If you want to create more dramatic location portraiture, you may consider taking a technique from the movies. In television and cinema a very common lighting technique is a backlit subject will fill light in the foreground.
Backlighting a subject:
- Helps to create drama.
- Separates the subject from the background.
- Gives a surreal mood (lens flare, interesting highlights).
One way to make the subject pop from the background is to have them backlit, but standing against a dark colored background. This will help achieve more drama. The contrast between highlight and shadow really makes the subject jump from the photo.
When you backlight your subject, you will often want some fill light on the subjects face to give some direction and contrast to the light. In general I recommend that you use a silver reflector or a reflector with a silver-gold mix. I often use the California Sunbounce zebra mini reflector (silver-gold mix) or a 32 inch circular silver reflector.
Exposure with backlit images can be challenging. If the sun is in the frame or any bright highlights, this often leads to your subject being underexposed. For this reason I recommend shooting on manual OR shoot on aperture priority with exposure compensation. Often because your image will appear underexposed, you’ll have to open up your exposure to +2/3 or +1 stop to correctly illuminate your subject. Other times, the image may end up a bit overexposed because of so much light flooding the sensor. Feel free to test the shot, and adjust your exposure as necessary.
If you backlight an image and don’t want lens flare, be sure that the sun is not visible in the frame. I often try to block out the sun with the subject’s head, trees in the background, or some other sort of background element. The subject will still be backlit, but I don’t have to worry about the sun causing too much flare.
Also, if you are trying to avoid lens flare, be sure to use a lens hood that comes with your lens. It will help block out extra sunlight that may decrease the contrast of the image.
On the other hand, flare can be a beautiful creative element. Although in traditional schools of thought in photography lens flare is ‘undesirable’, lens flare is frequently utilized as a tool to create dreamy and surreal images. Lens flare can be dramatic and beautiful.
If you do add lens flare to your image, this often makes your image ‘muddy’. Because light is bouncing around in the lens, this often decreases the contrast. Its fine to use lens flare, but keep in mind that if you want contrast in your image (aka a black and white point) then you may have to increase contrast in Photoshop. My recommendation is that you shoot RAW images, and then add contrast (or drag the black point) in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) or in Lightroom.
I recommend shooting at a wide aperture. Personally I shoot with the Sigma 85mm 1.4 or the Sigma 50mm 1.4. When shooting at such wide apertures with a backlit subject, any highlights become beautiful glowing circles/orbs.