Back to

Browse by Category

Browse by Category:

BLOG HOME

Back to

Browse by Category:

BLOG Home

Browse by Category

GET your first lesson now ≥
PHOTO AND BUSINESS COACHING

Delivered straight to your inbox every Monday

GET your first lesson now ≥
GET your first lesson now ≥

Free!

connect with us

SOCIAL MEDIA

We help people take great photos and build profitable businesses that change lives. We’re high school sweethearts, former elementary school teachers and professional photographers. We're experts at making the complex feel simple and believe education is serious business, but learning should be fun.

hey, we're amy & jordan!

searcH

Backlighting Basics

We live in Arizona. The desert. The home of scorpions, rattlesnakes, and a sun that always shines – and we love it, because we can backlight our subjects almost all the time (at weddings and on portrait shoots) and it just. looks. fabulous. Backlighting adds a powerful pop of professionalism to images and creates a glow on the back of its subjects that screams r-o-c-k s-t-a-r!  The next time you’re singing along at a concert, stop for a minute and watch the lead singer – closely. You’ll notice that he’s backlit almost the entire show. Why? Because it draws attention right where you want it and makes him look larger than life. That’s the goal for our clients, too, isn’t it? To make them feel special. To make them feel important. To make them the center of attention. To draw everyone’s eyes to them to celebrate their special occasion. Everyone deserves their moment on stage, and you can make that happen for your clients with a few simple steps that we’ve picked up along the way. So, if you’ve been struggling with backlighting your subjects for a while or if you’re just looking for a different approach, try these tips and start shooting like you’ve always wanted to… 

Melissa and Braedon_0001

3 Tips to Finding Backlighting: Be Aware of Your Surroundings

1. Walk and chew gum at the same time.

If we’re honest with ourselves (and you), we’d have to admit that most of the time we find the best backlighting when we least expect it. It’s an intentional accident, really. One of the hardest things to do as new photographers is walk and chew gum at the same time. Talking to your clients, making them feel comfortable, and finding your next shooting location at the same time can be overwhelming, but we’ve found that if you’ll just keep your eyes on your client and engage with them, you won’t have to find great backlighting – it will find you. Watch the back of your client’s head as you’re walking and talking, the moment you see their hair light up, stop! The background might not be what you were hoping for, but that doesn’t matter if the light looks great, because the background will be blurred and the backlighting will draw attention right to your subjects – where you’re going to focus and everyone else will, too.

Ashley and Scott_0017

2. Look at the trees.

Shooting in Arizona can be challenging because we don’t have very many large trees, so oftentimes the backlighting on our subjects is too intense because there’s nothing to diffuse it. Always be on the lookout for larger trees that are diffusing the sunlight, providing enough to backlight to highlight your subject’s hair while still giving you some cover so that you don’t blow out or overexpose the sky. You’ll know it when you see it because the sun will be lower than the top of the tree line and will appear almost like a bulb in the tree with some rays streaking through it. This type of backlighting is golden, so don’t miss the chance to capitalize on it. Oftentimes, you can see it when you’re walking and talking with your clients. It can be tough when you’re first starting out to see the environment around you, because you’re nervous and new, but keep one eye on your client and one eye over their shoulder, and you’ll be good to go!

Michele and Jonathan_0001

3. Watch your step.

Sometimes finding backlighting is a simple as just watching your step. If a tree is guilty of diffusing the light, the ground will be its corroborating evidence. The next time you’re outside in the middle of the day, look down at the ground. You’ll notice that the entire floor is the exact same  bright exposure because the sun is hitting it harshly, directly, and evenly. That’s the opposite of what you want. The next time you’re outside during the “golden hour” (the 90 minutes before sunset), look at the ground again and you’ll see more shaded parts than lit ones. That’s because the sun is lower in the sky and its light is being diffused by the trees above. If the ground has spots of sunshine on it with larger shaded parts around it (like yellow paint splotched onto a gray canvas), you’re likely in the right place. Ask you subject to stand on the edge of the bright spot as far from the tree as possible. This will create depth and keep them lit as long as possible since the splash of light on the ground will retreat closer to the tree as the sun sets. Then, look at their hair. Don’t be afraid to move them a little bit until you get the most light possible on the back of their head. Tell them, “I’m looking for the perfect light to make your images pop like rock star!” They’ll totally get it and be willing to move wherever you ask.

Elisa and Mike_0006

3 Tips to Using Backlighting: The Laws of 45 Degrees

1. Don’t blind yourself.

Our cameras and lenses function a lot more like human eyes than you’d probably expect, and just like you wouldn’t look directly into the sun to protect yourself from permanent eye damage, it’s important never to shoot straight into it either. When you shoot directly into the sun, you’ll notice that it creates three things in the view finder and, ultimately, the final image that you might not want: a layer of film, a flare of sun, and/or an orange tint to the pictures. Some photographers like “the vintage look” and shoot for a filmy look, and that can be done really well, but some photographers who claim that just don’t know how to fix it. The truth is, filminess (that’s a real word, by the way) leaves a layer between your subjects and your screen that affects the focus and color quality of the final image. Sun flare is another common side effect of shooting straight into the sun. Again, some photographers like a little sun flare here and there, but it probably shouldn’t be the norm (at least it’s not for us), because it takes a trained eye to allow sun flare to filter into the lens without affecting the crispness of the focus. We recommend nailing backlighting without it before you incorporate it into your artistic repertoire. Lastly, allowing too much direct sunlight into your lens can cast an orange tint over your images that’s difficult to reverse during post-processing. We always prefer to get it right in camera, so if you see any tints of light in your view finder, adjust your position to get rid of it.

2. Remember every geometry class you’ve had.

We were excellent pretty good average not terrible horrible geometry students, but we remember enough about angles to know that 45 degrees is THE MOST IMPORTANT for photographers. Whenever we’re trying to backlight a subject, since we don’t want to shoot straight into the sunlight, we basically have one option (and so do you). Position your subject directly in line with the sun, backlight them, move yourself to a 45 degree angle from them, and then start shooting. This gives you a “go to” mathematical principle to apply every time you’re backlighting a subject. It’s not going to be perfect every single time, which is exactly why you need to know that…

3. It’s okay to tap dance.

Amy’s the dancer in the family (Jordan just learned to 8-count this year), but her tap dancing training has helped a lot on shoots. Once you’ve done everything that we’ve described above, you might still have to make some minor adjustments and do some slight tweaking to get the perfect light on your subject that cuts the film and the flare. Don’t be afraid to shuffle your feet before your start shooting. Move around a little bit until you’ve got exactly what you want. Don’t get rattled and start shooting into bad light that’ll cost you time later. Slow down. Make light conversation. Breath. And nail it. You’ll be glad that you did.

Next week, we’ll explain how to find and use open shade to your advantage when the sun just isn’t cooperating. Have a great week, friends, and let’s make each other better!

Jackie and Andy_0001

We’re so proud of our shooting and editing course students all across the world! They’re shooting better, editing faster and serving their clients better than ever before!

Looking for more resources?

Alisa

Hey, We're Amy & Jordan!

We’re professional photographers who help people take better photos! Join us for a free online training and we’ll show you some of our favorite photography secrets that anyone can use!

watch free class  ≥
  1. Thanks for the tips!!

  2. Thanks for the tips!!

  3. amyandjordan says:

    You bet, Theresa! Hope it helped 🙂

  4. Ailyn says:

    Such beautiful work guys! I’ve been totally blog-stalking you since I first saw one of your posts in the showiteer page! Thanks for this post series-so helpful! I would love to hear/learn more about your posing techniques if you ever are looking to write about it 🙂

  5. Ailyn says:

    Such beautiful work guys! I’ve been totally blog-stalking you since I first saw one of your posts in the showiteer page! Thanks for this post series-so helpful! I would love to hear/learn more about your posing techniques if you ever are looking to write about it 🙂

    • Amy & Jordan says:

      Hey Ailyn! Aw! Thanks so much for the sweet compliments. You’re awesome! We’ll keep that I’m mind for a future blog post, and it’ll definitely be something we incorporate into our 2014 workshop in Phoenix 🙂

  6. Amy & Jordan says:

    Hey Ailyn! Aw! Thanks so much for the sweet compliments. You’re awesome! We’ll keep that I’m mind for a future blog post, and it’ll definitely be something we incorporate into our 2014 workshop in Phoenix 🙂

  7. Heidi @ love each step says:

    Thank you for such great tips! I’m in the beginning stages of my business, and sometimes I get the backlighting right and sometimes I end up with the awful filminess. I keep getting caught up in trying to create some pretty sun flare/haze that seems to be very popular right now, and it’s frustrating me. This is a good reminder to slow down and focus on the backlighting and angles in a more careful way. Thank you!

  8. Melissa Paderewski Lopez says:

    Thank you so much Amy & Jordan! This series was SO helpful. We have had our business for about 4 years and I have not been able to consistently nail the natural light. I already added a practice shoot into the schedule this week. Can’t wait! Thanks again, we are sort of obsessed with you both and your amazing work! <3 Melissa

  9. Shelley says:

    Can you explain a little more about how you use the shade spots and have your subject stand on the edge of the light and still have the pop of light coming from behind and highlighting the hair. I’m trying to visually understand that but a little confused by what you mean. Thank you for sharing all that you know to help other photographers. I’m glad I stumbled across this post and your site. Thank you!

  10. Normand Richard says:

    Great ideas and straight to the point, thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  11. Cindy says:

    so when you backlight your images are you usually, always or not using a reflector? I would think that fill flash or reflector is always necessary, but if not I’d love to know how

  12. Kim says:

    Another amazing blog post with great tips. Thank you so much!

  13. Jennifer McNeil says:

    I JUST watch your top 5 Tips to rock any photo shoot webinar. posing, all that and i literally can’t wait for my style guide! So excited about it! I am in an area where it’s controlled by two photographers (very small county) so i’m really trying to stand out. Watching your webinar, i already have three families close to me who are gonna help me out. I can’t wait to show you guys my work improved. jenyraem on instagram 🙂 🙂 Id love your input!

  14. I JUST watched your top 5 Tips to rock any photo shoot webinar. posing, all that and i literally can’t wait for my style guide! So excited about it! I am in an area where it’s controlled by two photographers (very small county) so i’m really trying to stand out. Watching your webinar, i already have three families close to me who are gonna help me out. I can’t wait to show you guys my work improved. jenyraem on instagram 🙂 🙂 Id love your input!

  15. Ah!:) This is exactly what I needed to read. I have a shoot in a few hours and I’ve been worried all week because it still looks dead where we live, not as green as I had hoped. I’m going to focus on backlighting her and not worrying about the background as much, that’s not the focus anyway! Thanks!

  16. Lauren Stanley says:

    Hi guys! Can you clarify the 45 degree rule? If you first position your subject directly in line with the sun, AKA the sun is behind them, and then you move 45 degrees to the side, isn’t the sun not going to be behind them anymore? Or am I misunderstanding this?

    • Amy & Jordan says:

      Hey, Lauren! Great question! Sorry it wasn’t more clear! If you position your subject with the sun behind them and then move in a horseshoe around them, the 45 degree angles are usually the best for getting the sun to backlight them with sun flare hitting your lens and washing out the photos and making it harder to focus. Hope that helps!

  17. I blog frequently and I seriously appreciate your content.
    This great article has truly peaked my interest. I’m going to bookmark your blog and keep checking for
    new information about once per week. I subscribed to your RSS feed
    too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

searcH

connect with us

SOCIAL MEDIA

The Amy & Jordan Store

Courses & Tools for Photographers   

We help people take better photos and build successful photography businesses. We’re high school sweethearts, former elementary school teachers and professional photographers. We're experts at making the complex feel simple and believe education is serious business, but learning should be fun.

hey, we're amy & jordan!

now trending:
#ajworkshop
@jordan_demos
@amy_demos
#demossandwich
#AJSEC
#ajbride
On Instagram
Join our adventures

Title

"I always look forward to your emails! I get excited every time I get an email notification that says 'Amy & Jordan!' Even though we've never formally met, you guys have pretty much become the photography mentor I've never had!" 

- priscilla T. 

"I LOVEEE the Monday Minute and I look forward to it every week!"

- brianna c.

"The Monday Minute has seriously changed the way I look at my business! In the last year, my business has completely changed and evolved and I know that it's greatly due to my time 'spent' with the two of you!" 

- nicole B.

"Best year of my life! (Photography-wise!)" 

- naomi D. 

EMAIL ≥
FIRST NAME ≥

Delivered straight to your inbox every Monday!

Photo & Business Coaching

Free!

By clicking the button below, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Title

"I always look forward to your emails! I get excited every time I get an email notification that says 'Amy & Jordan!' Even though we've never formally met, you guys have pretty much become the photography mentor I've never had!" 

- priscilla T. 

"I LOVEEE the Monday Minute and I look forward to it every week!"

- brianna c.

"The Monday Minute has seriously changed the way I look at my business! In the last year, my business has completely changed and evolved and I know that it's greatly due to my time 'spent' with the two of you!" 

- nicole B.

"Best year of my life! (Photography-wise!)" 

- naomi D. 

EMAIL ≥
FIRST NAME ≥

Delivered straight to your inbox every Monday!

Photo & Business Coaching

Free!

By clicking the button below, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.