Get that dreamy look with a halo around your subject

What is back lighting

Backlighting is a photography concept in which the source of light of light is behind the subject (the subject is directly between the camera and the light). Exposing a backlit subject can be tricky business as typically, back lighting creates silhouettes and loses detail on the face of the subject. Silhouettes can be quite dramatic in nature, however, if made incorrectly, can ruin a photograph. This article talks about back lighting a subject while not making a silhouette picture.

Exposing a back lit subject

As with almost everything else, there are no “rules” for exposing a back lit subject. The only rule that applies is patience, practice and experimentation.

In the picture above, no exposure compensation has been used. The shot settings are f/4, Shutter speed of 1000, ISO setting of 400 and partial metering mode. The boy was busy doing his own thing and looking up against the wall, the sun behind him created a beautiful halo around his head, and I was ready with the camera. As soon as he turned towards me, I clicked capturing a beautiful moment with his halo. Another element that helped in the perfect lighting on the young monk’s face is the wall. He is standing right next to the wall which is reflecting ample sunlight on his face. The strong sunlight from the back is creating a translucent effect on his ears.

Young Monk with halo

Back lighting a subject – another example


A squirrel with glowing fur – Back lighting and exposure compensation

Furry animals make splendid subjects for backlighting. The fur glows golden with back light and adds a gorgeous halo around the subject. This is an early morning shot with the soft sunlight coming from behind the little squirrel. Its making the fur glow and a little exposure compensation (over exposing) has made the features of the squirrel’s face come alive. It did take several shots and a lot of patience to get this one right. These little guys would just not sit still and kept scurrying from one place to another. At times there was blur due to subject movement, at times they were in imperfect light, at times something else would go wrong. Finally, I perched myself at one location, set my camera to capture the perfect exposure, and waited and waited for the little guy to come into the frame. I was rewarded soon enough, and this picture was made. Of course squirrels themselves are some of the most photogenic creatures around and in this shot, its giving the “awwww, feed me, I’m so cute expression”. A perfect moment captured. Furry backlit subject, perfectly still and giving a wonderful pose.

Back lighting – the dreamy peaceful look

Backlighting a subject - the dreamy & peaceful look

Backlighting a subject – the dreamy & peaceful look

Once again, the sun is behind the two men sitting on the bench. The fading sunlight is forming the perfect halo around the younger man and is giving the impression that the old man’s hair are on fire. The picture was converted to b/w and given a sepia tone to add the feeling of peace and warmth to the whole scene. A low depth of field has faded the background quite well and made the two men sharp, while the exposure is such that the facial features of the two men are not lost. While backlighting a subject… keep in mind

  1. Are you looking to make a silhouette picture?
  2. Is the exposure correct? Are you losing the features on the face of the subject while trying to get that perfect halo?
  3. Is the subject suitable for backlighting? Monuments usually do not look good with backlighting, unless you’re specifically seeking to make a silhouette picture
  4. Is there another source of light which can be used? Walls or other reflective surface which can add light to the subjects face?
  5. If none of the above, try using a fill-in flash to even out the backlight

Interested in clicking some beautiful pictures? Why not join us on one of our upcoming trips…