What is backlight in photography? Backlighting tips for radiant photos

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Backlighting is a powerful photography technique that can yield breathtaking outcomes. By employing imaginative backlighting, you can impart your subject with a delicate or intense aura that emanates from its borders. However, mastering backlighting can be a challenging task, yet it is well worth the effort. By utilizing the natural or artificial illumination in the background of your shots, you can produce a warm radiance in portraitures, wildlife photos, and even landscapes. Additionally, backlighting can help you create striking silhouettes. This guide will provide you with an introduction to backlight photography and its applications in producing stunning imagery.

What is backlighting in photography?

Backlighting in photography is a technique where the primary source of light illuminates the subject from behind, creating a luminous halo or rim of light around the edges of the subject. The light source could be natural, such as the sun, or artificial, like a lamp. By positioning the light source behind the subject, it creates a striking visual effect that emphasizes the subject’s shape and form while producing an attractive glow around it. The backlighting technique can be used to produce a range of moods and styles, from subtle and warm to dramatic and bold, depending on the photographer’s creative vision.

Why do photographers use backlighting?

Photographers use backlighting for several reasons, including:

  1. Creating depth and dimension: Backlighting can create depth and dimension in an image, emphasizing the shape and form of the subject by highlighting its edges and contours.
  2. Adding drama and mood: Backlighting can also add drama and mood to a photograph. The resulting images can range from soft and romantic to edgy and intense, depending on how the light is used.
  3. Separating the subject from the background: Backlighting can help to separate the subject from the background, making it stand out more in the photograph. This is especially useful when the background is busy or distracting.
  4. Creating silhouettes: Backlighting can be used to create striking silhouettes by exposing for the background and allowing the subject to go dark.

Overall, backlighting is a versatile technique that can add a unique and creative touch to photographs, making them more visually appealing and engaging.

How to shoot better backlight photography with your iPhone

Shooting better backlight photography with your iPhone can be achieved by following these tips:

  1. Position the subject with the light source behind: The first step in shooting better backlight photography with your iPhone is to position your subject with the light source behind it. This will create the desired backlight effect and highlight the subject’s edges and contours.
  2. Use exposure compensation: To avoid the subject being underexposed, use the iPhone’s exposure compensation feature. By tapping on the subject in the viewfinder, you can adjust the exposure to ensure the subject is correctly exposed while still preserving the backlight effect.
  3. Shoot in HDR mode: If the lighting is challenging, try shooting in HDR mode. This will capture a range of exposures and combine them into a single image with balanced exposure and details in both the subject and background.
  4. Experiment with different angles: Try shooting from different angles and distances to see what works best for your subject and the lighting conditions. This will allow you to create a variety of effects and moods.
  5. Use editing tools: Use editing tools such as brightness, contrast, and saturation to fine-tune your images and enhance the backlight effect.

By following these tips, you can capture stunning backlight photographs with your iPhone, making the most of its capabilities and creating visually engaging images.

Tip 1: Practice backlighting techniques during the golden hour

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image 2023 03 20 233604584

The golden hour occurs twice a day, specifically one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. During this time, the sun’s rays pass through the earth’s atmosphere and produce a warm, diffused light that is ideal for backlit photos. The sun’s lower position in the sky also creates elongated shadows, which flatter skin tones by providing a soft and warm glow.

As the sun rises higher in the sky, the light becomes cooler and harsher, making it challenging to capture the desired backlighting effect in your photographs. Although the golden hour’s one-hour timeframe is not rigid, it is recommended to shoot just after sunrise or just before sunset for the best results.

Tip 2: Practice using your flash for fewer shadows

The flash on an iPhone can produce harsh light, especially in low-light situations like nighttime photography. However, during the golden hour, you can experiment with using the flash to reduce dark shadows on your subject. It is important to note that this technique works best when the sunlight is bright enough to prevent the flash from overpowering the image. Properly using the flash requires some trial and error, and sometimes you may need to adjust the image during post-processing to balance the artificial and natural light. (We will discuss how to edit backlit photos below.)

Tip 3: Try silhouette backlighting

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When photographing your subject against bright light, you risk obscuring all details, creating a completely dark subject. However, you can create a silhouette by positioning your subject within the frame and exposing for the sky by tapping and holding your finger on the sky in your iPhone’s screen. Silhouette backlighting is often simpler than other types of backlit photos since you don’t need to worry about preserving details.

You can use the silhouette backlighting technique for various subjects as long as you have bright sunlight. However, you may need to adjust the shadows within your silhouette using post-processing apps on your iPhone, as with many of the techniques discussed.

Tips for better backlit portraits on iPhone

Backlit portraits are perhaps the most prevalent type of backlight photography. The warm and golden tones that backlighting provides can be highly flattering to the subject, giving them a soft, almost ethereal look. Below are some tips for capturing stunning backlit portraits.

Tip 1: Use a reflector to fill in shadows on your subject’s face

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image 2023 03 20 233843864

Capturing backlit photography in a natural setting can be challenging due to the unpredictability of natural light. Clouds can diffuse light and soften it, but this can make it difficult to properly illuminate your subject. Fortunately, you can use a reflector to brighten areas of your subject’s face and fill in any shadows. Simply hold the reflector facing the sun and adjust the angle until the natural light is reflected onto your subject’s face, effectively providing additional illumination.

Tip 2: Avoid a middle horizon line behind your subject

While it may be tempting to capture your backlit portrait at eye level as the sun sets, a visible horizon line can detract from the subject of your portrait. To create a more visually appealing composition, try to minimize or eliminate the horizon line altogether. This can be achieved by shooting from a low angle and aiming upward towards your subject or positioning your subject in a location where the horizon is obstructed by buildings or other elements of the landscape.

Tip 3: Hide the light source when it is too bright

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If you find that the sun is too harsh to capture a well-exposed backlit photo, or if you’re new to experimenting with this technique, consider shooting in a location where there is ample sunlight but the sun itself is not visible. For example, you can position your subject in an area where the sun is filtered through trees or buildings. This approach can help you avoid harsh shadows and unpredictable sun flares. As you become more familiar with how lighting behaves in different situations, you’ll be better equipped to position your subjects and create compelling compositions.

Tip 4: Use Portrait mode with studio light

Utilize the Portrait mode on your iPhone to take advantage of shooting backlit photos. Portrait mode is available on iPhone 7 Plus and later models and creates a shallow depth of field, which captures portraits with a sharp focus on the subject and a blurred background. If you have iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, or later models, you can apply studio-quality lighting effects to your Portrait mode photos. This lighting effect can brighten up your subject’s face, making it very useful when shooting backlit photos.

How to edit a backlit photo on iPhone

Even if you have tried various backlight photography techniques, chances are that some of your photos will need editing to enhance their overall appeal. For post-processing, use your preferred editing app. A highly recommended app is Adobe Lightroom, which is free and comes equipped with potent editing tools that are similar to those of desktop editing software. However, the best photo editing app is the one that you are most comfortable and familiar with using..

Tips for editing backlit photography

To enhance the quality of your backlit photos using a photo editor, you will need to make adjustments based on the individual characteristics of each photo. However, here are some general corrections to consider making in post-processing, listed in the order they could be applied:

The before screenshot demonstrating how to edit a backlit photo.
  1. Adjust exposure: Depending on how bright or dark your photo is, you may need to adjust the exposure to make it look more balanced.
  2. Boost contrast: Increasing contrast can help bring out more detail in the photo, especially in areas of shadow.
  3. Adjust highlights and shadows: Fine-tuning the highlights and shadows can help bring out more details in these areas, adding depth and dimension to the photo.
  4. Adjust color balance: Sometimes the colors in a backlit photo can appear too warm or too cool. Adjusting the color balance can help correct this.
  5. Sharpen the photo: Backlit photos may appear softer than desired due to the use of a wide aperture. Adding some sharpening can help bring out more detail and improve overall clarity.
  6. Add some warmth: If your photo appears too cool, adding some warmth can help make it look more appealing.

Remember that these are just guidelines, and the specific adjustments you make will depend on the individual photo and your personal preferences.

How to edit overexposed photos

If you have overexposed photos on your iPhone, there are a few things you can do to edit them and salvage the image. Here are some steps you can follow:

  1. Open the photo in the Photos app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap “Edit” in the upper right corner of the screen.
  3. Tap on the “Adjustments” icon (it looks like a dial).
  4. Slide the “Exposure” slider to the left to decrease the exposure of the photo. This should help to reduce the overexposure.
  5. You can also adjust the “Highlights” and “Shadows” sliders to balance out the exposure further.
  6. If the photo still needs additional adjustments, you can try using the “Brilliance” and “Contrast” sliders to fine-tune the image.
  7. When you’re finished editing, tap “Done” in the upper right corner to save your changes.

If you’re not satisfied with the editing tools available in the Photos app, you can also consider using a third-party photo editing app like Adobe Lightroom or Snapseed, which offer more advanced editing options.


Backlight photography is a rewarding and exciting project to experiment with, but it can also be challenging to master. However, learning the ropes of backlit photography only requires a small time investment and a bit of storage space on your iPhone, making it a low-cost option to explore. If you’re looking to expand your photography skills and try something new, why not give backlit photography a go?

Douglas L Quintero

Douglas L Quintero is a technology expert and lives in New York. Previously, he was working on Symbian OS and was trying to solve many issues related to it. From childhood, he was very much interested in technology field and loves to write blogs related to Android, iOS and other OS.

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