Knowing how and when to use the sun as a backlight for portrait photography is a useful technique to know, especially when working on location. Introducing off-camera flash as the main light and combining it with the sun as your backlight, makes for a more dynamic look. This will give you the look of using multiple flashes, while still only using one. Here are some tips from photographer Ashley Boring to keep in mind when shooting backlit portraits.
The first thing to keep in mind when shooting natural backlit portraits is the time of day. You want to make sure the sun is not too high in the sky. If the sun is too high you will not get that warm glowy look in your photos. You typically will want to shoot in the early morning or evening when the sun is closer to the horizon so it’s directly behind your subject.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is that a lot of times when using the sun as a backlight, it can often create unwanted flares. There are many ways to fix this. The easiest way is to either use an object or position your subject to block the sun from directly hitting your lens. For this shoot, Ashley was in a wooded area so she used a tree to block the direct sun. Using a lens hood can also combat lens flare, especially when you’re in a situation where there are no other options available.
Finally, when backlighting your subject with the sun, it’s important to add light to your subject’s face so it’s not in shadow. When shooting outdoors using only natural light, you often have to choose between lighting your subject properly or having a good exposure for the background. This is especially the case when backlighting portraits using the sun.
Using an additional light on your subject gives you more control over how your photos turn out. This can be accomplished by pulling in a collapsible reflector or using an off-camera flash. In this shoot, Ashley used a FJ200 battery-powered strobe modified with a 43” Deep Silver Umbrella and diffusion cover. This setup provided super soft lighting on her subject, without taking up much room in her gear bag.
When planning to use off-camera flash in her lighting setup, Ashley likes to start by getting a good ambient exposure of the scene. This helps her get a properly exposed background. Once she finds a good ambient or background exposure, Ashley brings in light from the flash. Then, she adjusts the power output of the strobe until she gets good exposure on her subject’s face. Adding light allows you to keep the intended look of a backlight portrait while adding clarity to your subject’s face for a more dynamic image.
Watch Ashely create stylized portraits using the FJ Wireless Flash System.