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Wireless flash backlighting basics
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Wireless flash backlighting basics

Supercharge your studio and location shots

Wireless flash allows you to move your flash anywhere. Try moving it behind your subject for dynamic, creative results.


Whether you’re using tethered studio monolights or wireless hot-shoe flash, if you can move your light source off your camera, it opens you up to many exciting creative possibilities. One of my favorites is backlighting. Whether you use a single light source for backlighting or in conjunction with one or more other flashes, it’s a versatile shooting technique.

Let’s look at seven examples of different ways you can backlight a subject.

 

The silhouette: To get even, white backlighting such as this, place the flash about five feet behind translucent material such as a bedsheet or (even better) place a soft box behind her for a large, bright, evenly lit background. There should be no other ambient light. The light  will wrap itself slightly around the subject so you pick up a hint of modeling and detail along the edges. Want to change to a color background? Place a gel over the light source. Photo © AngiePhotos/istockphoto.com

 

 
The halo: Similar to the technique described above, in this case place the light source closer to the translucent material. This way the light will not spread as evenly and will be concentrated on a hot spot. Place your subject directly in front of this hot spot and you’ll get a gradual light fall-off. Alternatively, if you are shooting against a seamless background, you can place the light source immediately behind the subject, and use a snoot to create the same hot spot and gradual fall-off effect. Photo © delirium/istockphoto.com

 

 


The shadow: For this dramatic, ominous look, place the light source behind the subject pointing at the camera. Unlike the examples above, this technique is generally more effective in low-key (darker) scenes. Photo © redhumv/istockphoto.com

 

The fill: As with the Shadow technique, place a flash behind your subject, with your subject blocking it just enough—but show also light the front. In this case, there’s a light source to the left of the camera; the jumping man’s right side is still in silhouette, but the left has enough detail so you can read the shot better. A full silhouette might not read as clearly or dramatically as this does. Photo © redhumv/istockphoto.com

 

The rim shot: Backlighting can be mysterious and intriguing. In this shot, the light source is behind and above the subject, creating a subtle study in form, light, and texture—known as rim lighting. What you see is just a hint of what’s there, but that can be enough. To avoid light falloff and flare, use either a snoot or barn doors (if you're using monolights) to control the light. Photo © Juanmonio/iStockphoto.com


The hair light: Backlight can make hair look like it’s virtually on fire. In this case, the backlight source is directly behind the subject, pointing directly at the camera, while a key light illuminates her frontally. It’s a nice, dramatic touch, and your subject’s hair will look terrific! Photo © Claudiad/iStockphoto.com.

 

The luminescence: All of the above examples show what happens when you backlight a solid subject. But backlighting also transforms subjects that are translucent. Look at how backlighting gives these Kiwi slices a burst of bright green! (Technically, this shot is bottom lit—the slices of Kiwi are placed on a white translucent surface with a flash source shining up from below. But this, too, is a form of backlighting, and it produces bright, eye-catching color.) Any translucent subject (a glass of wine or a bottle are good examples) could be rendered dynamically by placing a diffused light source on the other side of it, relative to the camera’s position. Photo © vkbhat/iStockphoto.com.

This is just a starting point. If you already have a wireless flash, start putting it behind your subjects and experiment. If you don’t have one, what are you waiting for? Go for it!

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