Guide to Taking Dramatic Backlit Portraits

When the light source is behind your subject, it can become challenging to take a photograph. However, with the right technique, you can make the most of the challenge and create an amazing portrait. Daniel Norton with Adorama demonstrates how you can take dramatic backlit portraits using a single light setup:

Before taking any shots in his studio, Norton ensures that the ambient light doesn’t affect his photo. He wants to make sure that the flash is the only light that determines the look of his photo. You can do this by adjusting your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO so you get a black frame when you take a shot. However, be sure not to raise the shutter speed higher than the flash sync speed.

Moving on to the setup, Daniel uses a Profoto B1X to replicate the sun and an old black V-flat as the background. The subject stands in between two black cards, which adds some contrast on her face. Since the light is behind the subject, Norton anticipates some lens flare. And instead of fighting it, he’s prepared to use it creatively.

Because the light behind the subject, we need some way to reflect the light onto the subject’s face. Norton clamps a big white board on the light stand so that the reflected light fills in the subject’s face.

backlit portrait with single reflector

1/250 second, f/4.5, ISO 100

To make the most of the light, Norton adds a second reflector under the subject’s face and shoots through the small window.

backlit portrait setup

He also increases the flash power for a correct exposure. This adds in some more light on the subject’s face and makes the image brighter.

Moving his camera around a little bit, Norton experiments with a variety of lens flares. If you don’t like lens flare, try moving around and find an angle that minimizes it.

portrait lighting tutorial

The basic concept here is to use reflectors when your subject is backlit. And if you’re in a studio, feel free to experiment with multiple light sources and different types of reflectors.

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One response to “Guide to Taking Dramatic Backlit Portraits”

  1. José Diaz says:

    Muy buen articulo, ahora a ponerlo en practica! muchas gracias.

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