Lesson 3 of 9
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Diffused Backlight: Erica Odgen

We often think of backlight being used during golden hour. However, the hours leading up to then, or the hours right after the sun rises in the morning, can still create a beautiful glow!

Diffusing it

Diffusing the light through a tree or tree line, bushes, or even buildings can create a glow and texture as a backdrop for your subject. Find a patch of trees (I would avoid a thick patch) and allow the light to flood through it. Then place your subject facing away from the glowing tree. Yes, this becomes a bit more difficult during fall and winter months when the trees are bare. During that time I will look for pine trees or heavier tree lines to diffuse the backdrop with. By placing your subject’s back to the sun and diffused light, it will keep sun spots and hot spots off their face.

Adding secondary light

Since you are putting your subject with the light behind them, often times that leaves little light to fill in your subject. Reflectors and fill flash are options, but I personally enjoy utilizing the open sky as a secondary light. If I were to turn around in these pictures, a large open sky would be behind me – rather than another tree line or canopy of the current trees. This allows for less color cast reflection onto the subject, but also fills them in with nice light so they don’t become a black hole amongst the backlight.

Using settings to create the creamy background

Diffused backlighting plus wide aperture = creamy glowy bokeh! I rarely go higher than 2.8 for aperture with my every day pictures and portraits. I also make sure to pull my subjects away from the glowing diffused backlight to allow for more compression and even more bokeh. (Want even more? Use the longest focal length lens possible!)

Lens flare

With backlight comes lens flare. This is an artistic choice! If the lens flare isn’t disrupting the story or maybe even adds to the story, then embrace it! If you aren’t wanting the lens flare to happen, turn yourself and the subject so that the backlight wraps a bit more to the side of your subject and doesn’t come into the lens. Or use a lens hood and pay attention to the angle of your lens.

White Balance

Depending on the time of day and the location of the diffusion, it can sometimes miss the adjustment of your white balance (if in auto). In that case your subject may look a bit bluer. You can change your white balance in camera to accommodate, or be aware of it to adjust in post editing. (highly recommend shooting RAW if planning to adjust in post editing).

Turn it black and white!

I love what contrast and texture shows up when you turn it black and white! I personally love flipping through the presets I have purchased to see what plays nicely with them. My favorites always have the contrast up and the shadows pulled up a bit.

Try it out!

Adjust where you are standing, change your angle, pay attention to sun flares, try different settings, and have fun! I personally love the diffused glow more than the actual sun rays, so when summer comes around, I am constantly watching for places and trees that give off those yummy glowing colors!