Beautiful Back-lighting Ideas for Photography

I love to backlight photographs. Any strong light source can be used to create dynamic and beautiful images: the sun, flames, street lights, even setting up a studio or remote speedlight or flash can do the trick. You can do a lot with Photoshop but you can’t fake great lighting.

In this article I am going to focus on non studio situations.  All photographs are my own – see my site Brighton Photographer. I use Photoshop and Lightroom to edit my Photographs. Silicon Beach Training in Brighton provide some of the best Photoshop Courses in the UK, so call if you need a help getting started with Adobe Photoshop, or need to learn advanced Photoshop techniques, on 01273 622272

Creative Back-lighting Techniques

There are lots of ways to use creative back-lighting:

  • I love the effect of light shining through hair.
  • Back-lighting can be used to rim-light an object or person.
  • You can use it creatively to create silhouettes and shadows.
  • You can use it creatively through semi-transparent material, for beautiful diffused lighting effects.
  • My personal favourite – to create star-bursts.


The main problem with back-lighting portraits is that your subject becomes too dark.

You can use fill flash to illuminate your subject, if the back-lighting is the sun then the sun will be stronger than your flash light and you will still get the rim-lighting or hair back-lighting effect you need whilst retaining the correct exposure on the face.

Fill Flash for outdoor Portraits

backlighting for outdoor portraits

If you don’t know enough about your camera yet to set it in manual mode, as long as you are shooting in daylight, P Mode with automatic TTL flash will give you a pretty good exposure. In daylight conditions your clever camera will detect that you are outside and choose an exposure that will suit both your background and your subject. Indoors or night-time, however is another story, much more tricky!

backlit portraits

Another method, though a little more tricky to get right, is to over expose the image. Sometimes the effects can be beautiful, flare can be a problem or a blessing here!

Back-lighting through semi transparent material

To get this right it is important to expose for the material you are shooting, do not use the flash as it will wash out the texture that you are trying to pick out using back lighting.


Using Back-Lighting to create Silhouettes

The most common mistakes when shooting silhouettes is not making your shadow areas black enough and not having the background exposure right.


Use back-lighting to create interesting shadows.

Think creatively here, it’s quite possible to capture some really surreal looking imagery, especially when combining real objects with shadows to create a composition.


Also think about turning your images upside-down for some quirky effects.

shadow photography

Creating Star-bursts

The best way to ensure a great and sharp star-burst is to use a small aperture f16 or f22. Wide angle lenses are also best for this, I even use my fish-eye sometimes. Try and get your subject to clip the sun, so that the star-burst appears on the edge of the subject for some great effects. If there is something special in your image that you wish to highlight you can position it in front of the sun with the star-burst just peeking out around the edge.


Using Flare

To get great flare in your images, you need to use a small aperture, f2 or f4 should do the trick. F4 is easier for portraits because you have more chance of getting those important eyes in focus!


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Heather Buckley

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One Comment

Cecilie says:

Really interesting. I find lighting really difficult! Always use a north/east facing window which gives lovely light but on darker or grey days I struggle as have no gadgets and dislike flash!
Will try some of your techniques although mostly photograph food = indoors!

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