Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Backlighting in Portraits

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I LOVE backlighting in portraits and wanted to share
what I have learned to create spectacular photos with
light from behind the subject.

My favorite time of day for backlit portraits is
the evening, but it also works in early morning right after sunrise. 

For this photo series, I started about two hours before sunset
when the sun was golden and low in the sky.

It's not really an exact science.  It takes experimentation.

Place your model with the sun to their back and see how the
sun reflects off their hair.

I used a large, gold reflector for this series because
I like to see the face,
but you can experiment without a reflector and
shadowed faces which also create a mood.

I meter off their cheek.  Don't worry about
blowing out the background...It will create
amazing art.

There are no perfect camera settings for
backlighting.  Experiment!

I used ISO 100, large aperature (2.8 on a 50mm 1.4 lens)
and a fast shutter speed. But you will need to try various settings
to achieve the look you like.

I LOVE the bokeh around the lighted trees!

Turn your model different ways to achieve
different lighting effects.

Below, the sun lights her from the left side. (I used a reflector.)

I don't have an assistant.  I hold that dang reflector myself
and it's VERY awkward...but works for me.

Did I tell you I LOVE backlighting???

You can also backlight during the afternoon.

When I first started doing portrait work,
I used to PRAY for a cloudy day.

But that isn't realistic, so I had to learn to
embrace the sun however it was that day.

This next group of photos was taken about 2:30 PM with
bright sunshine.

The key is to find a location where
you don't have shadows on the faces.

This means finding some shade like
a tree, a building...whatever will take the direct
sunlight off the subject's face,
but still allow the sun to illuminate the

These were taken on a covered bridge.

The cover on the bridge blocked sun from
their faces...thus shadows...
but I played with the delightful backlighting.

I did not use a reflector for this series
because I had plenty of mid-day light.

Sunflares can really add to the artistry of your portrait.

Move around, to place the sun over a shoulder or
behind the head.


You can add a sun flare in Photoshop and Elements
if the sun isn't in the perfect place.

How enchanting is this gazebo photo
with the perfectly placed sunflare? 

I don't let a sunny day stop me from taking
portrait shots.  I just find some shade...

And use the bright light as an enhancing feature.

Recently, I photographed a family on a sunny winter
day...the only time they could all be together.

Notice how I found a spot partially
shaded by this pine tree to elminate shadows on
their faces...yet utilized the streaming
sunlight as an effect.

I did the same thing here with that
wall of tall bushes and brush to their
left...yet look at the awesome side light.

For this closer shot, I used the shade from
the trees.

I LOVE action shot portraits!



  1. Thank you for these tips!!!! Gorgeous shots!

  2. Hello, I found you on your pictures are so beautiful, was the first model your daughter? She looked so much like you. And the second woman had such pretty blue eyes. I love how you make it look easy and I know its not, thank you for sharing your talent with the world. I'm Natalie@

  3. Hi Jill, how wonderful of you to share your knowledge, I have learned so much by following other photographers, enjoy your blog very much!!

  4. You have completely nailed backlighting - absolutely stunning work!

  5. Great photography, I love the sunrise times to photograph.

  6. lovely shots and great tips for backlighting and portraits on sunny days - thank you.

  7. These are awesome. You did such a great job. I really love that last one.

  8. Jill, you are a super talented lady! These are just GORGEOUS, & I learned a lot from this post. I was shooting for a long time, still loving photography, but using my old point & shoot. I FINALLY just got my 1st slr, & am loving it so. I have a ton to learn though, & this is very helpful! Thanks so much, & you have a happy new follower!

  9. very helpful! can't wait to try it out. Blessings!