A request from The Request Box this week, how to shoot backlit portraits at golden hour. I think everyone adores the STUNNING light you get in that special hour before sunset (and an hour after sunrise too!), but because of where we’re located, there’s not really any stunning spots to capture anything to the west close to home at sunset. That was until we found the reed meadow…

Todays video shows a few ways to work with backlight, depending on the subjects colours and the light intensity. However, there are many more too depending on the situation. Here’s the video featuring Pippi and, bless him, Finn:


The overarching theme is to protect the highlights but not at the expense of the subjects shadows. That means that if you’re shooting a black labrador, you’ll need to probably composite the shot OR shoot in a darker/more filtered location such as within a woodland. Here’s some sample shots from the reed meadow before we move into common problems:

Common Problems:

My photo is really grainy!

Your noise will likely be high, because of the ISO in lower light, paired with protecting highlights which means you’ll probably be lifting shadows. Don’t panic – there is Topaz Labs for that!

It won’t seem to focus at all on the subject. Why?

If your lens and camera are struggling to focus with backlight then first let me tell you this is not uncommon. I personally have found that using Sigma Art, or other third party, lenses with my Sony mirrorless bodies causes focussing mishaps in backlight.

  1. The first port of call would be to try to use an own-brand lens. If this isn’t an option then…
  2. Try to angle yourself so the light isn’t immediately behind the subject. If that doesn’t help then…
  3. Try to bounce light back at the subject using a reflector or similar. If that doesn’t help then…

Speak to your camera manufacturer to rule out any actual focussing issues on the camera and lens combination.

I’ve blown out the highlights, what can I do?

Hmm, really nothing to be honest. You could remove them, clone them out or replace them with other bokeh bits that are not blown out from other images in the same location though!

Hope this helps!