Drama, intensity, edginess…these are a few words to describe some of the stunning effects you can achieve with the use of back-lighting. With back-lighting, the light is behind your subject, which means you are actually shooting into the light. This is directly opposite of the usual and comfortable way commonly employed in image-making, where the light is behind the photographer. Shooting into the light comes with a set of challenges that will be addressed shortly, but when it’s done right, dramatic images are your reward.
Back-lighting can be an effective way to make a creative statement, as you can use it to create a silhouette of your subject. This image of a character portraying President Abraham Lincoln at a Civil War Reenactment. The profile image focuses on Lincoln’s trademark stovepipe hat, and presents a more effective representation of the former president than just photographing the person portraying him.
Some challenges in Using Back-light
Lens flare occurs when unwanted light enters through the lens striking the diaphragm or sensor, reflecting and scattering the light.
It can create streaks of bright light and little hexagonal circles on your image, much like you see in the image of the poppy, and it lowers the contrast of the image. It can be a distraction, or you can use it as a creative addition. In this situation, the back-lighting created a soft, almost ethereal looking image.
However, in most cases you will not want lens flare. Here are some things you can do to avoid or minimize it:
Use a lens hood on your lens. Many times this is sufficient to keep unwanted light out. If you don’t have a lens hood handy, use your hand to shadow the lens. You can usually tell right away by looking through your viewfinder or on your display screen, if this is sufficient. You can also use a piece of cardboard for your shield. Keep it handy in your camera bag. Just be sure your hand or the cardboard doesn’t show up in the picture!
Block the unwanted light with something in the scene. This may involve changing your composition a bit as you adjust your view and camera angle.
Make adjustments in your shooting angle. Shooting from a higher angle, with your lens pointed more downwards, may help in avoiding stray light.
Underexposure of your image is another issue to be concerned with when using back-lighting. Of course, if you’re creating a silhouette as with our dear friend ‘Mr. Lincoln’, the underexposure of your subject is what you want. If a silhouette is not part of your plan, here’s a couple of things you can do.
Make camera adjustments. Underexposure occurs because your camera meter, in determining the exposure for your image, is influenced by the strong light streaming from your light source. You will need to make adjustments allowing more exposure so your subject will not be blacked out with loss of detail. Many cameras allow for these types of out-of-the-ordinary shooting situations, so you just need to be familiar with how it works with your particular camera.
Use fill flash. You can also adjust by turning on your camera’s flash. Filling in with flash is a very effective technique to make sure your subject is properly exposed, while still reaping the benefits of back-lighting.