Backlit photography: as I have learnt

Ok , I am going to share everything I know about backlit photography in this post .This might be useful for beginners to create some interesting images using minimal and basic gears. I used Canon EOS 1000d, the best entry-level camera and basic kit lenses to capture these images. One do not need a even a DSLR ,  a simple digicam also can capture these backlit pictures.
Backlighting is always popular in photography and the videography. And in the studio backlights are very essential for producing strong photos. But using natural light sources as backlight it requires some practice, quickness and a good understanding camera.
Here is how I take on it. Take a look at this “not so professional” demonstration picture! You need an orange soft sun ( morning or evening) , when sun light is not harsh and the rays are at very nice angle rather than falling from the top of the shoulder.

Compose your frame such that sun is behind your subject .Do not include sun in the frame unless you are trying some high contrast over exposed photos. Focal length between 70mm to 200mm ( on a cropped sensor camera) will avoid sun coming in the frame. Do not remove hood from your lens. Do not stare sun through the lens it might damage your UV filters and your eye too!
Manual focus is preferred if you have time to relax but if you are in a hurry to catch the moment then keep single point autofocus and compose. When there is too much light or brightness camera might focus-hunt so do not keep pointed on a light source for a long time .
Try to use always dark background so that you get a very nice contrast between your subject and the contrast.
Camera settings:
If you are in evaluative metering mode make your camera underexpose a little by moving your exposure dial to -0.5 or -0.7 . Of course this depends on what kind of background you have but most of the time you get black as you are shooting against sun. Sometime you may have to overexpose to get good details. If you do not have a dark background then a proper evaluative metering will understand the exposure correctly. Try using tripod or monopod most of the times. You can also use spot metering and expose for the shadows which will not require any exposure compensation .
There are no general rule for aperture and shutter settings . They vary depending on situations . So I will share some of my backlight photos shot so far and explain the settings.
Here is how I fell in love with Backlit photography

I saw my lovely mom watering plants in the evening while sun was glowing gold behind. Shot many frames without not caring much about the result. This one blown me away with its appeal . I can hear the sound whenever I see this photo. Now I never miss any chance to capture backlight.
So here are few easy subjects to start the backlight photography with.
Nature : leaves, flowers , grass

1/160 sec,f8,70mm, ISO200 exposure bias : 0 time: 12:22 !

This is a god example for “anytime is good for backlight”, just you have to compose your light source behind the subject , that’s it.

1/800 sec, ISO800,f10, 250mm exposure bias : 0 time : 16:32
1/250sec, ISO100,f25, 21mm exposure bias : 0 time:7:47

Aperture F25 used here just to get that star effect on the sun.

1/1000 sec , ISO800, 146mm,f5, exposure bias : -0.7 step time 17:53

I got a clear dark background so had to under expose in the evaluative metering mode. ISO800 ensured sharp edges of the flowers even though there was a slow wind blowing. Keep the ISO high and aperture wide open to get shutter speed not less than 1/800 sec if there is a light breeze .

1/1000 sec,ISO400, f6.3, 240mm, exp bias: -0.7 step time: 17:18

Very interesting and high contrast black and whites can be made using backlights. This is one example, Oh , s@#t, that leaf on left 😦

Insects: Butterflies, dragonflies etc

1/250 sec, ISO400,250mm, f5.6, exp bias: -0.5 step, time: 17:29

A typical dragon-fly shot but painted with a nice evening backlight. Checkout the same dragon-fly below when lit with sunlight right behind it.

1/4000, f16, ISO400, 250mm, f16 time: 17:32

Ok this one was a tricky shot or it is true on entry-level DSLRs with kit lenses. Without keeping sun at background I focused on the dragon-fly with a really small aperture of f16. SO recomposing would not go out of focus as I have quite a broad area of focus. After focusing I went manual focus because sometime when sun is right behind basic lenses will hunt subject. Then changed my mode to Tv to select the fastest shutter speed 1/4000 sec to avoid the over expose. I could shoot only two frame before dragon flew away!

1/500 sec, ISO400, 54mm, f8 exposure bias : 0 time: 17:43

Similar shot with little different result. A exposure bias of -0.7 would have been brought a silhouettes of the butterflies.

People, events, lifestyle

1/200sec,ISO800,154mm,f5.6 exposure bias : 0 time:17:25

I asked my little sister Prajna to hold her hands in the sunlight and see the result. Nothing about the technical but so lovely colors!

F3.5, 1/30 sec, ISO400,38mm exposure bias : 0 time: 07:13

Indian Chai ( tea) served in steel cup on a cold winter morning . Just can’t forget that taste!!!

1/250sec, ISO800,90mm,f6.3, exp bias:-0.7 step, time :17:22

How can I explain those glowing hair in the wonderful backlight of kids and girls ! If you capture them you can enjoy that image forever! BTW She is Shravya.

Finally my favourite subject in the backlight photography

1/640 sec, ISO400, 123mm,f11 exposure bias: -0.7 step time:17:01

Fountain water, enjoying kids and backlight? !! You can capture this picture. When I saw a dark background I immediately changed my exposure bias to -0.7 step in the camera. But I really needed a better framing here but it was just tough to isolate kids from the surrounding crowd of parents. Or simply it was not my day. But I enjoy the freshness and the joyous moment going on in this frame so just want to share this with you.

1/1600 sec, f7.1,28mm,ISO800 exposure bias : 0 time: 16:52

A buffalo race event ( you can read in detail here) shot using the backlight. The spilling water is highlighted by sunlight and a fast shutter speed has frozen the water particles in air.

Lets do a small analysis when water is the subject:
Check these pictures and tell me which one you like. I have shown the exif on the top left corner.
It is of a simple composition and captured while a tap water was spilling on the girl’s feet under the backlight.


My selection is 3rd one.
You can see shutter speed of 1/30 sec made those water drops trace long in the frame and added some rushness in the composition. 1/50 sec is also not of that helpful while 1/200 sec made those water drops nearly to a particle and the moment looks like froze. 1/125 sec created an explosion of the water particles and makes viewer to stop for a moment and enjoy the feel on the feet which suits perfectly my taste.
Tell me which one you liked out of four , you need not tell why. I am interested to know how everybody else thinks as I am also in a learning phase.
So that is about my experiences. Also please note this share is only for the beginners. If you think it is good for pros I will take that as a compliment ;). Any questions under my limitations, most welcome , I will try to answer.
Here are some nice examples of backlit photography found all over the net.


23 thoughts on “Backlit photography: as I have learnt

  1. Fantastic pictures and the teacher in you explaining them. All the best to you in your hobby.

    Manohar “Arasu” VU2UR

  2. Thanks a ton for your valuable information DineshaNNa. Its really a nice set of information for beginners and it also motivates to do such experiments. Keep sharing.
    I liked the 2nd photo.

  3. Dinesh, this is a very very useful article. I will try each of these tips. Nice experiments.
    Thanks for penning these down.

Tell me what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s