Backlit photography Tutorial | Photographer resources

Have you seen a lot of beautiful backlit pictures and just fell in love with the beautiful warm tones you see in the pictures but failed many times when you tried to do the same thing in your sessions? Well, I hope this simple tutorial will give you some great tips on how to create beautiful backlit pictures.
I think every photographer that does backlit photography has their own way of doing things but here is my way of creating those beautiful backlit pictures.

Best time for the shoot – Backlit photography requires that the sun and the light is on the back of your subject so that means that you will have to shoot very early in the morning, right after the sun rises or late in the evening before the sunsets. There is not an exact time as the time when the sun sets and rises will change with each season. Sometimes you have to start your session around 7 (early summer) but then in the fall when the time changes and the day gets shorter you might hate to start your session around 4:30 as the sun will set by 6:30.

Spot Metering – You will have to set your camera on Spot Metering that way the camera will read the light from your subject’s face rather the the overall light in the background.

Source of light – A big misconception about backlit photography is that you just have to worry about the light in the back of your subject and even though that is very, very important in order to get those beautiful skin tones and have your subject’s eyes have beautiful catch lights you also have to be aware of the light behind you. If you are in an area that has lots of trees behind you, you will find it very disappointing that even though the background looks well lit your subject’s face is very dark. To avoid that you will need to look for open shade areas and by that I mean an area with some trees behind your subject, to block some of the sun light but not all of the light. You need just the right amount of trees to let the sun peek through the leaves. Now behind you will need an area where there are no trees, an area with a very wide open field so the beautiful light from the sky will reflect on your subjects face. If you can’t find those spots this is where you have to start using a reflector and you will need an extra pair of hands to do that. With children as they are moving so fast, I choose not to use reflectors but rather to go hunting and find just the right spot to do my sessions.

Shade is good – Open shade that is. Don’t be afraid to place your subject in the shade. Look for the spot where the shade meets the bright light from the sun and position your subject in the shade but watch that the hair is getting just that soft kiss from the sun. Your in camera pictures might not show that you have enough sun but that’s where the Bohemian Symphony Collection will come the rescue. If you were able to get just the softest touch of sun kiss on your subjects hair, run some of the magical actions I have created and you will be amazed how the sun will intensify in post production.

Exposure – As I mentioned before you wanna make sure you have your camera set on Spot Metering and you will have to set your exposure based on your subject’s face. Yes the background will be blown out a bit but we don’t have to worry about that. Our focus is on the subject and that’s all we have to worry about.

Camera Settings – Like anything in photography the answer to this is: It depends. It really depends on what type of feeling are you trying to go for in your picture. Do you want your pictures to tell a story? Then you will have to have your aperture set to the highest value number f/22, f/16, f/11
(very small aperture opening) so that the whole scene will be in focus. Do you want to isolate the subject from your background? Do do that you will need to set your aperture to a very low value number f/1.4, f/1.6, f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8 (very wide aperture opening ). A great book to understand how to get the right exposure and to understand the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.

Eliminate Flare – Unless you want to be very creative and love flare in your pictures you will have to make sure that when you take the picture there is no flare that will fall on your subjects face or skin. Again you can take a few creative shots with the fun sun flare, but most people love to see the crispy clear eyes and don’t like the very faded images when the sun comes full force into your lens. To eliminate this you need to position your subject in front of a tree, or any other object that breaks the strong light from the sun. Backlit photography doesn’t mean that the sun has to be right behind the subject so don’t be afraid to move to the right or to the left until the sun is just right and will not come full force into your lens. To practice, I suggest to do this with a doll and a chair. You could just do it with a chair but if you have a doll you can also learn about the skin tones. It’s easier to practice with a doll as they really are sooo patient with you:). Of course it would be great to have a real model but I was so intimidated at first trying to
get so many things right that I just wanted to take my time, sit down look at my images in the camera and not be worry that the other person or my daughter would be bored out of their mind:).

Practice – Last but not least practice. Backlit photography is not something you can just learn by reading. Practice makes perfect. Practice, Practice, Practice. Each season, spring, summer, fall, winter you will see that even if you
use the same field you will have to be creative and watch on how the sun is moving in the sky and make the necessary changes where you position your subject according to the sun.

I learned this the hard way when I went into the same spot that I do a lot of my sessions and good thing this photo shoot was with my daughter. I knew it worked great in the past just to find out that the sun was all over her face instead of being right behind her I put her in the a spot that
I did not take into account that as we move into fall the sun will not be on the same spot in the sky. Something I never had to think before but with practice I learned to handle this issue too.

Post production – A huge part of backlit photography will also be influenced on how you edit those beautiful pictures so that all those beautiful golden tones will be revealed in post productions. After being asked numerous times what’s my secret to my editing style I decided to create a very unique, different and powerful set of actions that will help all of you that love shooting backlit photography.
That’s how Bohemian Symphony was born; A set of 33 bright and bold actions that will help you take your pictures from boring to fabulous.

You can learn more about this actions HERE
and don’t forget to follow me on facebook as I provide daily advice and tips as well as lots of encouragement to become the photographer that you have always dream of.

Sarah Jones - September 14, 2011 - 10:51 pm

Thank you Lidia! So incredible!!

jonathan - September 15, 2011 - 6:16 am


shannon metzer - September 16, 2011 - 12:17 am

love love love your work!!

Darcy Martin - September 16, 2011 - 6:27 pm

Thank you so much for this! I’ve been trying to figure this out for so long! I wasn’t putting my subject in the shade so I was always getting this awful sun flare. I even bought a rockin’ chair today so I guess I’m off to practice with my chair and doll :) THANK YOU!!!

Karen Bennett - September 19, 2011 - 4:03 pm

I have an older version of photoshop 6.0 Will your actions work with that version?
Thank you,
Karen Bennett

Jessica - September 21, 2011 - 1:47 pm

I have an older camera that doesn’t have a spot metering option. What is the next best metering setting?

Nikki Olivier - September 21, 2011 - 5:32 pm

thanks for that great article!! Looking forward to trying some of your sugestions!! The Book understanding exposure is really good! I have read it!! Makes things really simple! I totally LOVE your actions!! Keep up the good work and look forward to more articles!!

Rachel Owens - September 22, 2011 - 12:18 pm

Thank you so much! This is so helpful. It’s extra helpful to see the before and afters too. You are amazing and I appreciate your willingness to teach the rest of us.

leanne - September 24, 2011 - 4:32 pm

What a great tutorial! Thank you for the info, I also am very interested in your actions!

Monique - September 24, 2011 - 11:32 pm

danke für dein ausführlichen bericht über Fotografie mit Gegenlicht, sehr interessant und hilfreich… Danke <3

stacey - October 10, 2011 - 12:11 am

Thanks for your tutorial! I went out and tried it, with mixed results. Maybe somebody can advise me – 2 hours before the sun set, it still seemed pretty high, and I ended up with quite a bit of haze in my photos. When the sun was lower, it was blocked by the trees a bit more, thus less haze/flare. What should I do about the first 1/2 of the session – move subject closer to the trees behind her ( and lose some of the depth ), shoot side-lit, point the camera down at my subject? Any advice is greatly appreciated!

Diane Poff - October 10, 2011 - 10:14 pm

Love this, I am doing a shoot with a family that has one son, and want to do back lighting, I am going to go practice this, Thanks for the great info.

Dave Cearley - October 17, 2011 - 1:18 am

I lived in Fort Worth for a decade, and I remember this quality of light, especially in the fall. My favorite “country” place was up around Aubry/Pilot Point by Ray Roberts.
You seem to use the same piece of land frequently. Is it a family place, or did you work out a deal with a local rancher for access? I’m looking for something similar, and was wondering how difficult, or easy, it might be to get access to someone’s property on a routine basis.
Love your style and color palate.

Cassandra - February 1, 2012 - 1:30 pm

As always, thank you for the wonderful information!!!!!!!!!! You’re the best!

Crystal Bucholz - February 1, 2012 - 3:28 pm

Thank you for the great information! Makes me want to grab a doll and go practice and I just might!

Holly - February 1, 2012 - 9:01 pm

WOW! That is the best I have ever had anyone explain it! It makes total sense! Thank you for being so generous with your information. I always look forward to reading your FB posts!
LOVE that you mentioned Brian Peterson’s book too. Love him & great book! :)

Melanie Leighton - February 9, 2012 - 11:19 pm

Excellent advice, I can’t wait to put some of it into action! Thankyou!!!

suzan monell - February 22, 2012 - 4:08 pm

Just wanted to thank you for this great article on back lighting. I loved when you mentioned using a doll to practice! I too have done this and it was nice to hear that you do too!

Your work is fabulous!

Luiza - April 3, 2012 - 9:54 am

Thank You so much Lidia for sharing it!I will practice practice to make this magical capture. Yes I have Brian Peterson’s book it is a great book!

[...] via [...]

Anna - October 19, 2012 - 7:43 am

Very helpful! I’ll try it out!!

Beth - October 24, 2012 - 2:33 pm

what is your work-flow in photoshop? I think your “before and afters” are very good!

Cheri - October 27, 2012 - 5:11 pm

After struggling with a backlighting issue the other day while trying to take school photos for the students at our tiny school (), in frustration I searched the Internet for some help. I’m so glad I found your site! I have fallen in love–with your photos. Seriously. And I’m eager and hungry for more info. I’ll be reading, rereading, checking out your archives, and following you on Facebook. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and talents!

Jai Catalano - November 9, 2012 - 5:41 am

Absolutely stunning. Backlight is so important to add depth to a photo. It also is helpful to have some amazing subjects with a little editing software. :)

Kool Ed - March 23, 2013 - 9:06 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this priceless info!
I will be purchasing your actions just because of your generosity!
Best wishes!

backlinks - April 8, 2013 - 11:04 pm

In all honesty this is a wonderful advanced article even so like all great authors there are a few details that could be proved helpful about. But never ever the particular significantly less it had been stimulating.

Katie Roloson - April 20, 2013 - 6:57 pm

Hello I was just wondering if you had any samples for you actions I just would like to try one from the bohemian set!!!

Briana Sealy - May 10, 2013 - 3:10 pm

I believe the link for the bohemian symphony collection is broken? It kept saying error loading the page????

D Jamison - August 27, 2013 - 4:45 pm

Hi, I was doing a general search on the internet on how to photograph a subject that is backlit and I found your information most helpful – thank you. What I am wondering about the actions you sell – so you have to have photoshop to use them. I have never used actions before and I am wondering if they are easy to use?

thank you,

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Otto Haring - May 6, 2015 - 6:45 am

Thanks for the write up! I am just wondering about my options regarding lighting up the subjects face. Too often, the face is just too dark to bring out the skin tones, eyes…
Thanks so much for sharing!

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