5 tips for better backlit photos

Stephanie Bryan Photography - 5 tips for better backlit photos

If you follow along with me here or on Instagram, you probably know that I have a love affair with sun flares, backlight and everything related to sunrises/sunsets. Light is magical and finding the ways light can enhance a photo is always at the front of my mind when I'm shooting for both personal and client sessions. Light can dramatically change the look of a photo and learning how directional light can effect a photo is a must for any photographer. With the right lighting, you can take a plain, boring photo to a new level. My favorite two types of directional light are side lighting and backlighting, but if I had to pick a favorite, I would go with backlighting every single time. It's just magical!

Backlighting occurs when the main source of light is behind your subject (usually the sun in my case) and it typically creates a magical, hazy, glowing background, as well as rim light around your subject. Backlighting can be super tricky, however, and even though I practice ALL THE TIME, I still have those moments where I feel like I just can't create a good image to save my life. Patience and a lot of practicing can definitely help you achieve this dreamy effect! 

If you've been wanting to try out backlighting, here are a few suggestions to help you out! 

1. Shoot in manual

If you are shooting in auto, you are likely going to have quite a bit of trouble capturing backlit images. The "auto" settings of your camera are wanting to focus on your midtones and your photo will most likely turn out underexposed, dark and muddy. Shooting in manual gives you full control of your settings and let's you adjust as needed.

2. Shoot in raw

This pretty much goes along with shooting in manual, but I highly recommend shooting in RAW if you want to up your "backlit photos" game. Shooting in RAW is going to give you the flexibility you need to edit certain elements of your backlit photos while preserving others. (And if you need more convincing to shoot in raw, check out my 5 Reasons You Should Be Shooting in Raw post).


3. Spot meter for your subject

Check out your manual and change your camera settings to "spot metering" before attempting backlit photos. Spot metering is going to allow you to expose for your subject.

Tip- I recommend overexposing 1-2 stops when shooting in backlighting. Since your background is so much lighter than your subject, it's easy to get an underexposed subject (which will just make your post-processing more complicated).. 

4. Filter the sun

Depending on where the sun is and how high/low it is will change the overall look of your photos. If the sun is still pretty high in the sky, try filtering it through trees, behind your subject or shoot looking down so only part of the sun flare/glow is in your frame. Experimenting with where the sun is vs. your subject can always create interesting sun flares and haze. Try placing your subject to the right of your screen with the sun leaking into the left of your frame. Or maybe filter the sun behind your subject and try to have just a little "flare" peeking out.  

5. Practice, practice + then practice a ton more

When it comes to backlighting, practice, practice and more practice will help you learn your camera and how to adjust the settings to control the end result. Try moving all around your subject to see the different effects the lighting has on your photo. If you are getting too much sun flare and haze, try shooting from the side or looking down to decrease the effect. Experimenting is part of the fun and you're bound to get hooked in no time!

looking for more inspiration + tips?