beautiful your subjects face is very dark. To avoid that you will need to look for open shade areas and by that I mean an area  behind your subject with some trees in the back to block some of the sun but just let the sun peek through the leaves, and an area behind you where there are no trees just a wide open field so the beautiful light from the sky will reflect on your subjects face. If you can’t find those spots this is where you have to start using a reflector and you will need an extra pair of hands for that. With children as they are moving so fast, I choose not to use reflectors but rather to go hunting and find just the right spot to do my sessions.

Shade is good
Open shade that is!  Don’t be afraid to place your subject in the shade.  Look for the spot where the shade just meets the bright light from the sun and position your subject in the shade but watch that the hair is getting just that soft kiss from the sun. You don’t have to worry when you look at your in camera pictures and they  seem that they don’t have  enough sun as that’s where the Bohemian Symphony Collection will come the rescue. If you were able to get just the softest touch of sun kiss on your subjects hair, run some of the magical actions I have created and you will be amazed how the sun will intensify in post production. 

Exposure
Like I mentioned before you want to make sure you have your camera set on Spot Metering and you will have to set your exposure based on the light on your subject’s face.  Yes, the background may be blown out a bit, but we don’t have to worry about that.  Our focus is on the subject and that’s all we have to worry about.

Camera Settings
Like anything in photography the answer is it depends. It really depends on what type of feeling are you trying to achieve in your photo.  Do you want your pictures to tell a story? Then you will have to have your aperture set to the highest value number f/22, f/16, f/11 (very small aperture opening) so that the whole scene will be in focus. Do you want to isolate the subject from your background?  Then you will need to set your aperture to a very low value number f/1.4, f/1.6, f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8 (very wide aperture opening ).  A great book to understand on how to get the right exposure and to understand the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.

Eliminate Flare
Unless you want to be very creative and love flare in your pictures you will have to make sure that when you take the picture there is no flare that will fall on your subjects face or skin. Again you can take a few creative shots but most people love to see the crispy clear eyes and don’t like the very faded images when the sun comes full force into your lens. To eliminate this you need to position your subject right in front of a tree, or any other object that breaks the sun flare from the sun. Backlit photography doesn’t mean that the sun has to be right behind the subject so don’t be afraid to move to the right or to the left until the sun is just right and will not come full force in your lens. I suggest to take practice this with a doll and a chair.

Practice
Last but not least practice. B acklit photography is not something you can just learn by reading.  Practice makes perfect. Practice, Practice, Practice.  Each season, spring, summer, fall, winter you will see that even if you use the same field you will have to be creative and watch  how the sun is moving on the sky and make the necessary changes where you position your subject according to the sun.

Post production
A huge part of backlit photography will also be influenced on how you edit those beautiful pictures so that all those beautiful golden tones will be revealed in post productions.  After being asked numerous times what’s my secret to my editing style I decided to create a very unique, different and powerful set of actions that will help all of you that love shooting backlit photography. That’s how Bohemian Symphony was born.   A set of 33 bright and bold actions that will help you take your pictures from boring to fabulous.

Lidia is a Dallas based child and family natural light photographer who began her journey as a photographer while fighting breast cancer. She came to the United States, from Romania, at the age of 21 seeking a better education and life. Through her own journey in fighting cancer, she experienced and realized the meaning of human compassion and continues to pay that forward in her everyday life as a wife, mom, friend, mentor and her dedication as the Executive Director and Founder of the Tiny Sparrow Foundation.

Visit Lidia at her website Oh So Posh Actions, and on her Facebook page today!

 

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Tammy Leech - September 19, 2011 - 8:56 am

I have a quick question about the Backlighting challenge. What if my thumbnail picture on the forum doesn’t match the picture posted as my entry? Once you click on it you’ll see the actual entry, is there any way for me to change that?

Tammy - September 19, 2011 - 9:09 am

Beautiful work! Great tutorial. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Love the actions. I might have to buy those! :)

Karlen - September 19, 2011 - 9:10 am

Hi Tammy,
You should resubmit your photo so the thumbnail matches your entry. Email me at karlen@rocktheshotforum.com to let me know which photo # should be removed after you resubmit. Thank you and good luck ;)

Shondra W. - September 19, 2011 - 11:48 am

Great tutorial and beautiful pictures!

Kendra - September 20, 2011 - 6:38 am

Kendra aka “Domestic Princess in Training”
WOW, WOW, WOW!!!! This was an awesome tutorial!!!! I’ve been a professional photographer for 2 years. I’m always reading tutorials and photography tips. Most of them are okay some are great but they usually seem to share things that are common sense……not this tutorial! I can tell the author really put a lot of thought and consideration into this post. I know how-to’s are not typically the most fun thing to write and sometimes it shows in some post. I really felt like I learned something and will be giving this a try VERY soon. My poor hubby, he’s always my model for stuff like this.

Anyhoo just wanted to thank the author for taking the time to write this informative and well thought out how to. I appreciate your time and your sharing!!!!!!

Kendra aka “Domestic Princess in Training”

http://www.kendrapryorphotography.com

HeatherL - September 20, 2011 - 11:57 am

Im wondering.. your SOOC’s.. are you shooting in JPG or RAW? If raw, how are you coming up with that SOOC image?

May (family photography Dallas Texas) - September 20, 2011 - 9:23 pm

Very helpful tips and Amazing postprocessing colors.

Jenny - September 23, 2011 - 2:10 am

I loved this tutorial. Super helpful!!

Breanna - September 25, 2011 - 1:29 pm

thanks for sharing this tutorial…I also had to brag a little because Bryan Peterson is my uncle and, yes, his books rock ;) I always feel pretty special when I’m reading his name on a photo site, lol

Breanna - September 25, 2011 - 1:31 pm

just realized my old blog site (that’s nonexistent) was popping up with my above comment…

Oh my word, these images are just divine. I must have those actions too, it’s often quite difficult to get the colours and tones right on a backlit shot in post, but you have nailed it. :)

Paige - September 30, 2011 - 11:00 am

Gorgeous images and the steps are explained so much more clearly here than I’ve seen in other backlit articles. I actually want to get out and find the perfect spot to try it.

Julie - October 5, 2011 - 8:07 pm

I love how these examples all retain beautiful, vivid color. These days I see so many of the currently-fashionable hazy, washed out, backlit images, that I was expecting to see more of the same. What a wonderful relief to see such gorgeous color!

Krissy - October 7, 2011 - 7:15 am

This is an awesome tutorial! I can’t wait to try this for myself. Thank you for sharing it with us!

Kristen - October 8, 2011 - 3:21 pm

wow!!! oh posh actions are AWESOME for fall!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

leanne - October 14, 2011 - 10:53 am

What a great description, I have been wondering the difference between some of the techniques! now I need to pratice and get the actions!

Rachel - December 7, 2011 - 11:26 pm

Best use of fifteen minutes all day. Your photos are amazing! What kind of camera do you have?

susan r - January 5, 2012 - 11:14 pm

these are amazing photos and thank you very much for the tips – great tutorial!

Temecula Wedding Photographer - January 11, 2012 - 3:59 pm

Love this editing style. I think I’ll have to try these actions!

Kathy - February 2, 2012 - 12:20 am

Hi, I have 3 questions, What type of editing software do you use and what program can I use your actions in? Can I use any editing software like lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5. What would you recommend?? i am a beginner just starting out and any advice would be great.I cam accross your blog using Pinterest. Thanks!

Kathy - February 2, 2012 - 12:32 am

Hello again, I have the Canon Rebel T3 for now, do I have the option to use Spot Metering on that? I may upgrade when I get better. I am still learning about my camera. Also, what size of picture should I shoot at to get a good size print? Thanks.

Meri - March 26, 2012 - 5:33 pm

Great article and examples! Pinning to save :)

Allie - July 9, 2012 - 6:16 am

Great tips and some beautiful photographs

Sam - November 5, 2012 - 3:30 pm

Exactly the article I was looking for. Thank you so much for sharing your process of getting those amazing photos.

Carla - November 20, 2012 - 10:07 pm

Hello! Wonderful tips and lovely photos! What camera do you use?

Kathleen Luciano - December 1, 2012 - 10:38 am

I have the highest respect for you. You bravely fought and hopefully beat cancer and used your passion for photography to heal yourself and others. I too am gravely ill and have been for over 20 years. My love for photography became not only a passion, but most importantly a reason to live…

I have read that creative people are extremely sensitive. Our sensitivity used rightly enables us to be compassionate and generous. In photography our sensitivity enables us to show the world, a monent, a person in a way that most people miss.

You are a gifted artist and an exceptional woman. Thank you for your beautiful contribution to the world, especially mine.

Amy Tong - December 27, 2012 - 6:38 pm

What a great tutorial. Thanks so much!

Ron Hildebrand - May 20, 2013 - 12:20 am

Great tutorial! I always shoot outdoor sessions in the late afternoon or early evening when the sun is low and lighting softer, and 95% of the shots in every session are backlit, and my wonderful makeup artist is always there with a reflector for fill on the face(s). I just love the look of backlighting–it gives so much depth and life to the scene. And your color balancing is beautifully done!

Thanks for such a great tutorial on this truly essential technique.

Ron

Linda - July 17, 2013 - 6:06 pm

Very beautiful photos. Great tips.

Dave Packer - February 19, 2014 - 4:43 pm

Many thanks for this post. Lovely shots

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