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When to Use Back Light

This is a guest post by Thomas Shue – lilsamedia.com/blog
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Today I am offering you some tips about back lighting. Simply put, when light is coming from behind a subject, it’s said to be back lit. But before I tell you why back lighting is go great, I feel I should talk a little about front lighting.

In most cases people tend to look for the light to falling on to the front of a subject. This frontal light falling on a subject can cause all sorts of problems from flat looking images with lack of detail, to squinting subjects or blown-out skies.

Remember lighting is a balance between many things such as highlight and shadow, dynamic range or a subjects ability to function. You need to know your gear, know your subject, and be able to read the light in order to begin to control it. If you do all of this right, you just might be able to bring your photographic vision to life.

BackLight-2-(1-of-1)
Thomas Shue

In portraiture of example, front lighting is used to create a one of the most popular patterns of light for beauty work called, “Paramount” (sometimes knows as butterfly light). You see front lighting has limited use, because it doesn’t tend to flatter very many subjects (normally only beautiful models). Also, if used incorrectly, frontal lighting renders a flat-looking image. Have you ever seen a mug shot, it’s a prime example of how flat frontal light looks. It doesn’t matter if it’s front light on a person or a mountain, it’s all the same result, an image without detail that looks flat.

When you start to move light off axis, interesting things start to happen. Shadows start to form, and light starts wrapping around things and creating gradient tones (shades of grey). It’s the balance between light and shadow that we as photographers need to always be keenly aware of. I am not going to try to define all of the positions of light, but what I will say is this.

BackLight-3-(1-of-1)
Thomas Shue

When you have light coming from behind a subject, this is where all of the magic happens. Back lighting can be used for separation (a rim light), to create a silhouette or to create a wonderful lens flare. Back lighting works well on both people and landscapes, as it tends to create interesting and dramatic images that are full of detail.

Sometimes you want to actually see the source of the back light, in other cases you don’t so you might have to use a flag or camera position to block it. It’s always a creative choice, so new sure to experiment.

Remember, back light usually wraps around your subjects creating all sorts of wonderful shadow and highlight transitions. It’s these wrapping transitions of light and shadow that give life to an image by creating depth, three dimensionality and texture definition. Back light can be a single light source used to create an image, or used in combination with other lights, the creative choice is yours.

Often times when you have a heavy back light, you might need to use a frontal fill flash to open up the shadows or not and one can create a silhouette. I often use the sun as a back light/hair light/rim light. And combined with a reflector, one can create amazing natural light portraits. It’s my opinion, in order to be a master of lighting, you must always look to the back light.

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