Backlit portrait

Backlit Portrait – How to Slay Your Photoshoot


the blog:

Hi and welcome to my first blog. my name is Shelby and today I’m showing you a portrait photography technique that will help level up your skill as a photographer. By the end, you’ll know how to successfully execute a backlit portrait that your clients will love you for. Let me show you how to slay this technique!

Why Backlit Portraits?

Backlit portraits can produce images that have a feminine, dreamy look to them. Let me show you how it’s done so you can add this technique to your tool box.

The Light

Backlit portrait photos can be achieved at any time of the day as long as you have a directional light source. What I mean by that is you can tell where the light is coming from and the direction it’s going in. This will help you determine where you need to stand or where you need to place your subject. For our purposes, we’re going to use 3 things to help us achieve this look: The sun as our directional light source, your camera and your subject. In the video my subject is my gorgeous sis Jess.

The Equipment

I’m using my Sony A7iii mirrorless camera along with my portrait lens which is an 85mm 1.8. If you don’t have a professional camera, don’t worry. This is an easy tutorial and if you follow the principles you can achieve similar looks using a camera phone.

Camera Settings for Backlit Portraits

For this shoot I chose my location in the middle of a not so busy street. I purposely chose to shoot in early morning because the sun would be rising in the east and I could easily place the back of my model to the sun. To achieve this backlight look, you want your model to be silhouetted by the sun with her face towards you and her back towards the light source. (Of course once you have the fundamentals down you can play around with how what direction your model stands in). After taking some test shots I dialled in my camera settings. I chose a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second so that even with small movement I’d still be able to freeze my subject. My ISO was 400 because it was early in the morning and it was a little bit dark. I wanted to lighten up the image a little and 400 did the trick. My f-stop was 2.2 because I wanted to create a beautiful blurry background (bokeh) to frame my subject.

Natural Light is Unpredictable

As it turned out the sun didn’t quite get up as high as I wanted it to be in order to frame my model correctly. I wasn’t getting that dreamy light I was liking for. No worries! I decided to try a second location later. My model and I ended up in the parking lot of a building at around 5pm eastern. Not glamorous, but we made it work. When working with natural light, you’ll soon find out that you can’t control the conditions. Use what you’ve got and start where you are. More often than not that’s enough to make magic.

And we did! As you can see from the images (and video here), the sun was gorgeous. It was the perfect lighting.


So just to recap, you can achieve this look at any time of the day as long as you have a directional light source and I’d like to add that it should be a strong enough light source depending on the type of look you want. You can achieve this backlight portrait look with soft or strong light. You’re the creative: figure out what your style is, have fun get out there, try new techniques and practice. Be sure to download the free checklist I made to create your own backlit portraits outdoors.



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