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Bonus Challenge: Back Lighting

September 19, 2012

One of this month’s bonus photo challenges is “Back Lighting.” Back lit photographs have the main source of light (the sun) behind your subject.  Back lit photos often have a dreamy magical feel to them since the light is more diffused and therefore softer.  You also won’t get squinting eyes since your subject is looking away from the sun.

It’s best to take back lit photos just before the sun sets, this is also known as the golden hour.  Since the sun is starting to set a little earlier, we would suggest starting to take your photos around 6/ 6:15pm.  If possible, an open area with some trees or buildings in the background are helpful.  The trees will help block out some of the sun so that the light isn’t quite as strong.

In order to be successful with backlighting, you will need to have your camera’s exposure set to manual.  Change your metering to spot metering (check your camera manual if you’re unsure what this is).  When metering, you will need to meter off your subject’s skin to get correct exposure.  Remember that for Canons the meter is in the middle of the camera and for Nikon’s it’s the lit up focus point.  It may be a good idea to go +1 or +2 when metering, especially if your subject’s face is a little dark.  If you have a friend along to help, a reflector is a great idea, just not very practical (at least for me).   If you meter correctly your background will likely be pretty blown out (notice all the white in my photos).  It’s also a good idea to customize your white balance setting in order to get your skin tones correct.

When having fun with backlighting it’s also a great idea to shoot more wide open, f/2 or f/2.2 will give you some really pretty bokeh.  You can also make your subject stand out with rim lighting. Rim lighting appears more on a thin subject like hair and grass. Notice the rim of light around my daughter’s hair as well as the blade of grass?  I love how it helps create that magical feeling.

This was my first real attempt at backlighting.  It was a little tricky, especially with a child going in all directions, but I got some shots that I was really happy with.  Just to give you a background, I planned to go out with my kids at the “golden hour” on a walk.  I knew I wanted to try to practice backlighting if possible, so I asked my daughter if she would wear her orange sundress, amazingly she said “yes.”  So we headed out to a park a few minutes away.  There was a field type area  just off the trail so I asked my daughter if she would like to walk around in the grass for a bit and possibly put up her arms and dance. She did!  The baby was in the stroller and my other toddler was standing next to me when I took the shots.  I only had my camera out for about 10 minutes and then we continued on our walk picking black berries and looking at the dogs.  Taking photos of your kids doesn’t need to be a big planned event.  If it was, I never would have got these photos.  Have fun with your kids and practice your photography in the meantime.  I find that I often make things a bigger deal in my mind and reality is thankfully much simpler.

There is no real deadline for this challenge.  Feel free to send in your image to

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rachelle permalink
    September 30, 2012 6:07 pm

    Thanks for all the tips! It’s helping me to set up for this challenge.

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