136 Using Light
Back Lighting
Back Lighting
Back lighting is lighting that comes from behind a
subject. In other words, the camera is looking directly
at the light source, or would be, except for the subject
thats between the light and the camera.
If the subject is entirely opaque, a back-lit photo will
probably be entirely dark except for the outline of the
subject and (perhaps) light peeking around its edges.
This usually isn’t the point of back lighting (although it
might be a fun effect to experiment with). When back
lighting works, the photos that result are largely about
For this reason, back lighting is an unusual choice for
portraits of people, because usually you want to see the
features of someones face in a portrait. Back lighting,
as an accent, in combination with other lighting, can
add a dramatic touch to ordinary portraits (see the
photo of Mathew on page 110 for an example).
Transparency usually implies a subject that is at least
somewhat translucent, as well as a light source that can
be positioned behind the subject. Flowers, grasses, and
leaves are often great natural subjects with high trans
arent qualities. Surprisingly, non-botanical subjects
such as clouds can also work well (theres an example
of a photo showing back-lit clouds on page 121). You
might also consider things liked old-fashioned glass
jars, windows, and doors; stained glass (example on
page 7); and translucent industrial materials such as
utdoors, the sun is the obvious light source, but it
will only work to back light subjects when it is close to
the horizon. This typically means early morning or late
afternoon, but runs up against the requirement that a
back-lighting source must be intense enough to ren-
the subjects transparency. In other words, if you
are lucky enough to find a suitably transparent subject
outdoors and a correctly directed back-lighting source
of appropriate strength, seize the moment!
Indoors, there are more options for back-lighting be-
ause you can control the lighting (pages 146–149) and
subject motion may not be as great a concern. With
a static subject protected from the wind, your light
source doesnt need to be very strong (you can use a
slow shutter speed for a long exposure as explained in
Chapter 3).
Some back-lit photos use the hard shadows created by
the light source and subject to great advantage. But my
favorite back-lit compositions are soft, lacy, revealing,
and intimate.
The strong early morning sunlight coming through this
California Poppy cast a shadow on the inside wall of the
105mm f/2.8 macro lens, 1/250 of a second at f/7.1 and ISO
200, hand-held.
y lighting this Orchid from behind using a light box, I was
able to capture delicate details in the translucent petals.
85mm f/2.8 perspective-correcting macro lens, 4 seconds at
f/51 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

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