Getting the Glow | Mastering Backlit Images

Something that I used to struggle with as a photographer was mastering backlit images and finding that “glow” that other photographers always seemed to have in their images. I absolutely loved the look of “glowy”, sunset light, but I just couldn’t seem to achieve it without hazy images or awful sun flare. But, with practice, I began to fall more and more in love with backlit images + using the sun to create beautiful glow around my clients…and now it’s my FAVORITE way to shoot!!! I frequently get asked questions regarding light in my images, so today I’ll be sharing my tips for achieving gorgeous glow + backlit photos!

1. Shoot at Golden Hour

Golden hour is a photographers BEST friend! I always begin my sessions 2 hours before sunset (or right around sunrise!) to have the best possible light during my sessions! I try to always avoid booking sessions at any other time, and this is the number one reason a lot of my images are back lit! (TIP: You can look up sunset times far in advance to tell your clients the time upon booking!)

2. Find the Light 

The first thing I do upon arriving at a location is find where I am going to shoot based on where the light is. My top priority is ALWAYS  the best light, and sometimes that means sacrificing a gorgeous location or beautiful pose, and that’s okay! My sessions usually begin around 5pm in the spring, and at that time I am looking for shady locations with spotty or “dappled” light (where the light is coming through an object like a tree or building and hitting the ground like spots) and I will shoot there first! As the sun begins to set, I can find more opens locations like fields or downtown areas because the sun is not as harsh.

3. Break it Up

One of the most important tips when it comes to backlighting your images is to be sure that the light is not direct. This means that, just because your client is standing with their back to the light does not mean your images will turn out how you’re hoping! If the sunlight is too direct and is entering your lens, this is when you can get sun flare and hazy images. So, when shooting with the sun behind your clients, be sure there is something breaking up the light and it’s intensity like a tree or a building. When the sun begins to set and is low to the ground, you can use your clients to break up the sun by having them stand directly in front of it and block the rays from hitting your lens!

4. Switch up your angle

If you’re finding that your images are hazy or have unattractive sun flare, try shooting sightly to the right or left of your client to get the sun out of your frame! Pointing your camera down and away from the sun can also help combat this. If the sun is just too bright and intense, have your client sit or lay and point your camera down at them to prevent the sunlight from creating fuzzy images!

BONUS TIP: Find natural reflectors!

When shooting at golden hour, sometimes it’s hard to get your clients skin tones to be exactly what you’re wanting. When shooting in an open field, try shooting right at the edge of the field where a white concrete sidewalk or gravel is acting as a natural reflector to bounce white light onto your clients face. I’m always shooting in areas that have natural reflectors like streets, sidewalks, gravel, buildings, etc. to create gorgeous skin tones without having to carry a real reflector!

This image was taken about an hour before sunset. Lena was standing in the shade, but the sun is still coming in from behind her to create a tiny bit of “glow”!

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Okay…seriously though, how beautiful is this girl!? In this shot I had Lena pose so that her hands were filling the frame and blocking the sunlight, but you can still see a tad bit of haziness and sunlight creeping in above her arms. But I love this image anyway 🙂

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On the right, the sun had really begun setting and Lena was standing in front of it to block it, but it was still creating a little haze and fuzziness. So, I had her sit and shot from slightly above her to create sharper images like the one on the left!

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RIGHT before the sun finally set behind the horizon, we got these gorgeous shots! THIS is the golden light that I love! The sun was directly behind Lena’s head so she was blocking it to prevent flare, but it creates a stunning glow that I can’t get enough of!

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POSTED

April 21, 2015

  1. Lauren Jones

    April 21st, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    What aperture did you shoot these photos at?

  2. Hope Taylor

    April 22nd, 2015 at 11:54 am

    I almost always shoot at 1.8 for a senior session!! 🙂 xoxo

  3. Meredith Sledge

    April 21st, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Hope, your work is so gorgeous!! These shots especially are amazing!! Love it!

  4. Hope Taylor

    April 22nd, 2015 at 11:55 am

    You are too sweet! Thank you, beautiful!!

  5. ariella

    April 21st, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Wow these are beautiful! I love it when you post these tips! One question if you are reading this: How do you use the dappled light? Do you back-light in the dappled shade? Why not even lit open shade?

    Thanks!

  6. Nevica Vazquez

    April 21st, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    You are SO good at this! The glow is one of my favorite aspects of your photos! I’m not a photographer but still loved learning how you do this!

  7. ashley

    June 22nd, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Hope, im in love with your work!! You have a great eye for photography! ! Thanks for these tips also:)

  8. sierra

    July 3rd, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Hope – what lens do you use the most for senior sessions?

  9. Hope Taylor

    July 3rd, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    I almost always use my 50mm 1.2 for the entire session but will occasionally use my 85mm 1.2! 🙂

  10. Skin Tones + Natural Reflectors » Hope Taylor Photography Blog

    July 7th, 2015 at 9:00 am

    […] Mastering Backlit Images  […]

  11. Sarah

    July 7th, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Hope, these are beautiful! How do you keep their faces so evenly lit when shooting in back-lighting? I love shooting back-lit images but always end up with such bad shadowing on their faces which I end up having to fix in post.

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I'm Hope Taylor, an international Senior Portrait and Wedding Photographer based in Charleston, SC. I'm also an educator, international speaker, and the host of multiple sold-out workshops each year!

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