Tips for Shooting Backlit Portraits

Tips for Shooting Backlit Portraits


A lighting technique that allows you to shoot your subject directly in front of the light.

Creative rules are meant to be broken and with close to 2 billion images being posted every day on social media, there is no time like the present to start taking some chances to make your work stand out. One of those rules we are first taught when learning photography is to avoid shooting against the sun. Usually you will end up with either completely over exposed photographs, or underexposed unintentional silhouettes.


The key is being able to control the light in any situation and correctly taking advantage of a backlit situation has the potential to unlock eye-catching images with its inherent atmospheric and artistic quality of light. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you begin experimenting.

Focusing and Backlighting

Use manual focus. The camera will have a difficult time focusing on the subject since there is extra light. Get used to focusing manually. If you insist on using AF, at least use the correct Focus Area to reduce the amount of time the lens spends hunting.


Positioning for Backlit Portraits

Place subjects directly in front of the light source. Whether it’s the sun, a strobe light, or continuous lights, make sure your model is covering it. For more on this technique and its benefits, see 6 Easy Summer Photography Shooting Tips with Big Results.

Use a reflector to bounce light back into your subject’s face and overexpose by 2-3 stops to get that blown-out background effect. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a silhouette. You will want to meter correctly for this if you’re using any automatic shooting modes at all. Find out more in Learning To Leave The Matrix – A Tip On DSLR Light Metering.

Embrace light flares. When shooting backlit, you’re bound to get a few light flares here and there. Sometimes, it’s not so terrible unless it’s right in front of your model’s face. In that case, change your angle and/or flag your lens to prevent them.


Though backlighting can be difficult to master at first, it is a helpful skill to have as a photographer. The more obstacles you can overcome, the better chance is that your clients will book you again or refer you to others who appreciate your ability to manipulate light.

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Melissa de Mata is a freelance photographer, digital marketing consultant, and social media specialist with interests in fashion-lifestyle portraits, products, food and architecture. She is also a contributor for The Violet Fog and The Style Line.

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