Working with Backlighting for Outdoor Portraits

BacklightingThe ingredients for making great portraits are easy to find: You need a subject, a camera, and some light but like any good chef it’s how they’re prepared that goes into cooking up a delicious portrait. When talking about portraiture with amateur or aspiring pro photographers, they often tell me they want to do a better job but don’t have studios or expensive lighting equipment. Let’s not worry about where to make portraits because we all have access to the great outdoors and a better-than-average chance at creating great indoor portraits if we take the time to look.

One of my favorite techniques for outdoor portraiture is backlighting that can produce beautiful highlights on the subject’s hair. The next time you plan to photograph somebody outdoors, place them in a position that you might normally use with the sun on his or her face and then turn him or her around! Right away the subject is more relaxed because the sun is behind her and she won’t have to squint! Next turn on your flash. Be sure to use it, otherwise the subject will appear to be a silhouette.

In order to get a final image that you can live with, you may have to open the lens a few stops over the metered exposure just as you might with any backlit subject. If you plan to shoot full length portraits instead of close-up, a more powerful speedlight will be more effective than the weaker pop-up flashes found on entry-level digital SLRs.

The above portrait was created using an Olympus E-1 with 14-54mm f/3.5 and an Olympus FL-50 speedlight used as fill and an exposure of 1/160 sec at f/8 at ISO 200.

Author: Joe Farace

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