When is Backlighting in a photo good?

You bet. We call this backlighting because the light comes from in back of the subject. Of course, the old Kodak formula was to stand with your camera so that the light came over your shoulder toward the subject. This age-old advice is still good for many subjects. But it’s not always the best.

Swarna River Manipal Backlighting photography
Swarna River,  Manipal. The light filtering through the tree on the right gives the image a dreamy feel. Photo: Sandy Kamath / Photo Kadtha

Backlighting is even better for some subjects – especially translucent subjects. The light – often the sun – coming through them can produce a dramatic luminescent effect. So backlighting can be particularly good for some flower petals because their transparency produces a lively glow. It can be good for flags and banners because it makes the colors pop out. It can be good for certain hairdos by forming a bright halo around the head. It can be good for diaphanous fabrics – for example negligees – because it allows us a peekaboo glimpse behind their veil.

When you photograph anything translucent, backlighting can produce some glorious effects. Our advice: Whenever you are about to shoot a picture, consider the direction of light. Ask yourself, can the image be enhanced by backlighting?

When you use backlighting, however, you have to handle exposure very carefully. Make sure your meter reads the subject – not the bright light coming from behind the subject. Because proper exposure is so important, we repeat the correct way to meter backlit subjects as a separate issue in next Tip.