How To Photograph People With The Sun Behind Them


Shooting backlit portraits can result in terrible images if done improperly.  Especially if you’re inexperienced in dealing with less than ideal lighting conditions, it can be challenging to figure out how to position and light your model correctly.

Of course, it’s very rewarding if you end up with amazing backlit photos so consider the following tips next time you decide to shoot backlit portraits outdoors.

Photo by Anthony Martino

1. Block Out Light

In case you need to shoot in a location with direct and harsh backlighting, you’ll probably end up with sun flares in your photo. Even though sun flares can make photographs more interesting and cinematic (some photographers even add them in post-production!), they can be quite distracting and blow out your subject.  

In order to filter the natural light and make sun flares less obvious, you can use a lens hood or an umbrella. You can also shoot from the shade if you can find a tree or bush. The shade will block out unnecessary light and make the image less hazy.

Bear in mind that it might be impossible to block out the harsh light if you’re shooting in barren environments such as deserts or if you don’t have any additional equipment to help you control the natural light. In that case, consider using a different strategy, such as fill flash or spot metering.

Photo by Vans Colina

2. Introduce Fill Flash

Fill flash is an important and often necessary tool when it comes to standard backlit portraits. This type of flash should be your supplementary light source in a backlit outdoor shoot if you want your model’s face to be properly exposed. With the strong sunlight coming from the back, the subject’s face will end up looking darker than the rest of the image. To fix this issue, you should use fill flash to light the underexposed parts of the image.

Ideally, your fill flash should be an external flash that isn’t facing your subject directly – you definitely need to avoid flat lighting. Your fill flash should give you enough freedom to adjust the angle and power of light on your model’s face.

Photo by Sonnie Hiles

3. Learn To Use Spot Metering

Shooting backlit portraits is the ideal occasion for learning how to use spot metering.

This type of metering allows the camera to focus on a specific area of the image and determine the best exposure for it, despite how bright or how dark the rest of the frame might be. Spot metering can be very useful because it can help you avoid underexposing your subject during backlight sessions.

This metering mode is concerned only with the exposure of a very small area and you can select this area manually, using your camera’s AF points.

Photo by Warren Wong

4. Find The Correct White Balance

White balance is one of those camera settings which commonly get ignored. However, if you want to seriously improve your photography and learn even those less obvious tricks, you shouldn’t ignore the importance of white balance.  It affects the color temperature of your images and it can help you capture more vivid scenes, which is very important when it comes to backlit portraits.

Choosing the correct white balance will allow you to get the colors in your image as accurately as possible, which can be difficult with harsh sunlight since it tends to wash out the colors in your images.

Color temperatures range from very cool to very warm tones.  Most cameras have preset white balance settings such as Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight or Sunny, Cloudy, and Flash.

However, you don’t have to stick to these presets – you can customize your white balance using a grey card or numbered Kelvin (K) temperatures, ranging from 1700 to 10000K.

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives

5. Photograph Silhouettes

If exposing your model’s face properly isn’t your main concern, you can embrace the stylish beauty of silhouettes!

The sunlight that faces the camera can create a dramatic outlined glow around the subject, which will result in a beautiful silhouette. Another great thing about silhouettes is the fact that they emphasize the body shape or facial features (nose, lips, chin) of your subject. This also makes the subject stand out from the background and improves the composition.

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives

If you want to learn more about shooting backlit portraits, feel free to check out the following links!

Further Resources:

  1. How To Capture Stunning Backlit Portraits During The Golden Hour
  2. 19 Beautifully Backlit Portraits
  3. 31 Creative Examples of Backlit and Rimlit Photos
  4. An Introduction To Backlight Photography
  5. 8 Easy Backlighting Tips For Dreamy Backlit Photography
  6. Braving The Backlight: How To Take Amazing Photos With Backlighting

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About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

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