What Is Backlighting in Photography?

What Is Backlighting in Photography? - Mastin Labs

As a photographer, you strive to improve your craft and create images you’re proud of. Incorporating backlighting in your photos is an often-overlooked technique that can elevate your photography game. Backlighting can be a powerful — and fun — method to add drama and storytelling to your portfolio.

This article explores the importance of backlighting, when professional photographers should opt for backlight images, and offers tips to enhance your skills. Let’s get started so you can be on your way to mastering the art of backlighting. 

Backlighting vs. Frontlighting: Know the Difference

Before diving into the intricacies of backlighting, let's distinguish it from its counterpart, frontlighting:

  • Backlighting occurs when the primary light source is behind the subject, creating a captivating glow and often a silhouette effect.
  • Frontlighting — what many people traditionally think of when it comes to photography lighting — involves positioning the light source in front of the subject, providing a more evenly illuminated scene. 

When Do Professional Photographers Leverage Backlit Photos?

Professional photographers often leverage backlit images to infuse drama and creativity into their work. Lighting from behind can be particularly effective in certain scenarios, such as capturing skyscapes, creating unique portraits, or emphasizing textures and details. The play of light and shadow in backlit images adds depth and a cinematic quality that can elevate the visual appeal of your photos. 

Some common backlight uses include:

  • Sunset or night sky silhouettes: Photographers may choose backlighting to emphasize the beauty of a colorful sunset or starry sky, featuring a silhouetted subject or landscape in the forefront. 
  • Dramatic portrait: Backlight portrait photography can add a layer of mystique or drama to the photo, with perhaps only part of the face revealed and the rest covered by harsh shadows. 
  • Portrait glow or halo effect: Backlighting may also look like an ethereal, golden glow around a subject, creating an artistic and whimsical feel with soft light. Light flares can also create a stunning halo effect with your subjects.
  • Nature photography: Natural subjects like trees and wild animals often have the sun as backlighting, providing that natural light glow. Photographers may choose to capture these scenes as they are, maintaining the sun's position in the background.
  • Black and white photography: Photographers may use backlighting in black and white images to add more dimension and flare despite the lack of color.

Backlighting has many uses that can add artistic flare to your pictures. So, consider how backlighting might enhance your composition the next time you shoot.

3 Things To Consider When Trying Backlight Photography

Now that you're intrigued by the potential of backlighting, let's explore three essential considerations to master this technique:

1. Locate Your Light Source and Experiment With Different Angles

The first step in successful backlighting is understanding where your light source is coming from. Depending on your lighting conditions, it could be the setting sun, a streetlamp, or even artificial lighting. Experiment with different angles to find the sweet spot that enhances your subject. Don't be afraid to position yourself creatively to achieve the desired effect; sometimes, the magic lies in unconventional angles.

2. Use a High Aperture To Create a Starburst Effect

One distinctive characteristic of backlighting is the ability to create a starburst effect when using a large number aperture setting (f-16 or higher). This turns your background light sources into bright starbursts, adding a touch of magic to your images, especially when capturing scenes with direct sunlight. Play around with your camera settings, increasing the aperture to achieve those mesmerizing star-like bursts around bright light sources in your frame.

3. Rim Light Portraits or Balance Out the Lighting Using Flash

Backlighting is an excellent technique for creating captivating portraits. Consider using rim lighting, where the light source behind the subject matter outlines their silhouette and adds a sense of depth. Alternatively, balance out the lighting by incorporating a flash to illuminate the front of your subject. This technique can create a beautiful interplay between light and shadow while incorporating backlit elements like a warm glow.

How Can You Expose a Subject in Backlit Scenarios?

One common challenge in backlit photography is ensuring your subject is exposed correctly. To overcome this, use your camera's exposure compensation feature to adjust the exposure level. You can also try spot metering your subject's face, ensuring the details are well-captured even with strong backlight. Experiment with different exposure settings to find the right balance between preserving details in the subject and capturing the backlight shots.

Take Your Beautiful Images to the Next Level With Mastin Labs

In photography, mastering backlighting opens up a realm of creative possibilities. Understanding when and how to leverage backlit photos, experimenting with angles and techniques, and overcoming exposure challenges can help you create beautiful images.

To make your images stand out even more, consider Mastin Labs' professional Lightroom Presets. Our presets are meticulously crafted to enhance the mood and aesthetics of your photographs, all while providing a seamless editing experience. Transform your backlit photos into visual masterpieces with a simple click, saving time and ensuring consistency in your editing workflow. 

Explore the possibilities and take your photography to new heights with Mastin Labs' Lightroom Presets.