Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Putting the subject between the camera and the light, part of Exploring Photography: Backlighting.
- Another way of working with backlight for portraits, or any type of subject matter is to use the sun or a light source as a backlight, and a strobe as a fill light. Now maybe you wanna argue that this is actually a key light and the sun is the backlight, except that I'm thinking of it as backlight and fill, because it's really the backlight that's making the shot, that's what this setup is about, is taking advantage of this beautiful light that's behind Courtney, and I'm going for some translucency through her hair.
I'm not going for silhouette, I still want detail in her face, that's why I set up this flash. I've got an umbrella on it because I want a softer flash. Because it's so bright out here, I'm needing to use high-speed sync flash. That means I put my flash in a special mode that lets me use a shutter speed faster than 1/250s, the normal sync speed for this camera. If all of that is gobbledygook to you, take a look at my Foundations of Photography: Flash course. So with all that ready, I'm just working in Aperture Priority mode, playing with variations in soft and hard depth of field, or shallower/deeper depth of field.
I can't on this lens open up much more than f/4, so I can't go super-shallow, and it's great cuz Courtney just keeps doing things. I'm worried the flash is gonna blow away, so I'm trying to keep an eye on that. Now, I'm getting this wonderful rim light, so not only is it about the translucency through her hair, I'm getting this great light on her shoulders and on the top of her head, and my flash is serving to give me detail on her face. If I turn the flash off I still actually get - it's just bright out here - I get a fair amount of light on her face, but it would need some post production to get it brightened up.
Having the flash in there just gives me a little bit brighter face, and I also like the highlights that I'm getting on her forehead and her cheeks. I'm staring into the sun now, and I can't see. So, you can see what I'm doing here reflexively is I'm trying to find - oh good, there she is, there - she's in front of the sun. This is actually a cool thing you can do with a light source, is put it directly behind your subject. Not just for portraits, but even landscape features. Sometimes shooting in the shadow of your subject, really sticking the sun or your light source right behind it...
my flash is not turned on! I'm going to turn it back on, and now I get my fill back, which is helping a lot. But look at what's happening here. I'm getting all this great stuff in her hair, that cloud behind her that's moving around is giving me more or less white. I don't have a whole lot of room to compose here because she's just barely blocking out the sun, but I'm getting all this really great dramatic stuff. So this is another really easy way to work with backlight. Stick it right behind what you want to shoot.
It puts you inherently into a high dynamic range situation, so you probably will need a fill light of some kind. I could be working with a reflector. That takes more people and isn't gonna throw as much light as this flash is, I would actually like to have a little bit more. It'd be nice to have another flash unit up there. But still, even with this, I'm getting a really simple setup that give me a very dramatic, very different look.
Backlighting can add drama to almost any subject, from leaves to hair, to smoke, to glassware. In this course, photographer, author, and educator Ben Long explores the creative options and exposure challenges behind backlighting in several difference scenarios, from landscapes to portraits, using both natural and artificial light sources.