Backlight Only Portrait Tips Inside a Studio

Some aspects of photography go beyond the book. When setting up lights, you’re limited only by your imagination. This blacklighting setup by Urs Recher is a classic example of how a photographer can use their creative mind to produce ingenious lighting arrangements:

Light Source

The light source for this shoot are two Broncolor lights set up as backlights for the model. There is almost nothing that illuminates the model from the front. You might worry that the model’s face would be underexposed with a setup like this, but this is where the ingenuity of the photographer comes in. He uses the sleeves of the model’s shirt as the fill light.

Backlit studio portraits

Backlit Portrait Setup


The narrow honeycomb grid set at full power produces an intense beam of light. This is reflected back on to the model’s face bouncing off of her sleeves. The camera is set at f/11 to f/16 to compensate for the intensity of the light, as well as to produce a sharp image with wide depth of field.

Positioning of the Lights

Positioning the angle of the lights is extremely important. Recher uses only a small amount of the light produced by these two honeycomb gridded Broncolor lights. In reality, much of the light spills onto the studio floor with only a fraction hitting the sleeves of the model’s shirt.

Countering Lens Flare

All backlight, no front light, plus the camera pointing directly at the lights is the ultimate recipe for flare. Recher uses an innovative tool to counter this: the “black window.”

Backlit studio portraits

Use a “black window” to counter flare.

As shown above, a black window is a piece of cardboard with a square cut out in the middle. The front of the cardboard is painted black. You can also use black non-reflective paper. The idea is to shoot through the cutout, thereby cutting down on flare. Moving the whole contraption farther away or bringing it in cuts down on the flare or shows a bit of it, respectively.

Recher uses a small white piece of cardboard to compensate for the overly backlit situation. This lightens up the shadow areas just a wee bit and prevents complete underexposure of the model’s skin.

Background Light

How to shoot backlit portraits

The background light

The background used here is black. To prevent the final image background from turning absolutely black, Recher uses a third light that fires straight at the background. The result is a grey to black gradient.

lighting a model with backlights only

Final Image


Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever