When it comes to photography, I’m absolutely and unconditionally an amateur. But isn’t that the funnest part of the whole process? It seems like every time I pick up a camera there’s always something magical to try out for the first time and something new to learn from the each experience. In each of my photographs I may take on a persona of oversaturated edginess, but behind the camera I hope I never take photography too seriously! Why am I telling you this all? Just as preface to this ‘tutorial’. I posted the above photograph on Instagram recently and received a comment from lovely fellow blogger Saskia from Graveyard Picnic wondering if I would ever write a post based on how to take a similar image. I thought it was a wonder idea. This blog has always been a place of sharing ideas and learning from my own silly experiences (does anyone remember when I used to post about bleaching and cutting my own hair as a teenager?). To make this post more readable I separated it into five major aspects I’ve learnt about shooting backlit and used in this photograph. What is a backlit photograph and why shoot it, using your light sources, specific tools I used to capture this image, editing, and then more general settings I used specifically to get this shot.

What is a backlit photograph and why shoot it?

The aim of this photoshoot was to practice backlit portraiture, which is when you have a light source behind your subject, facing into the lens of the camera. Often this is a great way to create lens flares. But it can be hard for beginners like me to shoot with because in the contrast the front of the subject facing the camera easily gets washed out and darkened. The location of this photograph made the shot even harder because this window lets in a LOT of light (which can be hard to manage with the amount of contrast that creates) and it doesn’t reach any golden hour light during the day (the softest golden light achieved at dawn and subset). Why would anyone want to shoot in such harsh conditions? Although the conditions and lighting are quite harsh to work with when captured well can create amazing shots that use the light behind the subject to frame their entire figure, send shimmering tones into their hair and create a really warm and glowy feel to the picture.

Using Your Light Sources

Because the background is so bright from all the natural window light it casts a shadow into my face. You could choose to use this to your advantage by playing with shadows. I wanted a picture that was softer, so, to counter act the darkness I needed to add a lot of light reflected onto my face. The sun itself creates light by reflecting off literally everything. To create a similar effect that comes off softer, more natural and flattering, as it does not create harsh shadows, I faced all of my light into an umbrella reflector. You don’t need an umbrella reflector or any reflector, you could use a nearby wall with a really bright lamp, a white piece of cardboard or even aluminium foil.


In it’s most basic form for a backlit photograph all you need is a camera, model, a large source of light to stand in front of, something to brighten up the figure itself (a reflector or lamp) and someone or something to take the photograph. Other than that it’s all in the way you position your model and use your light sources! But in case you were wondering, here are the tools I was using. This is my typical lighting setup when shooting at home (minus the lamps from the hardware store I added to my other LED light). I sometimes post videos of my lighting setups on Instagram – feel free to follow me there @sarywalrus! Spotlights x3 bought from Bunnings Hardware store – they have clamps on them so I can attach them wherever I need them! 40″ Umbrella + reflector Inca Light Stand Glanz LED Video Light – It has a great dimming feature, creates a heap of light and comes with two different colour filters that magnetically clip to the light itself. Canon wireless remote – If you look close enough, you’ll be able to see that in the hand hanging over my head is a camera remote trigger that I used to auto-focus and take the picture. I don’t know what I would do without this guy!


The last little bit happened in light room. First, I adjusted the contrast, tone, white and black levels, and cropped the image. My favourite part, which I think adds a really professional look to any image (but I feel like I probably over-do-it) is the split colour function. Split colour function allows you to set the two major tones in any image. You add a colour to the highlights and another colour to the shadows. For example if you were to select blue for both the highlights and the shadows you would end up with a really blue toned image all over. But you can create a really beautiful affect by using contrasting colours, especially primarily colours. Yellow and purple are a common choice. I’ve been obsessed with red and blue tones lately (in case you missed it). If you don’t have Lightroom, you can basically do the same thing as split toning using the colour tone function and adjust all your most important light levels in a program as simple as Windows Photo Gallery editor. Voila! That’s my beginner’s own guide on how I created this backlit photograph. Do you have any tips to share?

Settings: ISO 400, aperture 300-400 (this is essential when shooting directly into a huge source of light!), focal length 1.8. Lens 50mm Canon prime lens (the easiest to use portrait lens for getting crisp shots). Shot in large format JPEG (ain’t nobody got time for RAW).


1 Comment

  1. August 21, 2018 / 4:31 pm

    Omg this is super helpful!! I use pretty much the same tools (I have the same Canon lens, a wireless remote, and I also use Lightroom). Might need to invest in a reflector next! And I’ll definitely be trying the split colour function in Lightroom. Thank you so much for making this post!

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