I love backlighting in landscape photography; it creates an inner glow to mountain flowers, fall leaves, and meadows or rim lighting around wildlife. Backlighting also accentuates morning mist, fog, smoke, and haze, and shooting into that kind of atmosphere will usually be quite dramatic. Use it to add drama while photographing at the beach to catch a sun star off a sea stack or to add a glow to strong subjects and silhouettes. Backlighting is best to shoot at sunrise and sunset, when the sun is low on the horizon and the light is soft. Even though it’s my favorite light, it can also be the most difficult light to handle when capturing an image.
There can be problems associated with backlighting because you’re shooting into the sun. Chromatic aberration and lens flare are the two most common issues, and ghosting is possible but rarely seen. Chromatic aberration is often seen as blue, green, or magenta fringing around the outline of a distant object or tree. This can easily be corrected by checking the chromatic aberration box in Lightroom or ACR. Lens flare can be corrected in a few ways:
- Accept it as a compositional piece and move on.
- Use your finger to block the sun while bracketing and blend out the flare in post processing.
- Use frequency separation to eliminate the flare if there is not a texture issue and only a color issue*.
- Put on a lens hood to cut down on lens flare.
- Cleaning your lens will help cut down on flare, and so will removing your polarizer.
To capture a sun star, stop down somewhere around f16 or f22, and photograph the sun along a ridge or a side of a tree. This is a good time to turn on live view, so you don’t damage your eyes looking through your viewfinder. Ghosting appears when light bounces around your inner lens element and creates ghost-like objects on your image. A higher-quality lens or a prime lens can cut down on this optical issue, and a lens hood helps too.
The next time you go out to shoot, point into the sun for more drama and to add magic to any photograph.
*Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw includes this technique in his video’s Complete Workflow: Secret Beach and The V6 Video Guide. You can also find examples of this method on YouTube, so I won’t go into it here.
Location: Mosier, Oregon
As a long-distance hiker, I have sharpened my photographic perspective over the years on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide, the Canadian Divide and most recently walking across Iceland. My goal is to capture the wonders I see in nature for the enjoyment of all those with an eye for the extraordinary.