Backlighting has become one of my favorites lighting styles and I've practiced it often. Earlier this week I set out into the backyard in hopes of capturing some backlit photos of my son, Jonah and I was not disappointed!
Backlighting refers to the practice of placing your subject between you and the light source. This means you are facing the light. While this technique can be applied to artificial lighting, for our purposes, the light is the sun.
Timing: The best time of day for back lit photos is going to be of course in the coveted golden hour (an hour or so before the sun goes down) but really as long as the sun is ascending or descending and you can position your subject between your lens and the sun you're set.
Positioning: Try different angles and positions. While you are pointing your camera towards the light, you don't have to be shooting directly into it. Position your subject so that you can move around freely, zoom in close and pull it back a little. You can use an open sky or filter the light by positioning you subject with something in between your subject and the light, such as a tree line.
Bouncing the Light: With your subject's back to the sun you'll still want to make sure there is enough light to not create dark shadows or raccoon eyes. Deep shadows can be beautiful for really artistic photography, but if you are going for something a little less dramatic, I recommend using something to reflect light back into your subject's eyes. In this case I used a reflector for some photos, but I also had our white house behind me - it works as a natural light reflector. You can also use something as simple as white poster board or foam board that you can get for a few bucks at any big box or office supply store.
Technicalities: While back lighting creates a beautiful glow and often a slightly warm haze. It can also be very easy to get blown out areas and lots of noise. So keep your ISO low and make sure you are metering on your subject. Shooting during the golden hour often means the light is fading fast, which can really mess with your settings. So, check your work often, but don't obsess. This is a non traditional style of lighting, so you have more room to be a little artistic.
Beautiful light can take an ordinary setting and turn it into something magical. Once you've mastered the basics of backlighting, you'll easily be able to capture those beautiful sun flares and get creative with silhouettes!