My absolute favorite type of light to explore and photograph is backlight.
I’m all about the haze, flare and warm glow.
I don’t necessarily think it is the easiest type of light use to learn, but once you find what works for you it can really give your images a sense of magic and wonder.
Filter the light.
Use background elements to help filter strong light. Find an area with trees, shrubs, or tall grass to help filter the light that is coming in from behind your subject. This will also help prevent blown highlights, by giving you that glowy rim light. Look for elements to help add depth and frame your subject.
Get a proper exposure.
To get the correct exposure on your subject, I prefer to spot meter a darker or shadowed area on my subjects face. Because you are shooting with bright direct light in front of you, your meter will try to underexpose the image. I tend to bump up, or overexpose +1/2 – +1 to the right on my Canon 5D Mark III. Just be aware of any distracting blown highlights.
If you like haze, shoot for it. You can include the sun in your frame and capture dramatic haze and flare. Without moving your subject, either move in towards them or zoom in and eliminate that light. Now you have two different looks from one click of the shutter to the next.
Block the light.
My favorite way to be creative with strong backlight is to place my subject directly in front of the sun. To gain proper exposure and focus on your subject, you will most likely blow out the background. This will give you a high key look. Move around your subject and watch how the light changes the feel to your image. Maybe you want to completely block out that light. Or with slight movements to the side, up or down you can get a bit of flare. Look for areas of contrast to help you nail the focus.
Be aware of what the light is doing behind you, too! If you do not shoot with a reflector to help bounce light back onto your subject, look for natural reflectors. These can be sidewalks, water, the surf at the beach, anything that is light in color. I’ve even used buildings to help bounce light back onto my subjects. Another little trick is to wear white. You can be your own reflector! If you are out in a big field of grass, look for areas that are not only going to be beautiful backgrounds for your subjects, but also areas where the space behind you is clear. If I stand deep in the shadows, then I know there will not be any light available to bounce back onto my subject. There is some play between where you want to position your subject in open shade and what the light is doing behind you.
Shooting backlight takes practice. If you don’t have people to use as your subjects, plants or any other still life works too. These tips work best when shooting in manual mode, and I shoot RAW. Backlight is a creative use of light, so shooting RAW helps me bring back the highlights, add contrast, and check my WB. Most importantly, have fun! I get giddy with excitement when I capture that strong, beautiful backlight.
All images were shot with Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 70-200L, Canon 24-70L, and Canon 35L.