10 November, 2012 10 November, 2012


Backlit is the new frontlit. Most photographers start out being taught that the sun or light source should be behind you – shinning directly onto your subject. Hence the term ‘frontlit’. But as nice as this looks from time to time and in some necessary situations, it really is the standard and not nearly as interesting or exciting as it could be. Photography after all is about light, and being able to capture light from every angle. The moment you step away from the standard frontlit angle a whole world of thrilling opportunities present themselves. So shine up, and get moving.

In surf photography you will often find yourself being forced to shoot backlit whether you like it or not – especially when it comes to water photography. Waves break in a consistent direction, the sun sits in a certain part of the sky and you’re limited to shooting a right or left with the sun behind your surfer. Stress not. This will only ever add to your photograph. You just need to exposure your photograph correctly as so not to blow out the sun or whitewater or silhouette your surfer and wave too much. It all depends on the look you’re going for. I personally find, as with everything in life, that balance is the key to success. For example, in the below photo of Jarrad Howes at the Dunes I exposed for the water – 1/1000 @ F5.6. A good midpoint between the brights of the morning sun and the shadow of the surfers wetsuit and face. But what really makes backlit barrels so fascinating is the way the lip naturally diffuses the light. Like a giant man-made diffuser on a movie set (minus the half-naked crew) it softens the light and send even amounts of it bouncing around inside the tube. This is what gave my shot some naturally reflected light onto Jarrad’s face.

Another trick to shooting backlit subjects is to obstruct using foreground.  I have found it very useful to use something in the foreground of your photo to soften the harshness of the light behind your subject. As seen below of Dusty Payne at Jeffrey’s Bay, his backup surfboard during a heat was the perfect foreground obstruction because it also added something unusual to the photo. 1/1600 F5

To end off and just to recap. Backlit photographs are some of the best photographs you will ever shoot. The trick is just getting the right balance of exposure between highlight and shadow, and good old clever composition. Good luck.


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