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Tips for Better Back-Lit Portraits in Natural Light

Create those dreamy and romantic back-lit portraits in natural light

The very first step to being a good photographer is learning to see light. It is, after all, the most important part of photography. As beginners and as professionals, we work with light while shooting. We chase after good light and learn to work with harsh light. But we especially love the challenge of working with natural light, as it changes every day and every season, so there’s always something new to create. One of our favourite techniques while making portraits in natural light for our couples is back-lit photography. It creates a romantic and dreamy effect with beautiful warm tones in the image. Mastering the technique may take time, but the efforts will be worth it once you get it right.

Here are a few tips that will help you master those perfect back-lit portraits in natural light.

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Diffuse the sun

When shooting against the light, the sun can cause flares or haze in your images. Unless including the flare is part of your artistic vision, you need to place your subject or angle your shot in such a way that you are able to control it. Don’t be afraid to use “open shade” or try to position your subject in places where the sunlight naturally filters through the trees, large bushes, tall buildings or any other element in your surroundings. This way, the background is not blown out and you get that dreamy bokeh in the background. Using a lens hood is also a way to cut back on the lens flare.

Another thing to remember is not to shoot from only one place or angle. Keep moving around to find a spot where your subject and light are both balanced in the frame. Back-lit photos don’t mean that the sun has to be directly behind the subject, it can also be angled. Angle yourself and the camera in such a way that sunlight doesn’t hit the lens directly.

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Spot meter for face

Metering is an important part of getting a backlit shot right. When you shoot in matrix or evaluative metering mode, the camera takes into account the light of the entire frame. In that case, because of the light streaming from the back, your subject will be darker than the background. Using spot metering will get you the right exposure for the subject’s face and skin tone. Now when you spot meter for face, the background will be blown out. So first spot meter for face, and then adjust the exposure by a few stops so as to balance the background with the subject. But if the subject gets dark while you’re trying to correctly expose the background, then our next tip will help you out.

Use a reflector or fill flash

This is how you compensate for the brighter background, and light up your subject. You can use fill flash to light up part of the subject’s face that is dark or getting no/less light. The flash will give you the option of lighting up the subject’s face with the angle and power that you want. So the flash acts as a supplement to the natural light. You can even use a reflector to add light to the subject’s face. Hold it and adjust until the right amount and intensity of light are reflected on your subject’s face.

Choose the right time of day

There’s definitely a good and bad time of day when it comes to taking backlit pictures in natural light. In our experience, an hour after sunrise and before sunset is a good time, but the golden hour is the best time to shoot. That warm, dreamy light that you see is usually achieved during the golden hour but remember that in India, it lasts only about 20-30 minutes. So be absolutely prepared with your camera and light settings. If you haven’t set up beforehand, the light will be gone before you know it and you will miss the shot.

If it happens that you aren’t able to shoot around sunrise or sunset for any reason, avoid shooting around noon at any costs because it’ll cast harsh shadows. Remember, it’s backlight and not top light.

We agree it’a slightly difficult skill to master, but with practice, we’re sure you will be taking those gorgeous and dreamy back-lit portraits in no time. The key is to remember all the above guidelines and practice, practice, practice! We also have a post on back-lit photography with artificial light coming up soon! Subscribe to the blog to stay updated.

If you have any questions or are struggling with achieving the technique, give us a shout and we’d be happy to help you with it!

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