Tag Archives: Fill flash

A simple introduction to backlight

• Introduction to backlight •

• Introduction to backlight •
Various images showing backlight scenarios in the studio and outside.
Images from various artists – displayed on Google Images.

Backlight is a versatile light with great potential.

The term backlight refers to the use of a light which is projected from the back of the scene/studio onto the subject from behind. The camera is placed facing the subject. It captures the effect of the light as a highlighted rim or halo around the back edges of the subject.

The use of a backlight creates very distinct effects. The most important is the rim light around the edges of the subject. This highlighting effectively isolates the subject from the background. So it is a useful technique when the subject and background share similar colours or tones. The rim effect around the edges of the subject is especially useful for bringing out highlights and style in hair. Sometimes it is also used to imply purity or goodness after the manner of a religious halo.

Backlight can be produced either with artificial light, natural light or a combination. The sun is normally the most important light for back lighting and so in cases where sunlight is strong artificial light is often used to bring the foreground or the subjects front side out of shadow. This is fill light and provides sufficient light for a good shot of the subject without blowing out the effects of the back light.

In photographic scenes the backlight is often used to create an emphasis on the three dimensionality of the subject. Lights coming directly from the position of the camera tend to make a subject look flat because all the shadows are removed. Backlight has the opposite effect. The light halo effect at the back of the subject emphasises the depth of the subject. It can also be used to emphasis depth in the picture. By strongly highlighting the back of the subject the distance to the scenery behind the subject is revealed giving the image some depth.

Setting up an effective backlight requires some care. If the source of the light shines directly into the camera lens it will blow out and create a strong distraction for the picture viewer. Also a strong backlight can make the front side of the subject look very dark or even silhouetted. To prevent this it is normal practice to use a front light as well so the subject is bright enough to capture. Setting up a good backlight often requires getting the foreground light correct first, then putting in the backlight at around 2 to 3 stops brighter to create the emphasis.

The angle at which a backlight hits the subject can be critical. If the backlight is directly toward the camera the subject can be strongly blown out by and direct light passing around the subject. Normally backlight is applied at an angle. That way the lighting will provide a little texture on the subject and not be directed into the camera lens. It can also be used to more effectively show fashion elements like hair styles by picking out highlights, curls etc.

“Backlight” should not be confused with background lighting. The latter is where a light is used to light the background, the scenery or backdrop. Background lighting typically faces away from the camera. Backlights face toward the camera.

Backlights are used in such a large variety of ways that some practice and experimentation is needed to be able to work out the best way to use them. However, because of the intensity of the light from the back the foreground lighting is often important too. It is not unusual for multiple artificial lights to be needed in order to get the best out of backlights and to keep the balance of lighting good all around the subject.

Examples of “Studio backlighting” on Google  External link - opens new tab/page
Examples of general “backlight photography” on Google  External link - opens new tab/page

Backlight techniques are very important in photography as they have so many effective outcomes. It is certainly worth practising with your lights or even natural light to try out some of the effects.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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Simple portrait lighting for anyone to try (pt.1)

The basic portrait lighting set up

The basic portrait lighting set up
The umbrella represents the key light, the round reflector represents a fill light.

To do a basic light set up is easy.

Portraiture is a pursuit for photographers at all levels. Sometimes beginners shy away from anything but pop-up flash shots. They feel that they have an inadequate grasp of lighting techniques. Actually, the basic lighting for a portrait is very simple.

The essentials

In the diagram above there are four main components of the set-up plus the subject. There are…

  • The backdrop, represented by the roll of paper mounted on the wall, down to the ground and under the subjects feet.
  • The light, represented by the flash unit behind a photographic umbrella which diffuses the light.
  • The reflector, the upright round object to the right of the camera.
  • The camera itself, representing the position at which the photographer stands.
The light

In any photographic scene we refer to the main light as the “key light”. This is the main light source that brightens the scene and the subject. In most cases the basic set up will be using an off-camera flash. However, this type of flash is a very small light source. As such it tends to generate a very hard light. That is very unflattering light on the face. Hard, harsh shadows tend to create angular shadows. This is unflattering except in a dramatic mood or a shot emphasising maleness. To ensure that the light is more diffused the photographic umbrella is placed in front of the flash. This creates a soft light which is more flattering.

As you can see from the scene in the diagram the key light is angled on one side of the subject. Your portrait sitter will then be more strongly illuminated from one side. This leaves the other side of their face in shadow. You can fill out this shadow by using the reflector. It back-reflects the light from the flash. The reflected light will be more diffused and of a lower intensity than the flash-side of the face.

Alex Broad Light 01 by Photo Geek, on Flickr

• Alex Broad Light 01 •
The light on the camera-side of the face is from a key light. The other side of the face is a lower intensity light.
• Alex Broad Light 01 • by Photo Geek, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The diffused flash on one side of the face and the slight shadow (filled by the reflector) on the other, creates a nice contrast. The difference in light across the face helps to create depth and structure. This is what photographers are looking for. We want to see nicely rounded features defined by the light-shadow relationship created by the gradient across the face.

In the diagram the angle of the key light and the reflector is a relatively shallow angle to the face. However, the angle can be varied. That variation will bring out the basic portrait lighting angles. You can read more about those in “Simple positions for classic portrait work”.

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Lighting variations on a theme

This basic set up can be done even if you do not have off-camera flash or any kind of photographic light. The idea of a “key light” is that it is the main “light source”. In a studio that light could be a studio strobe light. In a house you might use the light coming in through the lounge window. An off-camera flash like above is another option or you could use some other form of lighting. In the outdoors the sun could be the key light.

In the case of the reflector you can use secondary sources of light instead. If you have a bright key light like flash or other light source you could use the lounge window as your secondary lower intensity light. I have seen fill done with a candle – lovely soft glow. Light from a reflector is only one way to create fill light.

The effect is all in the angles of the light relative to the face, and the gradient of light-to-shadow across the face. What you use to create the light is more about the way you take the photograph and the amount of light the camera needs to get a proper exposure. The motto is be creative with the way you create the light, and with the way you vary the angle of the key light and secondary light relative to the face.


The aim of this article has been to show how simple it is to set up a single light and a secondary source of light to create pleasing portraits. It is not difficult and it can be great fun if you have a good relationship with your portrait subject.

To get the most out of this tutorial you should also see: Simple portrait lighting for anyone to try (pt.2)

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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Tips for improving your use of flash

Simple tips about flash help all aspects of your photography.

The use of flash is all about increasing the light intensity in the area where you are working. There are many ways that flash can be used. Here is a great round up of flash tips to get you started.

In Six tips for photographing silhouettes we talked about how to create a silhouette. One of the reasons for flash is to prevent a silhouette. Often when you have a bright background you want to light the foreground to prevent your subject being too dark. You can use your on-board flash, an external flash or studio lights to fill that foreground light and bring your subject up to a brightness level that makes them look natural and well lit.

One thing to remember is that your flash is adjustable. This is a fact that many people forget. Look in your camera or flash manual to see how to make the adjustment. Then make sure that you do not have too much power. Nearly always photographers have the flash too high. Very bright flash makes faces look washed out and tired. It will also cause nasty and distracting highlights. You can turn your flash off, down or sometimes up. It is certainly worth experimenting with it to see how much you can adjust it and what effects the adjustment has on your subject.

On-board flash and off-camera flash are two different things altogether. You can easily do some things with the off-camera flash that you can with you pop-up (on-board) unit. However, there are some things you should know about on-camera flash – it is pretty limiting.

The differences between types of flash, and many other useful tips, including more on the tips above, can be found in the video below. It explores quite a few aspects of flash and is a great background for you to get started.

Posted on YouTube by: http://www.steeletraining.com

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.