Backlighting: Not Just for Portraits

While backlighting is sometimes overlooked in photography outside of the portrait setting, it is nonetheless an important skill that can enhance many of your creative photographic endeavors. While it can be used in a variety of different ways, it is an excellent way to showcase your subject. With options such as hair lighting, transparency of fabrics, or classic silhouettes, you can produce some rather stunning results in several types of photographs.
Since backlighting is simply placing lighting behind your subject, do not make the mistake that this task is simple. With some careful planning prior to shooting, you can avoid most common backlighting mistakes. A few seconds of preparation can make a lasting impression and definitely is worth your consideration.
The Set Up
A few questions come to mind when preparing your backlighting, but there should be one main question. Mostly, you should be asking yourself, "What is the focus of my subject?" When you have the answer to that question, you will be able to tell you whether or not you need to utilize flash. If your subject's focus can be clearly seen from the frame, there's no need for flash. If, however, you are not able to see where your subject is focusing, you'll need to use flash.
After you've established whether or not you need a flash, you can focus on composition and exposure times. The general rule of thirds should be at work, but exposure time will greatly depend on the type of lighting that's available. The brighter or harsher the light, the shorter your exposure time should be. Another way to look at it is that your shutter speed should be faster, the brighter your lighting is.
Unplanned Occurrences
Sometimes, backlighting can happen when you least expect it. Perhaps you're shooting people at an outdoor wedding, reception event, or birthday party. If your angle in relation to the subject and the sun's current position constantly changes with every minute, you might find yourself with backlighting before you know it. When this happens, have your flash ready. You'll know when it's time to use the flash by paying attention to shadows on the ground. If a person's shadow moves towards you, it's time to use your flash, but make sure that you have it set so you can enable your flash seamlessly. Then, you're ready to take advantage of the natural backlighting and may be pleasantly surprised by your results!

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