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4 Tips For Taking Amazing Backlit Photos

by Eric Von Lehmden | August 5, 2015

backlit photos, photo tips

Creating beautiful naturally lit portraits is how a large part of professional photographers make their living. I am going to expose one of their favorite techniques for taking potentially breathtaking portraits. I say "potentially" because this does take a little practice, and it can go horribly wrong when it is done incorrectly. But when it is done right (and I am giving you the way to do it right) you will be able to take beautiful portraits of your children and family whenever you want to.


  • DSLR would be great but you can even get beautiful backlit portraits with an iPhone if you know what you are doing.
  • Optional - Lens shade for your camera lens (DSLR)
  • Optional A collapsable light reflector

1. Wait for the right light A beautiful backlit portrait is not taken at noon or 1 or 2pm. The sun is just way too high in the sky. That is not to say that you can’t take amazing photos during that time, but that is a completely different post.

  • Sunrise 8:30am (for the early risers)
  • Early evening Sunset. This can vary depending on the season. Figure out when the sun sets and subtract 3 hours from it and you have a time frame. (EX If the sun sets at 8pm then you can start at around 5pm.) I know pros will disagree with me here. Most will say to stick with the magic hour (hour before sunset and after sunrise), but I do believe you can get great backlit photos at other times as well.

backlit photos, photo tips

2. The lower the sun is in the sky the more dramatic the back-light.

  • The trade off is that you have less light on the front of your subject. There are a few ways around this. You can angle your subject so that most of the light is hitting their back, while a little is hitting their face. Another way of getting some light back on the front of the subject is by using a reflector to bounce some light back onto your subject’s face.

backlit photos, photo tips

3. Lens shade vs no lens shade.

  • What’s the difference? It’s all about light control. Depending on where the sun is in relation to you (& your camera) using a lens shade can produce a completely different look than without one. And the cool thing is that both looks can be amazing.

    1. With a lens shade the sun light will only be hitting your subject and will help shield the light from entering the lens. This gives you a cleaner crisper photo.
    2. Without a lens shade the sun light can spill into the camera creating sun flares and a sun haze. When done well, these can be beautiful stylistic effects.

backlit photos, photo tipsWith no lens cover the sun enters the lens giving that "sun drenched" look to the photo.


4. Beware of the background

  • The background is just as important as your subject. Something that can ruin a beautifully lit subject is a background that has a big white sky.
  • Position yourself and your subject so that your background will hold the viewers interest. There are several ways to do that.

    1. Change your angle shooting at a downward angle can help keep less of the sky out of the photo.
    2. Your lens choice can help Using a telephoto rather than a wide angle to help keep the sky out of the photo.
    3. If you do choose to have the sky be a part of the image you have some options for keeping the sky interesting, and not just some white nothingness.

      • composite two photos together in Photoshop to create something unique
      • use a reflector to help bounce light onto the front of your subject
      • create a silhouette image of your subject
      • use a flash (preferably off camera) to help illuminate the front of your subject. This one is a little more advanced.

backlit photos, photo tipsAn example of a photo composite in Photoshop. The before photo on the left has a lifeless background. Adding a sky on the right may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it can add some visual interest to a photo.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, this will take a little practice. You will know when you start to nail it. Once you have it’s like riding a bike.

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Tips-n-Tricks #84

If you like taking photos of locals when you travel, be sure to ask for permission first. You are visiting their home so be polite and respectful. This often leads to better photographs than you may expect.

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