Five tips to improve your backlit portraits on location

Jun 30, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Five tips to improve your backlit portraits on location

Jun 30, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I don’t know about you, but for me, backlighting a subject – especially on location – is one of the things I love to use and experiment with during portrait sessions. Whether it’s the nice bright clear sun producing a glowy halo or you’re faking it with a strobe, it’s a great way to add some interest and drama into a portrait. They can be very easy to mess up and not get the results you were expecting, though.

In this video, Julia Trotti walks us through her top five tips for shooting backlit portraits using the natural light approach. And as well as talking about the ways to shoot with backlight on location, she also points out some of the pitfalls of using the sun as a backlight and how not to shoot it so you can learn to not mess it up.

  • 0:58 – Position yourself at different angles to the sun – but not too much!
  • 3:01 – Find parts of the location that you can use to diffuse the backlight
  • 5:59 – Avoid super bright or super dark spots in the background
  • 7:36 – Should you use a lens hood or not?
  • 8:23 – Underexpose your frame to preserve the backlit highlights

Julia’s tips are great for working with natural backlight. I’d also suggest taking a big reflector out with you, too. The bigger the better. Then, when you do underexpose the subject to retain that bright backlit highlight detail in the hair, you can use it to help bring the exposure back up on your subject and you won’t have to bump it as much in post and introduce more noise than you need to. You might not even need to bump it at all.

Do you use natural backight on location?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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