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Indoor Backlight: Annette Heck

Indoor Backlight. Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait a second. If I am seeking backlight, I’m going straight to the great outdoors”. And while there are incredible ways to do outdoor backlight, the great thing about photography is that wherever there is light you can make magic. Even if it’s right inside your very own home. And let’s face it, there are some lovely everyday moments happening IN our home. So, why not capture it with pretty light. Let’s get to a few tips on how to maximize indoor backlight.

SOOC, f/2.8, 1/640 @35mm

Get to know the light patterns in your home.

Kyle talks about this in PhotoFix and when you know which spots get great light throughout the year it can be a game changer for getting awesome indoor backlight. Remember that the sun’s position in relation to your home will also change year-round. For example, during the wintertime around 8am, we get amazing direct “golden hour” light into two bedrooms and our living room/kitchen area. What windows/doorways get great light in your home? It may be direct or indirect. You can maximize both. 

SOOC, f/2.8, 1/400 @42mm
f/2.5, 1/400 @35mm

Find the dust.

I remember reading that when you are outside and see dust and bugs floating in the area, then you know you have found “pretty light”. Photography totally changes your perspectives on everything because now seeing dust in the air makes me giddy, even if that dust is actually showcasing how dirty my house is! 

SOOC – f/2.8, 1/400 @70mm
SOOC – f/2.8, 1/160 @59mm

Use a reflector or natural reflector.

I think the hardest part about backlight (whether indoor or outdoor) is balancing the frontlight on your subject so that they can have a decent exposure.  So, while you see that pretty light coming in, also think about what you can do to help bounce light back onto your subject. Sometimes you can get lucky and the direct light is hitting a door or wall that is light colored and that provides its own “reflector” if your subject is positioned near it. Or you can dig out a pillowcase, posterboard, storage container lid, piece of paper, or of course, an actual reflector ;). All will achieve the purpose of bouncing that light back onto your subject. The only time where bouncing light back onto your subject is less important is if you are trying to achieve a silhouette or more dramatic shot. 

SOOC – f/2.2, 1/320 @35mm

I used a white sheet of paper to bounce light back into her face. You can see the little catchlights in her eyes from the piece of paper. Oh, and my son held treats which is all she cared about.

SOOC – f/3.2, 1/800 @35mm

I used a reflector here to bounce light but then got distracted by the cool silhouette effect.

Embrace the drama.

I’m a total sucker for monochrome edits on indoor backlit shots. Why? Because the drama that happens between those bright highlights and deeper shadows can be gorgeous and converting it to black & white really dramatizes that dynamic range. So, meter for the highlights in your image and then push the lights/shadows in your edit to really make things pop. 

SOOC – f/1.4, 1/200 @35mm
f/2.8, 1/250 @39mm
SOOC – f/2.8, 1/320 @140mm

About metering…

Remember to meter for the highlights in your image to prevent blowing them out. I will choose a spot on my subject that has strong light and then adjust my settings from there to not overexpose that spot. In the same token, depending on the look you are seeking, keep an eye on losing detail in your shadows because you have underexposed them. If I’m going for a dramatic look then I may be less worried about the darks than I am the lights. So know what you are going after and then meter accordingly and when in doubt, you can check your histogram to be sure you aren’t losing detail on either end of the spectrum (highlights or shadows). 

SOOC – f/2.8, 1/400 @70mm

Move things around.

If you are going for a dramatic darker background but have light colored walls, don’t be afraid to either move your subject so that their background can be darker (say the dark brown couch, for example) OR add something temporary to darken the background. Maybe you tape up an old black sheet or I’ve even leaned a black exercise mat behind my subject blocking that bright wall just to create the darker background that I need.  I mean, let’s be real. Whose got time to “paint” a black backdrop in post? Not me! Taking a few minutes to help adjust your scene to make your editing life easier is something you will be glad you did. 

For these shots, I knew I wanted a dramatic light fall-off. I had one small window. All indoor lights were off. But the walls are a light cream color. I propped a black exercise mat and I positioned dear hubby right into the light – close to the window with that black exercise mat in the background. Here’s the pullback so you can see where I put the black mat in relation to the window and hubby’s position in relation to the light.

And here are the finished products.

f/1.8, 1/500 @35mm
f/1.8, 1/400 @35mm

That’s all for now. This next week, notice how light is streaming into your home and how you can use it to make your own indoor backlit beauties.

SOOC – f/2.8, 1/400 @33mm

Have fun and remember to post your images in our FB group so we can cheer each other on!


Lesson and images by Annette Heck