Introducing Backlight Into Your Everyday Photography

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Story telling through photography is such an effective approach to documenting your life and as you begin to explore different photography techniques you will find you can enhance your stories and piece together all the details in a truly captivating way. In this post, we take a look at some ways you can easily find and incorporate backlight closer to home to add an extra dimension to your images.

WHAT IS BACKLIGHTING?

More often than not we learn to shoot a subject with the sun or light source on our back, illuminating the subject from the front. Backlighting however, has you turned around so the main source of light is shining toward you, and you are now shooting into the light. Whatever is in-between your light source and yourself will block the light and be illuminated from the back producing a wonderful glow and halo effect around your subject.

Further more, backlit images taken in the golden hour can be simply magical. (If it were a dessert I’d describe it as velvety, indulgent, creamy, decadent and sumptuous….and made all in one bowl!)

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But.

What if the opportunity to photograph your children at this ideal time doesn’t present itself as often as you’d like? As a parent of younger children, as well as living in an unpredictable climate for a period, I have always struggled to make this happen.

CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES

The good news is that backlit photography is not just reserved for the golden hour or even outdoors! Take a glance over these ideas to get you started and begin to explore the opportunities in your home or your everyday surroundings.

{Before you begin, set your camera to manual and to spot metering. When shooting, focus on the subject (for example, the eyes) and check your exposure. Shielding your lens while focusing on the focal point can help to get a more accurate reading. Remember that your lens will always have a harder time focusing when shooting into the light and it is a tricky and unpredictable technique!}

1) In the middle of the day

At this time of the day, the sun will be higher in the sky lighting your subject from the top. The trick here is to position your subject in partial shade so the sun is hidden, trees work well! Position yourself a little lower down until you see the light wrapping around your subject. Instead of a wide open bright space behind, attempt to have trees or a darker background for your subject as this will emphasize the rim light. In partial shade you will also be able to achieve soft and subtle sun flare.

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2) In an entrance way

In the early morning the sunlight floods the front of our house. In this case the door was open and my son was sat on the step. If the light source is especially strong this can result in dream-like haze. You can somewhat control the amount of haze by cupping the lens with your hands or by adjusting the angle from which you’re shooting. I was able to shoot from above and still maintain enough backlight. Pay particular attention to the focus on the eyes or the specific detail you’re wanting to highlight (make sure your set to manual focus selection.)

Also important to note, if you are positioned indoors, most likely the room behind you will be much darker than outdoors and may not be sufficient enough to light up the face. You could try opening more curtains or blinds or using a light reflector.

3) Window light or a lamp

As long as the backlight is the main light source, it really doesn’t matter if it is not bright. Softer, less direct light works beautifully, highlighting certain areas. Try to position your subject low down, below the window or lamp and use the wall beneath the light source as the background. The darker the background the more noticeable the rim light will appear. Position yourself level with your subject.

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4) Directly in front of a window

Blinds are a great way to control the amount of light you’re shooting into. As well as in a darker room you can get some dramatic effects. I purposely moved the crib in front of the window for this exercise.

This is also a great example of the effectiveness of spot metering. You’ll notice the varying contrast on the baby and the crib bars in the foreground. The bars have become a silhouette as the light meter is fixed on the baby’s face. Try experimenting with light weight curtains, the blinds open wide or even drawn up completely. This is fun to play around with!

5) Directly in front of a window – the candid approach

I was hesitating sharing this one as I don’t regard this shot as a highly impactful image, however I believe it may be helpful for your candid shots! Many a time, I’ll see sweet moments between the siblings, but if I let them see me or ask them to reposition themselves for the purpose of better lighting it means that the moment is most certainly over! So what to do? Embrace the backlight and make it work! This will be an instant that you don’t overthink technique but just GET THE SHOT! Instead you could shoot with a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field, get down low and blur out the surrounding furniture or take a step back and shoot from an entirely different room with the focus on the children. These kind of shots will take on a documentary feel and look great in black and white!

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6) Pools of light

Begin to notice where the light falls in different rooms at different times of the day. If you see rays of light directly falling onto the floor this may work as a great spot to place your subject, or just on the edge of the light pool. See what different effects you can get by moving around your subject (always with the light mainly behind the subject.) If it’s an unusual spot or you don’t like the background, move a small rug over a little or a textured blanket  for an infant.  Try including smaller details in the frame rather than the whole subject and emphasize the glow by using a darker background.

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Low sun in the early mornings or the early evenings will usually present warmer, softer tones. You can catch the setting sun creeping in through doors or windows.

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7) By water

Water is a large light reflector! The light will naturally light up your subject from behind, producing a pleasing rim effect. You may find that these reflections produce a higher contrast in your images which you can further emphasize in your post edit work. Due to the harshness of the reflections if the sun is bright, if set to auto mode, your camera will not know what to do and you will end up with an especially washed out or underexposed image. Remember to work in manual!

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Since there is an element of unpredictability with backlighting it’s easy to miss the exposure or the focus every time. However, before you rid your memory card of the images that didn’t hit the mark, have a go at experimenting with your editing. I wasn’t happy with the exposure on the image below but by greatly increasing the blacks and the contrast, I came to love the silhouette effect below.

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