Backlighting for indoor portraits

One type of light I am always looking for when photographing brides is a nice source of backlight. Normally if they are getting ready in a hotel there is always a nice big window in the room that I can use for some really beautiful bridal images. Why do I love backlit images? Mainly because of the angelic quality of the light. But before I really get into it lets take a step back and first ask what a backlit image is. Most of you might know a backlit image as a bad thing, you are trying to take a photo with a point and shoot camera and the subject is indoors in front of a bright window. Your camera takes an average meter reading and is thrown off by the bright background light so tries to expose for that making your subject way underexposed and very dark. But when exposed right this type of light can be beautiful and it’s an easy type of shot to get right.

The main thing about getting good shots when dealing with backlighting is getting your exposure right. If you have your camera’s meter set to average the scene and you have a wide shot your camera will be fooled by the strong backlight and your subject will be very underexposed. There are a couple of different ways to meter the scene and when I am working a wedding time seems to always try and work against me. So I always am trying to find the quickest way to get the look I am going for. To quickly meter the scene I will zoom in close to a neutral area of the photo like the brides skin tone (unless she is very light or dark then you will need to adjust a little). Remember your camera’s meter is reading a scene as if it was a neutral grey scene, so try to not zoom in on the dress or anything else that is black or white. Once you zoom in tight on a neutral area, get a meter reading. I normally shoot in Aperture priority mode since I like to control the depth of field. I’ll set the aperture, get a meter reading to see what shutter speed is going to work and then set my camera to manual and dial in the exposure that I just got. This way when you zoom back out your camera won’t try and adjust for the background again, you are locking your exposure in on what the light is like on the brides face. Now you are ready to shoot.

One thing I do really like about this light is how the light from the back not only illuminates the back but also wraps around your subject and gives a almost glowing feel to the shot. Look at this close up of the brides face from the image above and you can see how the background light wraps around the sides of her face and dress. This also adds a lot of depth to the image. Even though the light that is on the bride coming from the front is pretty flat having these highlights on both sides of her wrapping around her create a much more dimensional image.

You will notice that the brides face is a little underexposed. You can correct that by either changing your exposure a little bit which will also increase the brightness of the background and the glow around the bride. Or if you don’t want the background to be totally blown out you can fill some light on the bride. A nice little reflector here to bounce just a little bit of light back up on her face might be all you need, you don’t want too much light because that will start to balance out the inside and outside and for this type of look and feel to a shot the goal is to have an imbalance between subject and background.

Do you have some great backlit images? Share a link in the comments below or leave us a question. We love hearing from you so drop us a line.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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1 Comment

  1. Strangely, I’ve never ever considered that method of setting the exposure (I’ve always been a suck and see kind of guy).

    Thanks for the tip.



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