4 Ways to Backlight your Clients

This week, we are going to focus on a simple topic of lighting our client with background lights, and what angles to use when doing it.

Background light on our subject is awesome because it creates a great deal of added contrast and separation to our final image. It can also be really cool when it is in the shot and creates flare which gives a cool glow to our couples. So, the question is, where do you put the light in the background to give it the desired effect? Let’s look at a few shots and break them down.

Shooting Through

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In this first image, which is a photo from an engagement session from 2008, we have some serious background lighting going on, so let’s show you exactly what we were thinking to pull this one off.

As you can see in the above lighting diagram, the main light is off to camera right lighting the face of the couple and our background light (top left) is at a 45 degree angle to the guy’s back and 45 degrees from the cameras perspective. It is pointed directly at his head and shoulders and is about 7 feet high (the best angle for the light to come down at, is also about 45 degrees so that it lights the head first, then trickles down to the shoulders and feet).

The easiest way to use a background light, no matter where the light is coming from (strobe, window, sun) is to use the 45 degree method. This puts the light onto the shoulders and hair, but keeps it off of the client’s face and nose, and out of sight from the camera to avoid getting flare in the lens and giving away the effect. Whenever we want a clean, contrasty (where our subject pops out of the frame) shot with some dynamics to it, this is our go-to spot for the background light.

Let’s look at the next two shots which have similar lighting on them.

Using the Sun

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You can see here in both shots that the background light (in this case the sun) is again at a 45 degree angle to our subject. There is NO background light hitting his nose or face, and our main light is off to camera right at a 45 degree angle. This lighting gives the subject LOTS of contrast because we have that dark space in between both lights on the front and lots of highlight and shadow areas. This type of lighting is really cool on guys because it makes them look super edgy and tough. (The further we move the main light that is to camera right so that it is closer to 90 degrees from the subjects face, the more edgy the shot will look).

Next shot!

Dark lit Exits

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This exit shot is using the same idea of the 45 degree lighting for the background, except we have added a second light on the other side coming in at the same 45 degree angle. This makes the image really pop (which is sometimes really needed when doing a night exit where there is hardly any existing light) and gives it a lot of excitement to an exciting moment. We also have the lights visible in the shot which gives it that in-the-moment type of feel and also adds some cool flare. We have a small main light on this shot on the front and all the lights used were small flashes and one video light.

Tough Guy Split Lighting

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This next shot is a bit of a rule breaker because instead of having the background light (which is off to camera left) at a 45 degree angle, we instead had to move it closer to a 90 degree angle because he was so close to the wall. This allowed the spill of light to hit the face and nose which can sometimes look really awful if not done just right. The reason it works here, is because the main light (off to camera right) is higher than it should be to darken his eyes and is “split lighting” our subjects face, or cutting his face in half with the light coming out of it, then the background light hitting the nose just adds to the edginess of the shot. This type of lighting is done more in movie production to create a certain type of tough guy feel to the image. (Split Lighting is basically when the main light, on camera right, is off at a 90 degree angle or so which puts light on just half of the face thus “splitting” it into two parts). Reservoir Dogs say what?!

Using the sun: Female

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This image is similar to the guy shot out in the field, just reversed. The sun is coming in at a 45 degree angle to the models back hitting her just at the left shoulder and head but not hitting her face, then we have the main light positioned at a 45 degree angle from camera left. We had her look towards the main light, to be sure and light her entire face and keep the shot from being overly edgy, and you can see how the background light really makes her pop out of the shot by adding contrast to her body. We also have the sun visible in the shot which adds flare to the image and makes it look very dramatic! Any time you have the actual sun visible in a shot, you need lots of power to tone it down and control it, especially if you wan the blue sky to be visible.

The Sun and two Strobes

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This last image, which is one of the most difficult to light, has the sun at a 45 degree angle to the the model and car’s backside, has an added light coming in at a 45 degree angle to the other side of the model, and then has a main light shooting back towards the sun at a 45 degree angle to camera right. This lighting is hard to do without any background lights hitting the model’s face, and without any of the lights visible in the shot. If you were able to see the flare from any of the lights, or saw the lights themselves, it would really give away the effect that is created. Even though the image is totally lit top to bottom, it still has tons of contrast that is created by the lighting and lots of pop. It looks very 3D and looks more like a fashion or car ad than a standard portrait.

Things to remember when using a background light:
– 45 degrees from the back of your subject will add nice contrast and make your image pop!
– Try and avoid having the background light hit your subjects nose or face unless you have lots of control over it.
– Keep the light coming in and down at a vertical 45 degree angle (if the light was on a stand from a flash, then you would want it high enough so that it would be tilted down at a 45 degree angle and pointed at your subjects shoulder and hair).

So, those are a few guides that we use when implementing a background light into our shots, so go out and try them and send us some images! We may just feature the best ones on the blog!!

(Now, the trick is to figure out how bright the background light should be, depending on how your main light is set. That is another post for another day, so stay tuned)!