How to Use Backlight in Portrait Photography

A backlit situation, whether it’s thrust upon you or you choose it, can be tricky. There are, however, some techniques that can help you to make a great backlit portrait. Adorama explains:

Backlit denotes a situation in photography where the main light is behind the subject.

Sometimes you end up being in a situation where the light is coming from behind the subject and there is no way you can ask the subject to turn the other way.

At other times you might choose to shoot your subject that way for the unique backlit effect. Either way, the challenge to expose properly remains. There are two options for exposing your shot.

Metering for the Background

You can meter for the background and allow your subject to become a silhouette.

backlit portrait tips

This only works if the subject is easily identifiable in silhouette—or the sky itself is really out of this world.

Metering for the Subject’s Face

The other option is to meter for the subject’s face, ignoring everything else in the frame.

how to backlight a portrait

For this method, switch to spot metering. This will allow you to focus and meter off the subject’s face and then dial in the proper settings for a good exposure (of the face).

There is a downside to this technique, though. If the background is bright, such as in the case of the sky, it will be completely washed out. There will be no separation between where the subject ends and the background begins.

backlighting in photography

An alternative to overexposing the background (and correctly exposing the subject) would be to move the subject against a darker background. This will create a nice saturated background and the backlit subject will have a much more interesting look in the final image.

using backlight

Speaking of backlighting against a darker background, Bergman shares this interesting tip: water looks really awesome when you backlight it against a dark background. If you’re shooting portraits, try placing the subject against a darker background with water sprinkling down around them. Make sure that the subject (and the water) is backlit. Use a slower shutter speed to capture some blur.

Do you like to shoot backlit portraits? Share your best shots!

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Your email address will not be published.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