How to shoot dreamy backlit portraits
As a photographer, everyday, everywhere I go I am constantly day dreaming about how it would look through the lens on my camera. I am constantly chasing the light. My favourite light comes in the evening. That golden, dreamy, hazy glow as the day is coming to an end. Beautiful light can make even the most basic photo look magical. I love using the evening light to create vibrant back lit portraits and today I'm sharing some of my basic tips and tricks on creating images like these!
The majority of my work is done with natural light. I love the challenge of working with available light as it changes day to day, season to season. It keeps me on my toes, my eyes open, finding the perfect pockets of light to make something beautiful. My favourite time to shoot backlit images is in the last 30 - 60 minutes of the sunset -- known as The Golden Hour! There's even an app for finding the perfect light based on your time and location, you can find it in the Apple App Store! ("Golden Hour by Exposure")
My Equipment for natural light portraits:
Canon 50mm 1.4 & 85mm 1.8 lenses
I shoot 99.9% of my work with these 2 fixed focal length lenses. I always shoot my natural light work with a wide aperture of 1.4 - 2.0 so that I can create buttery backgrounds, hazy soft light, lens flare, and beautiful bokeh. Shooting with a wide aperture keeps your subject the focal point of your composition.
When choosing a location, there are a few things to keep in mind. You want to be shooting with the sunlight behind your subject, so find a location that allows this. I am drawn to locations with a few trees, long prairie grass that catch light and minimal distracting objects. I love to shoot with the sun dancing through the leaves on trees/grass as this will also act as a filter for the sun! The sun coming through the trees/grass behind your subject will keep the light from entering your camera too harshly, in turn creating gorgeous bokeh and diffusing into a hazy light, which is very flattering for your models skin as well. I generally like to compose my shot with trees or long grass behind my subject taking up the full frame, that way you avoid a huge white over exposed sky, drawing the eyes away from your model.
You really only need to find a small area with the perfect light to take a portrait. Remember, your camera doesn't see everything your eyes do - so don't mind that dumpster 6 feet away!
A point to remember, you want to keep the light entering your camera soft, so sometimes it is helpful to place yourself in the shade to shoot your subject. Like under a tree. It is very important to have light coming from behind you as well. So for example, don't stand in the shade against a dark wall with your subject facing you, as this will only bounce dark light on to their face. Which you don't want. When shooting in natural light you want enough adequate light behind you to fall onto your models face. When I need extra light on my model I use my reflector, on the white side to illuminate their eyes and skin. You can use the silver side if you need extra light. The reflector will bounce the light from behind the subject back at them. Simple portable lighting equipment! You can find a reflector in many different sizes at any camera store near you. OR if you can even DIY a reflector using white form core boards, I've found large sheets of this at Home Depot for less than $15!
Directing your Light:
When shooting backlit portraits, I shoot with the sunlight leaking into the frame from one of the top corners - you don't want it coming directly into your lens. When you shoot with the sun directly behind your subject, they will become a silhouette and the light will be very harsh. When I shoot with the sun leaking into the frame, I am constantly moving around, laying in the grass, climbing into a tree, finding the perfect pockets of light. Shooting with the light leaking into the corner of my frame is also how I achieve catching some sun flares in the image. I love the illuminating halo of light shining through my models hair in backlit portraits, like the one below! (ps... that is my stunning little sister, in her graduation gown designed by local fashion designer Laurie Brown - check her out on Facebook)
Spot metering with back lit photography is very important. You will want to meter your light for your subjects skin tone! If this step is missed the most important part of your photos - the beautiful face your photographing - will be under or over exposed.
Light is the most important element in photography. Without light, we have nothing. Experimentation and practice is key. It takes time and experience to train your eyes to see as your camera does, to be able to spot some sunlight bouncing off an old grain bin in an industrial construction yard and yell "OMG I need to shoot there!" - and see beauty in it, (trespassing for art is okay right?)
With practice, an understanding of exposure, and a creative vision you too can shoot creative portraiture!