It’s all about the light: backlighting

Backlighting – when the sun is directly in front of you and lighting the back of your subject – can produce some very pleasing and striking results.

You can use backlight at any time of the day, but when the sun is high in the sky and shadows are very strong, you may struggle to light the front of your subject. We’ll take a look at this in a moment. Using backlight when the sun is lower in the sky is easier and produces images like the album and my great niece above, with a lovely soft golden light. The tulips were shot early afternoon in tricker light. Note how the aliums and Bella have a golden rim light around them.

When subjects are backlit this can result in the front being very dark and underexposed, as the camera’s meter is tricked by the bright background. If the ambient light falling on your subject is strong, then it’s easier but to get the exposure right you may need to try one or more of the following techniques or settings:

  • EASY – FOR BEGINNERS: you can use FLASH to light up the front of your subject, to prevent it being too dark. The results may be a bit artificial and you could lose the effect of the backlight a bit. Alternatively, you could use a piece of white card to  REFLECT LIGHT BACK onto your subject. If you have a reflector with a gold side, try using that.
  • INTERMEDIATE – use the EXPOSURE COMPENSATION SETTING to make the picture brighter. This is the symbol for it.

  • Using EXPOSURE LOCK is very useful for backlit subjects if you have not yet mastered Manual Exposure. Before taking the shot you “lock” the exposure for your subject and then when you take the shot the camera remembers the correct exposure for your subject and not for the whole bright scene. Here’s a useful introduction to using it.
  • Note that if you are shooting in Manual Exposure you cannot use EXPOSURE COMPENSATION or EXPOSURE LOCK as you are already controlling your exposure.
  • ADVANCED – Shoot in MANUAL EXPOSURE mode and meter for your subject. Switching to SPOT METERING will help you to get the exposure right for your subject.

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