Workshop: Backlit is beautiful

Workshop: Backlit is beautiful

Workshop: Backlit is beautiful

Sometimes, when I’m out on a shoot, the person I’m photographing will look back at the sun behind them, then turn back with terror in their eyes: “Hey I’m backlit. Isn’t this a bad thing?”

Maybe… but I love backlit photography. For me, it’s a way of creating striking silhouettes that capture the imagination; creating deep shadows that add shape to the composition; creating harder contrasts to isolate a subject…

Obviously, if you want silhouettes, don't over-expose

Obviously, if you want silhouettes, don’t over-expose

The trick is to shoot manual and over-expose.

There’s no hard and fast rule to this – just over-expose until the subject looks like it’s properly exposed.


Don’t know how to over-expose?

It’s easy. Every halfway decent camera has a meter that tells you in real-time whether you’re under-exposing or over-exposing, and by how much. Based on that reading, you can manually over-expose the image by either manually widening the aperture or slowing-down the shutter speed.


At left: the meter on the Fujifilm X10 tells you whether you’re about to over or under-expose a photo. At right: the exposure meter appears on the Nikon D700’s LCD and in the optical viewfinder.

Some cameras will even do that work automatically for you – all you have to do is turn the exposure compensation dial until your subject is exposed to your liking.


Many point-and-shoots feature the dial circled in green. It’s a very easy way to control your exposure. But there are other dials too that give you superior manual control. Try using them!


Last tips

Don’t worry so much about the background being over-exposed. If you’re shooting in RAW, you can probably recover quite a lot of it anyway in post.

The over-exposed background isolates the subject pretty well, doesn't it?

The over-exposed background isolates the subject pretty well, doesn’t it?

I also used to worry a lot about patchy over-exposure, but they’re actually brilliant for black-and-whites.

This works just as well as a black-and-white

This works just as well as a black-and-white


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