Shooting Against the Light

One of the things that I like to do to add some variety to my series of shots, whether it is for paid assignment or simply for my usual shutter therapy sessions, would be going directly head-on against the strong source of light. In classical sense of describing this shooting condition, most people call it back-lit. I believe that strong back lighting can create very intense visual appeal, which should be used sparingly, at suitable circumstances, and not to be overly done. A few back-lit shots in a series of photographs would be interesting, but too many of them will become repetitive and uninteresting. 

Photograph courtesy of Nick Wade (Flickr)

Balancing Back-Lighting with Flash

There are several ways to play around with back-lit situations. Strong light coming from a large window pane is a great opportunity for a good high-key (bright white background) portrait. However, if you do not intend to have underexposed human subjects that usually becomes dark shadows or silhouettes, it is important to engage some sort of additional light coming from the front, to counter the strong back-light. Use of flash to fill in can maintain correct skin exposure. In my wedding assignment, I love placing the bride and groom against bright background, because the brightness symbolizes warmth, happiness and hope.

The use of bounced flash off the ceiling has maintained the accurate color tone and also good contrast on the bouquet of flowers. The bright background added dreaminess to the image. 

I know many photographers would cringe when they see so much highlight blow-outs, but I love this kind of shot. Care was taken to avoid highlight burning on the skin. 

I Love Star-Burst Effect

I am not too sure if this effect is called star-burst but I really like having it in my photographs. It is not difficult to achieve really, what I did was shooting at Aperture Priority but shifting the exposure compensation to -2.0EV and stopping down the aperture to F22. Sometimes we need to add that little something "dramatic" into the photograph to make it look more compelling, and when I encountered strong sun, having the star-burst effect helped a lot in this regard. 

This was the outcome of the image I was shooting in action, as shown in the first photo in this blog entry. 

The large size of the sun, with the sharp bursts dwarfed the human silhouettes in this photograph. I love how the strong source of light can be used to create sense of scale and depth to the photograph. 

Creating Rim-Light and Hair-Light

I really like how those angels in TVs or Movies have that glowing aura surrounding their bodies, and understanding how lighting works on human portraits, one would know that the light source was surely from behind the human subject, angled from above. The "surrounding aura" effect can be very desirable, but the outcome is usually harsh and contrasty. Not the right execution if you intended to have soft or evenly lit portraits, but having a bit of unusual drama can make the photographs outstanding. 

Love the warm, golden glow of morning light highlighting their hair and wrapping their bodies. 

Any source of strong light will do, in this case, a strong beam of spot-light on stage helped produced this shot, and the yellow cast blended nicely with the singer's brown hair.

Creating Silhouette

Playing with shadow is as important as playing with light. After all, if there is no light, shadows will not exist. With strong source of back lighting, it is often possible to produce silhouette effects, resulting in the main subject being thrown into total darkness. Sometimes, to tell a story, being mysterious and not showing everything will add more interesting points to the story, similarly goes to a photograph. Not revealing the face of the person, instead showing the form of the body will ignite more curiosity in the viewer's attention. 

You do not have to see everything in perfect exposure, seeing this image, the form of a small child and the way she walked were enough to complete the image I wanted to show. 

This shot was taken at Kuching International Airport. Why did I take this shot? Because I too, like the rest of the people there, was waiting for my plane.

Barbwire in Kuching Old Prison. I maintained the correct exposure for the sky, to capture the details and texture of the high contrast cloud, therefore everything else in the foreground was darkened. Love the star-burst, again !! 

Sometimes, being at the right time and place is important. Shot the hazy sun just as it rose behind the KL Tower. 

I would not purposefully go out and seek the back-lit photographs, but if the opportunity does present itself and I find it to work well with my subjects, why not give it a go? Unpredictability is important to spice a set of photographs, and one way to add more of such options is to play with lighting. 

Do you have anything against shooting against the light? Do share your thoughts !!


  1. Great entry about shooting against the light, Robin. i especially appreciate the silhouettes. i had the idea of making a "timeless" family portrait against the white sky, so we would just be black silhouettes. I will post the result in my blog.
    what do you think about this one (Apes hanging in the ropes in the zoo):

    1. Photo of Apes is GREAT!


    2. Thanks Sven for the kind compliments. And I agree with Tay, great photos you have there from the zoo !!

  2. Very good points and examples of the techniques that you talk about, as always.
    When I was scrolling down the page I noticed I especially liked the silhouette of the little girl when I could only see the picture from below her arms, maybe see what you think of that as a possible crop. I thought it brought more attention to the pattern of the 3 sets of feet and particularly to the interesting and somewhat disproportionate shadows. I'm not sure if that loses what you like about the photo but I'd be interested to hear what you think either way.


    1. Hello Patrick,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      I think cropping is a very personal choice, and you surely are entitled to your own preference, because you may see something that works, which I did not, or actually saw it differently.
      I seldom cropped the head off (not that its bad or wrong, just my own preference), and I want the child head to show how shall she was. Not sure if this makes any sense, but it felt more complete having the full body shown.

    2. Completely agree Robin, cropping is a personal choice and it always amazes me how different a photo can look depending how it's cropped. I think what I was suggesting was a drastic measure, probably not very conventional! LOL
      The photo is excellent as is, I would have loved to have taken it.