Backlighting is undoubtedly my favorite form of lighting for portraiture. It is soft, flattering, and forgiving.When used properly, it lends a light and delicate feeling that enhances the model by down-playing blemishes and wrinkles, and eliminating unflattering shadows. The only trick to using backlighting correctly is in having proper fill to compensate for the severe exposure differential between the model's face and the background light.
Backlighting can be supplied by window light, a tungsten of flash light source placed behind the model, or with a bright sun situated behind the model instead of in front. In fact, on bright sunny days I often prefer to turn the model away from the sun and use a strong fill to compensate for the lighting differential.
Autofocus is often an issue in backlighting because the scene is usually very low in contrast with potential for flare, both of which hamper the ability of an autofocus system to grab onto a contrasty area it can use for focus. In situations like this, the camera might hunt for focus, meaning it will rack in and out incessantly while searching for an area of sufficient contrast. A good camera and a lens with a large aperture will help. I use Nikon pro cameras such as the D4, D800, or D600, all of which have exceptional autofocus abilities. On top of that, for portraits I usually use an 85mm f/1.4 or 105mm f/2.8 lens where the large aperture provides extra contrast in the focus areas.
|This scene is lit with a single tungsten lamp placed behind the model. That along with the plain white dress she is wearing make for a very difficult auto focus scene.|
I place one reflector on each side of the model and as close as I can go together without having them enter the shot.
|Proper handling of backlighting is all about balance, achieving sufficient fill to evenly light the subject while also allowing some of the background to come in to provide a soft sense of place.|