Uses of Backlighting in Photography


Backlighting can be a useful tool in photography. Its use can change the whole effect of an image. For example, in the image above, I used the backlight of the sunset to silhouette the tree alone in the landscape. It required patient and careful positioning of the camera to ensure the sun didn’t cause too much glare or flares in the picture. In the next shot, the sun was very low, but placing the camera low (so shooting high) allowed me to silhouette the bird as well as the fence. I did colour this image in Photoshop, and this was easier to do without flare or clipping getting in the way because the backlight was fairly soft. If you want to try these kinds of shots, you may find a filter useful when contrasts are high. My lens for these shots just had a UV filter screwed on. I almost always have this on each lens as it protects the lens itself and helps when photographing water or shiny surfaces.

beacon hill 001

The next couple of shots involve indoor backlight. I only have a couple of small, tabletop daylight photographic  lamps, but you could use a bright halogen reading lamp, as long as your camera is stable, either on a tripod or beanbag, so you can adjust your shutter speed to get enough light into the image. Experiment with the angle of the light coming through your subject. Experiment with your shutter speed. Don’t be afraid to play with white balance either. This will affect the colour cast on your final picture. I wanted natural colours in these shots, but you may be aiming for something more arty, and may find changing white balance gives you the colour cast you’re aiming for. If not, you can always play with the tones and colours once it’s back in your editing programme.

light 039

light 012

gardenflowers 283

The image below was a seed pod simply placed in front of a bright light. I used my 300mm zoom macro lens to get in really close and reveal the seeds inside. I used a similar technique with the fern leaf, which has given us a great view of the spores underneath it. I like the patterns revealed doing this. Of course it doesn’t work as well with thick, leathery leaves, but can be very effective on thinner ones and petals. This flower was backlit for a series of photos as the almost translucent petals caught my eye one day when the sun shone through them. I need to get them out of the wind, so cut one or two, brought them indoors and used my tabletop lamps to achieve this effect. Talk about seeing things in a different light!

gardenflowers 164


Backlighting can also make a human silhouette. If you take the picture of your subject against a plain or white background you’ll make life easier for yourself. I had my volunteer stand in front of an upstairs window on a fairly dull day as I didn’t want sky detail. This of course backlit him, ensuring an easy and quick silhouette.


And finally, this one isn’t really backlighting, but an experiment shining a light INSIDE a flower. Time for you to play now, I guess.

lit inside lily

My apologies for the delay in getting this post out and replying to some comments. Our internet connection went down a couple of days ago and we got it back at 3am last night. It’s put me behind with the website, too as I needed to work online, but I’m sure I’ll catch up soon. I spent the day doing all the stuff I’ve been neglecting to get photography work done, so the house is cleaner and tidier, which will make life easier when preparing for Christmas. I hope all your preparations are going well. It can be a hectic and stressful time, but hopefully you’re all on top of it and are going to have a great holiday. I’ll put up our tree and decorations on Friday, after my birthday, which is almost always overshadowed by Christmas, so I make the tree wait. There’s no rush now the children have left home!

Have you tried backlighting? Is it something you might have new ideas for? Please, let me know. It would be great to hear of your experiments and see the results.


23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ali
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 20:13:01

    Love them all, but the sunset is wonderful.


  2. Jon Vagg
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 20:18:17

    I’m not much of a photographer but I think your pics do illustrate how to do good things just though imaginatively using the resources that are to hand.

    I remember telling you how much I liked the two dusk shots when you first showed them to me a while ago. I don’t think you ever showed me the last one, the flower that looks like it has a light inside it, but that’s very cool…


  3. Enivea
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 21:29:15

    Great examples of backlighting Chris! I’ll try to find some flowers I used this technique on and post them.
    Happy Birthday!


    • chriscaff
      Dec 17, 2010 @ 22:02:17

      Thanks Enivea! Yes, please do find your pics. I’d love to see them. It’s a fun technique I will be playing with again when I have the time. Thanks for the birthday wishes, too.


  4. Lina
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 22:39:57

    Hi! I saw your comment on my blog, and figured I’d check out yours.
    And Oh. My. God. These pictures are freaking amazing! I can’t even sum up to find the right words to describe them! You are really good!


    • chriscaff
      Dec 17, 2010 @ 22:44:00

      Thanks Lina! Good of you to visit my blog and comment. Did you scroll down and say hi to my baby rats? I’d like to see more of your photos. Your cat ones are really good!


      • Lina
        Dec 17, 2010 @ 22:46:19

        Yes, I saw the rats, I dunno much about rats, but they were cute 🙂 And I love my cats, so I’ll probably put more up soon!

      • chriscaff
        Dec 17, 2010 @ 22:59:37

        Great! I’ll see them when they’re ready. The rats are very, very soft to touch, very affectionate and cute! I’ve kept them before and was really attached to them I love cats but I feed birds all year round and there are five cats next door to me, so rats it is.

      • Lina
        Dec 17, 2010 @ 23:05:19

        Well, I have three cats, and I wouldn’t wish for any other pet (although, I did have three hamsters when I was younger). Cats cuddle when they want to, but cleans themselves and take care of themselves when there are need to.

  5. Satin & Sand
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 18:36:05

    Love your work! You have such depth and expertise in so many areas!


  6. Francis
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 07:48:42

    Wonderful pictures, a technique to try for some great results.


  7. Lindsay Dianne
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 07:52:06

    Great post. Thanks so much for sharing these tips. It’s sometimes hard to remember that backlighting can be a very useful tool.


  8. Shivya
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 16:18:34

    Amazing shots!


  9. randywornhole
    Dec 20, 2010 @ 09:53:29

    fantastic stuff, you truly have a fantastic eye and a lot of skill. xx


  10. design6
    Dec 20, 2010 @ 23:55:32

    beautiful photos… and i love the ones of your rats. happy holidays!


  11. Miss Morgans 365 Days of Photos
    Dec 21, 2010 @ 06:05:11

    I havent tried backlighting, but you inspired me. I think I know what I am going to shoot tomorrow. I love the white flower by the way!


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