by Editor Lourens Durand
When we started out in photography, taking photos of the family, we were always told that the sun should be behind us when shooting. Likewise, the main lights in a studio shoot, whether or not situated behind the photographer, are facing the subject from the front.
That was before we discovered that, by placing the main light (natural or artificial) behind the subject, we can create breath-taking images with edge-glow effects that accentuate hair, fur, veins of leaves and petals.
Exposure can be a problem with this kind of lighting, but can be overcome by one of several means:
- using spot metering on the darker areas to ensure proper exposure on the subject
- shooting in manual mode and using live view on a SLR, where you can clearly see the results on the screen and make the necessary adjustments
- using bracketed exposures in difficult lighting situations
- using the histogram, ensuring that both light and dark areas are captured, even though there will be two spikes left and right
- of course, you can also create a silhouette by exposing for the background.
Shooting against a dark background with backlighting and exposing for the subject makes a backlit subject stand out nicely. Translucent subjects, such as smoke, water spray, leaves, dust and rain make great pictures if handled properly. Using a reflector from the front of a subject can help with exposure.
Backlighting works well with photographing animals, nature shots and birds, and also with macros, where one can accentuate the hairs on insects, especially translucent ones, and to accentuate veins on leaves and flowers.
In food photography, backlighting gives the food a luxurious, fresh and moist look, with the shadows in front and below accentuating the shapes. When handled properly, this kind of lighting can appear to smoothen out surfaces and hide surface flaws on items such as jellies and chocolates.
An additional technique that could be used is to light the background and, using cards to block out any direct lighting, arrange the subject on a surface in front of the lit background. Placing a reflector in front of the scene could take out some of the darker edges.
There is a myriad of technical challenges in mastering these techniques but, with practice, the results can be amazing, as demonstrated in the selected photographs.