Using the sun as a backlight

One tempting thing when shooting portraits around sunset is to have your subjects basking in that beautiful golden sunlight. One thing that I just love to do with portraits is turn the couple around and shoot right into the sun using it as a backlight. Then there are a few different things you can do to get a very different feel to the shot. Sometimes if I want to keep that rich color of the background and have my subjects more defined i’ll set my exposure for the background and light the couple with a off camera light (or two or three). You can see a good example from this article (off camera lighting and sunset). But sometimes I want something a little more soft and romantic, I want the glow of the sun to just radiate in the image and don’t mind if my subjects are a little soft also. Then I won’t use any flash at all and let the sun really be a strong backlight that gets a little blown out. Here is an example from a recent wedding:

using the sun as a backlightbacklighting for photography

The most important part about getting a image like this is your exposure. If you just let your camera average out the exposure the subjects will be very dark because the camera see’s the very bright background as a predominant part of the image. The easiest way to get a accurate exposure is to zoom in on your subject skin and see what settings your camera gives you. Then set your camera to manual and dial in those settings. Now you will be properly exposing for your subject. The exact angle of the sun and where you are will play a pretty big factor in the look of the shot. The lower the sun and more your camera is facing towards it the more lens flare you will get. Experiment a little bit with your angle to see how that effects the shot, the best way to get a shot like this is try, try, try. The more you experiment the more you will know where to position yourself for the shot you are looking for!

If you have any backlit shots from the sun leave us a link in the comments!

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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. Thanks for the comment Becca. Sometimes blown out highlights can work great and give you that magical feel. Some great work on your website!


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