Backlighting seems to be one of those techniques that people either love or hate. Personally, I’m a huge fan, although when shooting stills, I usually add a bit of flash from the front with a big softbox. But backlighting isn’t just for stills. it’s great for video, too, and can add a lot of drama and dynamism to a shot.
In this video, filmmaker Mark Bone discusses the backlighting technique, why he uses it in his work and why it’s his favourite lighting technique.
Backlighting can offer a lot of possibilities for your shot depending on how you do it. You can use it to throw your subject completely into silhouette. It can create some amazing and colourful specular highlights on the ground, walls or other surfaces. Backlighting grass and foliage makes it practically glow. And sometimes you just want to play with some cool lens flare.
But whatever you use it for, it can add a lot of great contrast and drama into your shot. If you’re shooting stills, as I mentioned, you can add a nice big soft light to your subject to help expose them and still get the drama of the environment.
For video, it’s a little more difficult. You can’t really carry super bright lights around with you everywhere that are capable of beating back the sun. But in some environments, you can use the white wall of a building to help bounce some light back to your subject. Or you can use a humble reflector.
Not all backlighting is created equally, though. Mark suggests waiting until around sunset for a look he really likes. The light produces a lot of flare, there are a lot of long long shadows, and evening light is low enough contrast that you can keep some detail in both the highlights and shadows of the environment.
Backlighting doesn’t always have to be sunlight in the shot right behind your subject, though. You can still backlight on a soft cloudy day if your subject is in open shade. Or use the light entering the end of a dark tunnel to your advantage.
It’s a fun lighting technique to experiment with, and there are a whole host of different looks that it can offer.