Getting The Sun Behind You

Using Backlight & Reflectors

Backlight is light that comes from behind the subject, whether it’s an artificial source or the sun. In the following examples, I decided to use the sun as my only light source, placed behind the subjects and guided by reflectors both natural and man-made.

Natural Reflector
I had Cait sit by the water’s edge and used the sun as her backlight (#1). Notice that her hair is glistening and a warm glow falls on her shoulders, but her face is in shade. The illumination on her face is the ambient light reflecting off the surface of the water. If her head were turned more toward the camera, Cait would have had too much light on her face and would have been squinting. A reflector or flash would also have added fill here, but having just the tip of her nose bathed in sunlight was the look I was after.

Nikon D700, 24-100mm lens, 1/200th sec, f/9, ISO 400, Color Balance 6200º.
All Photos © 2010, Chuck Gloman, All Rights Reserved

Fill Reflector
Cait is sitting in the grass with the sun against her back (#2). A little bit of light is striking her hair and forehead (backlight), but in this case her face is too dark—she needs a little supplemental lighting. That is easily remedied with a reflector on the ground sending light onto her face (#3) making her eyes sparkle and casting a brighter, even illumination on her face.

Nikon D700, 24-100mm lens, 1/1000th sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Color Balance 6200º.
Nikon D700, 24-100mm lens, 1/1000th sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Color Balance 6200º, silver reflector.d

Spot Metering
The background here is blown out, making it look like a hot, sultry, summer’s day (#4). This is an instance when the use of the camera’s spot meter or an handheld incident meter is imperative. Taking an evaluative or Matrix meter reading from my point of view would have yielded underexposure on Cait. A spot meter reading yielded just the right exposure on the subject allowing the background to become considerably overexposed. You don’t always want this effect and can use a reflector or fill flash to balance foreground and background, but here it works because of the mood of the lighting and scene.

Nikon D700, 24-100mm lens, 1/320th sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Color Balance 6200º.

“Flagging” For Backlight
Sometimes you might need to create your own backlit situation when your subject is in full sun. Here, Monica used the reflector as a flag and shielded the sunlight from falling on Kelly’s face (#5). Careful placement of the “flag” allowed her to be backlit with the rest of her in shade (#6).

Nikon D700, 24-100mm lens, 1/320th sec, f/11, ISO 400, Color Balance 6200º, (flash fired for scene illustration purposes.)
Nikon D700, 24-100mm lens, 1/60th sec, f/11, ISO 400, Color Balance 6200º (no flash.)

Chuck Gloman is program director of the TV/Film Department as well as an associate professor at DeSales University. He may be reached