I am a huge fan of back lighting. I love the looks it can create, from soft and dreamy to bold and bright. But of course it’s not the only way to use light, and there are downsides to using this light. A few weeks ago I was at the beach during a beautiful sunny afternoon. The light was still pretty strong, so it was tricky to get good images using backlighting.

When you’re back lighting, you may come across the following issues;

  • It’s difficult to get a good exposure on your subject without blowing out the sky
  • If you do get a good exposure for the sky, your subject will be dark
  • It’s hard to get catch lights in eyes as they are facing away from the light
  • It’s hard to grab focus

Because the light was so intense, I experimented with both back lighting and front lighting. It’s crazy how different the effects are.

With the front lighting, the colours are vibrant, the sky is blue and it’s easier to grab focus. However, there are strong shadows and it’s easy to make bright colours such as pinks and reds too bright. The back lit image is softer and the sky is blown out (i.e. the highlights are too bright and cannot be recovered.). It was difficult to focus, I had to cover the light with my hand and crop the image afterwards.

Front Light vs Backlight

Look at the difference between the two images below. Believe it or not, these were taken with 10 minutes of each other. The difference was my perspective. When facing away from the setting sun, the colours are vibrant, and it’s the blue sky that gets the attention. This is great for getting colourful mirroring on the wet sand. Her skin is very bright here though, as the light is facing her directly. I’ve had to pull the colours down in editing as her skin looked too orange.

With the backlit image, the beautiful warm tones of the sunset take centre stage. The lighting is more intense, but she is in shadow. I had to lighten her in post processing, but there is only so far this can go.

Front Light vs Backlight

Of course, we could always go for a silhouette effect…

Backlighting for Silhouettes

What’s your preference? Back light or front light?

Backlight vs front light