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Backlighting illuminates your subject from behind. Light behind your subject facing towards your camera has a strong influence on exposure. If you do not take a careful light meter reading and set your camera well, your subject will appear too dark and underexposed. With manual mode you must choose appropriate exposure settings so your subject is well exposed and looks the way you want it to. At times you will want your subject to appear darkened, creating a silhouette effect. When you want your subject to be well exposed, you will need to ensure your camera meter reads the light reflecting off your subject only.

During the workshops we teach I find that most beginner photographers have their camera light meter set to default mode. Many of them are often not aware of the other metering options.

Dark field, backlight illumination

In this mode the meter will take its reading from a very small area of the composition , rather than the whole frame. Different makes and models of camera vary on this, so consult your camera manual to be sure. If you take a spot meter reading from the wrong place in your photo your exposure will be incorrect. Learning to use the spot metering system will help you make more accurately exposed backlit photographs.


It will also help you gain a better understanding of light. You can make use of the spot meter in any lighting situation, not only for backlighting. By paying careful attention to the light reflecting off a backlit subject you can make exposure adjustments to obtain the look you want. You can leave your exposure set to the default mode if you are unsure about using the spot meter or manual mode.

When you have taken a photo of your backlit subject, check your monitor to see how it looks. If it is too dark, use the exposure compensation and dial in plus one or plus two compensation. Take another photo and review. Keep tweaking the compensation until you are happy with the way your subject looks. This method will be slower to use because of the need to take a number of photos and check each before making exposure adjustments. This gives me the information I need to create a photo so their skin tone will be exposed correctly.

Typically, I will use a reflector to bounce light back into their face so the contrast in the photo is not so high. Adding reflected light onto a subject will help bring a balance. In my portrait of this rice farmer, I used a large reflector to enable the exposure on his face to be similar to the exposure in the background.

The photo below was made without a reflector and my exposure was set for the background, so my subject is dark. Had I set my exposure for his skin tone and not used a reflector the background would have been very overexposed.

How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

Sometimes you will want to expose your photo so the light in the background is good and your subject is underexposed. You can create silhouettes like this. Making a spot meter reading from the background will give you a more accurate exposure setting than if you make an averaged reading. If you have your exposure meter set to read from the whole frame it will also take your subject into account and give a reading accordingly.

This may cause your background to be somewhat overexposed. This will vary on how much of your composition your subject takes up. However, you choose to make an exposure reading, be very careful of the light source. If your light source is very strong it will have a significant effect on your exposure.

Photographing directly towards the sun when it is at a low angle is a situation where your exposure can be adversely affected.

I wanted some detail to be retained in the foreground of this photo of a shelter in the rice fields. Had I included the sun fully and used averaged metering, my photo would have been a lot darker.

I would have lost all detail in the foreground because it would have been underexposed. I positioned myself so the sun was partially blocked by the tree. Setting my camera to use the spot meter, I then made a reading from the cut rice in the foreground. Backlighting most often results in a composition which is not evenly exposed. But this is not a bad thing.

Backlight | Definition of Backlight at

In fact, forgetting about technical perfection will let you capture some interesting effects using the backlight. Take this image of a fern, for example. Composing the photo of a fern, I could see all the detail in the background. I purposefully set my exposure for the fronds of the plant. The background would be underexposed.

Having the light coming from behind the fern, and the background being in the shade, my main subject was isolated. Translucent subjects look fabulous when they are backlit. Some of the light passes through smoke, water spray, leaves, flags and other translucent things. Beautiful transparent orange leaves freepik 1k Woman with arms up on backlight freepik 25 1. Beauty girl outdoors enjoying nature nikitabuida 55 5. Blurred traffic light trails on road at night fanjianhua 15k Tree with a large sun photoangel Barley field background.

Beautiful wild flower in morning backlight, against blue sky background. Reception counter or desk in luxury hotel lobby or company office hall interior cartoon vectorpouch 1k Brown texture bedneyimages 3k Background of zombies against backlight freepik 6k Abstract transparent yellow leaves freepik 3k Green and blue transparent leaves freepik 2k Abstract transparent leaf veins with green freepik 2k Close-up of abstract autumn leaf freepik Rays of the sun make their way through the clouds to the snowy high mountain range freepic.

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