Ep 45: Back is the new black: The backlighting show

ep 45 artwork

Backlighting is the new black. When you’re backlighting your shots, there are a number of issues at play. So this show is dedicated to the delicate art of backlighting. If you want to create awesome shots with great ambience and atmosphere, then backlighting is for you. But there is a risk that you will underexpose the subject and blow out the background. If you want to master the art of backlighting, you need to understand the rules and work them to your advantage.

Gina and Valerie discuss when you want to backlight, how to create great backlight, the best form of natural backlighting, how to deal with different skin tones and hair colour when using backlighting and much more.

#ginachallenge #backlighting

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show notes

Cool link

(Thanks Sean Kelly!)

Reflections of The Past is an award-winning photo series by commercial advertising photographer Tom Hussey. The photographs show an elderly person looking pensively at the reflection of his/her younger self in the mirror. Hussey was inspired by a World War II veteran who said “I can’t believe I’m going to be 80. I feel like I just came back from the war. I look in the mirror and I see this old guy.”

Lessons from Gina’s photoshoots this week (in this episode)

Listener question

From Amanda @furryheartsphotography

Good morning Gina,

I’m a new listener to your podcast after Andrew at photobizx recommended it and omg I am loving you and Val, you ladies are great. I’ve been doing the binge listening thing and have noticed you mentioning many times your current/recent love affair with backlighting.

I do pet photography (relative newbie) and I too love backlighting the animals I shoot and I would love to get better and experiment further with backlighting. So I’m just wondering if there is a backlighting podcast episode in your future?

Warm regards

Amanda xo

That’s inspired this episode on backlighting

What is backlighting?


backlighting with early morning sun
Backlighting with early morning sun


Adding some bling to hair using flash as a hair light and daylight as the main light
Adding some bling to hair using flash as a hair light and daylight as the main light


Backlight, starburst, flare and fill flash.
Backlight, starburst, flare and fill flash.


Backlit using sun as hairlight and reflector as fill and allowing background to blow out
Backlit using sun as hairlight and reflector as fill and allowing background to blow out


Backlit image exposing for skin tone only and letting the background completely blow out
Backlit image exposing for skin tone only and letting the background completely blow out





  • Main light is behind the model or product
  • Natural light from the sun shot early morning, late afternoon for soft backlight
  • Between 11-4 for brighter harder backlight
  • Expose for the background to give a silhouette
  • Expose for the skin tone to blow out the background
  • Add fill light to create something in between
  • Include sun in shot at high aperture 11-22 to create starburst
  • Use a dark background like trees, buildings and hide the sun to just create a nice rim light
  • Use a bare flash head in background to add some bling to a shot
  • If some sun hits the lens you will also get lens flare which can also give the shot an arty vibe

Why use backlighting?

  • Full sun on the face looks caca
  • Open shade can be too flat
  • No separation from background especially if your model has very dark hair against a dark background.
  • Not all images need to be perfectly lit.
  • Gives a dreamy romantic or arty vibe
  • Very flattering

How to meter in backlighting

  • Spot definition
  • Go right up to the person to fill the frame with their face and then meter
  • Expose for highlights if you want detail in highlights otherwise it can look a bit harsh

Best lighting conditions

Best backgrounds

  • Dark areas avoid open sky
  • Trees or buildings
  • Night sky
  • Rain
  • Smoke
  • Dust

Make your own backlight

  • Reflector
  • Flash
  • Sometimes I combine hairlight with daylight


  • Light coloured hair blows out very easily ½ stop over to avoid blown out harsh highlights
  • Try and have bright open area behind you or use a reflector or tiny amount of fill flash to create a catch light in the eyes otherwise you end up with shark eyes and portrait looks dull.
  • Try and avoid shooting into open blue sky
  • Do 2 exposures
  • Comp in a new sky
  • Dark backgrounds like trees or buildings look great
  • Crop the sun out of the shot otherwise you end up with a white hole
  • Look for filtered backlight so it’s not as harsh or difference between backlight and subjects face is not too great otherwise you end up with a hot mess
  • Filter the backlight using a scrim
  • Product/food/drinks can be shot very simply with backlighting from a window filled in using foil as fill

#ginachallenge #backlight

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