Using Backlight Photography

adorable studio pet photos

Using Backlight Photography

Kitten on Windowsill

IMG_4226 Gracie Rescue Kitten


Shooting a backlit scene can be more technically challenging. Backlight photography exposure can be tricky.  And as we all know, an important rule in photography “101” is to avoid shooting against the sun. If you do, you will usually end up with either completely over exposed photographs, or a dark and indefinite shadow. However, certain subjects, such as pets  may warrant backlit exposure – as they wander into their own purrr-fect candid pose (on a windowsill with the sun shining behind them!).

It is always best for photographers to know how to handle lighting techniques for every situation, and backlight is one of them.  Backlight can prove to be a beautiful source of light in its own, creating dynamic beautiful shots that glow!

kitten sitting windowsill

IMG_4219 Abby Rescue Kitten

The tricky part when it comes to backlit scenes is getting the proper exposure. When your camera is set to evaluative metering it meters the entire scene to determine the best exposure. In the case of a backlit subject, evaluative metering will fail because the background is so brightly lit by the sun.  Your camera can’t meter for both the bright background and the front subject at the same time.  To over come this technical issue, you can set your camera to spot metering to tell the camera which part of the picture is the most important to you.  You can then meter the subject’s face (kitten face in this case) and let the highlights go completely white.

In the image above, the majority of the sunlight was coming from behind the kitten through the window, causing the fur around the edge of the kitten body to glow, with still enough ambient light to capture detail in the front. I used spot metering and metered the kitten’s face.  Light was reflected all around creating the catch lights in the kitten’s eyes from the white shutter doors that were opened on each side.  Settings are as follows: ISO 250, f2.8, ss 160, canon macro 100 mm lens, Canon mark II 5D


  • Change your exposure mode to spot metering, and meter the subjects face.

  • When there is not enough ambient light to capture the details in the foreground subject,  you can use fill flash or a white reflector.

Gracie & Abby

The foster rescue kittens photographed for this weeks blog and newsletter are Gracie and Abby, two sisters who were rescued with their mother from a high kill shelter. They have had very little contact with humans and came to us very frightened and scared.   We have been working with them 24/7 showing them as much love and attention as possible, to help them overcome their fear of humans and prepare them for adoption as a sweet loving pets.  After the third day in our care, they began to trust, became very playful,  and accepted our touch, with much more relaxed personalities.  They were still just too shy to be posed. These are candid natural images of them sitting alongside the windowsill with ambient backlight.  This is a time when knowing how to backlight a subject with correct exposure comes in handy!