Backlight photography - the aesthetics of light

Last Update date : 2011.01.16

 Backlight photography - the aesthetics of light

When I was learning photography as a beginner, photographers senior to me often told me, “To create good work, you need to embrace the sun.” I remember blindly following this advice before I had really understood the theory of photography. Now I can understand what the advice meant: that the most beautiful aspects of a subject can be captured in backlight.

Backlight is where the light is shining towards the camera lens, from the back of the subject. This highlights the contours of a subject, creating beautiful images. However, it is not that easy to use this sort of light; adjusting the exposure is difficult due to the difference in brightness levels.

Due to the extreme difference between the strong light shining from the back of the subject and the dark parts (mainly the deep shadows on the subject), it is not easy to depict both in one shot.

Subjects in backlight often look at their best. Although such shots are not easy to set up, it’s worthwhile taking the trouble.

This photo captures a fresh, somewhat mystical beauty by giving expression to the transparent tissues of leaves that appear when they are backlit.

Choice of exposure

Even though backlight photography creates beautiful images, the photographer has to make a choice. In a backlight situation, with a bright background and shaded subject, if you adjust the exposure for a bright background, the subject will relatively lack exposure and come out as a dark silhouette (a black shadow in extreme cases); whereas if you adjust the exposure for a dark subject, the background will be overexposed and come out too bright (white in extreme cases).

So photographers must make a choice, depending on the effect they are looking for. Alternatively, it is also a good idea to take both photos and choose one of them.

Another solution is to “fill in” the shadows on the subject using a reflection board, or if you don't have a reflection board, change the viewpoint to get a dark background.

If you shoot in backlight with the viewpoint changed to a dark background, you can get a satisfactory photo by reducing the difference in brightness between background and subject, while maintaining the beauty offered by backlight.

Changing the viewpoint to a dark background creates a more beautiful photo not only in terms of exposure, but also by making the outline highlight, which is a characteristic of backlight photography, brighter.

Therefore the best method for backlight photography is to change the viewpoint to a dark background, and fill in the dark part of the subject using a reflection board (if possible) or flash.

[Exposure tuned to the background]                          [Exposure tuned to the subject]

When the exposure is tuned to a dark subject, the relatively bright background gets overexposed and the atmosphere is lost. When the exposure is tuned to the background, the exposure of the background is appropriate, but a relatively dark, shaded subject appears underexposed.

This depends on the choice of the photographer. Generally, it is desirable to take photographs in both situations and make the final decision later.

One method for maintaining detail in both subject and background is to use a reflection board or flash to fill in the dark parts.

[A photo with exposure tuned to the background]                  [compulsory flash with exposure tuned to the background]

One of the greatest characteristics of backlight photography is the highlight around the subject.

The formation of a beautiful outlined highlight is characteristic of backlight photography. It is also a good idea to choose a dark background, to make use of this highlight while reducing the difference in brightness between background and subject.
You can take backlight photographs more easily by using the face recognition AF & AE feature available in Samsung digital cameras. The face recognition AF & AE feature automatically adjusts the exposure based on a face, so you can get the photographs that you want even in backlight. Another feature that you can use to get nice backlight photographs is ACB (Auto Contrast Balance) which automatically adjusts the contrast in the photograph. Although the result may appear a little flat, this can reduce the strong contrast created by the difference in exposure between background and subject to produce a photograph in which both the background and the subject are satisfactory.

[A photograph in which the characteristic highlight is well expressed]

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