Saturday, May 14, 2011


There's no denying the part light plays in making beautiful photographs, and if landscape photography and images drawn from the natural world are what make your heart sing then you're probably already well acquainted with the beguiling soft light of early morning, and the depth of it's layered descent available in the evening hours; each end of night and day so capable of evoking either a subtle, dreamlike aura, or dramatic definition to what might otherwise be just another ordinary image.  

Over the years I've found my personal preference to light leans entirely towards a naturally available source, where I almost always forego the use of strobes, on-camera flash, fill flash, and the harsh, oftentimes unflattering effects of bright sunlight ...  although all of those artificial means of lighting certainly have their uses, and do make for some very wonderfully dramatic images in their own right ... so, first and foremost, it's always the mood your after that counts.  I suppose it's readily apparent I gravitate toward the more romantic end of the photographic spectrum, especially in portraiture, and in still life shooting as well ... where subdued window light (occasionally reverting to a soft, reflective surface to help alleviate shadows), or shooting on an overcast day can give the most pleasing effects.  However, if you're hoping to convey an even a broader, more hopelessly romantic, timeless appeal to your images, or imbue them with that glowing 'light from within' impact ... then the art of backlighting (my absolute favorite) just might be the best way to highlight your subject matter. In photography there is nothing quite so intriguing and delicately defining, as the use of backlight for beautiful imagery.  In it you can find the eternal promise behind every vein on a new leaf ... or in the pastoral beauty of sheep grazing in low-light, their haloed, unshorn bodies partially silhouetted against the setting sun, or in the wonder of glory-bound clouds rimmed by a hidden sun. There is too, the tender, subtle magic of a child's countenance rendered soft and lovely beneath a crown of curls, each tendril (whether dark or light) picked out to perfection. And as well, in the details of old linens and tattered lace held up to the light, exposing a finer view of the handworked hours recording the past ... and, I would be remiss failing to mention the enduring, mystical splendor of the sun in full eclipse.  All of these magnificent sights, and resulting photographic captures, owe their wonder to the 'beauty of light from behind'.  

It may take you a few hours or days of practice to make the most of this timeless art ... but it's a skill you'll never be disappointed you took the time to learn ... and the first lesson in learning to use backlight is to toss away all your preconceived ideas about photographic light shining directly onto your intended subject, and that it must come from behind the photographer ... rather by placing what you wish to photograph directly in front of your light source, ambient or otherwise, with and the sun shining directly (or slightly obliquely) into your lens (many will warn you to beware lens flare, but I have made some wonderful images incorporating it into the atmosphere of the whole). Your second lesson will be to go 'online' and search 'backlighting your photographs' where you'll be able to find several tutorials illuminating the art of it all much better than I could ever hope to.  It may take a few hours or days of practice and experimentation, keeping in mind that practice and experimentation make photographic art, if not close to perfect, then ever so much more interesting and diverse ... especially considering how much easier and less costly it is to discard mistakes with today's digital equipment.    

I'll leave off here by saying ... that the study of backlight is a lasting gift you can give yourself, and one you'll never regret taking the time to learn ... I promise!   Now... give me some mist, fog, haze sheltered sun, and other inclement weather conditions (especially those appearing after a clearing storm) and I'll be off and running, camera in hand, for as long as it takes to capture the ephemeral and fleeting that have the power to vanish as quickly as the 'blink of a camera's eye ... to become nothing more than momentary memories. So, be quick on the trigger finger and keep your eyes peeled for 'the beauty of light from behind'

All images below were rendered by backlight ... 
 1:12th scale miniature display clothing

Antique child's summer dress ... ca. 1860

 Embroidery detail on a 1920's China silk kimono

 Private portrait 

 Detail of an Edwardian corset cover (camisole)

 Skirt detail on an Edwardian, organdy graduation dress ... ca. 1915

 Sleeve and button detail on the same dress

 Portrait featuring antique children's clothing ... ca. 1910

 The Petticoat Ballet ... antique slips billowing in the wind

 Private portrait ... using backlight and lens flare for softening effect

Private portrait ... using backlight to highlight a crown of curls

 Antique crib (cot or lit de bebe) illustratating backlight for atmosphere and illusion 

Isabella's Antique Bonnet ... backlit hair and profile

 Mary at Aine's Window ... Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Photographic illustration for 'The Changeling' (a faery child) ... from W. B. Yeats' poem 'The Stolen Child'

Roses floating in water near a window

'The Mists of Avalon' ... taken in the Scottish Highlands

Old fisherman, almost silhouetted by backlighting ... Port de Nice, France


Les Miniatures de Béatrice said...

Je n'ai pas pu traduire totalement le texte de votre article mais comme toujours, je ne peux qu'admirer vos talents de photographe et cette façon si romantique d'utiliser "THE BEAUTY OF LIGHT FROM BEHIND".

Flora said...

Dear Monica, I read your post with my husband who is passionate about photography and is looking like a fool, to improve his technique.
He just said:
"Yes, this woman knows how to do it!"
As you see, in the family we appreciate you all :-)
Of course, my husband just looked OVER the things photographed, without noticing the beautiful lace and clothes ...
That one of my prerogative :-)
Mini hugs, Flora

Georgie Steeds said...

Beautiful, beautiful photographs....I'm off to practice!! Thank you for the inspiration.

Afan Valley Miniatures said...

Thank you ...thank you ... now that I can understand after trying to find a simple way make half decent photos and reading most texts ... it has now clicked ( pun ..ooops ) ... your my hero ... and now I'm a "devoted fan" of yours ... Great post !! Paul

Astridbears said...

your blog is so lovely!! Wonderful photos!!
have a nice Sunday

Plushpussycat said...

These photos are lovely! You've inspired me to try this kind of photography with my dollhouse. So glad I found your blog! :-)

Sharon Chrystal de Vries said...

Love this post, the light behind makes everything look so ethereal...really beautiful. You inspire one to learn more about photography. The 1:12th scale display outfit is exquisite Thanks for sharing Hope you recover quickly
Sharon Chrystal

Renee said...

Just beautiful!!!
Back lighting is one of the loveliest techniques and your images are captivating :)

Fi.P said...

Hello Monica,

I have just joined your blog and it is truly beautiful.

Your images are exquisite!

Backlighting perfection.


Jean Day said...

You fabulous photos just amaze me in their beauty. The way you play with light is fantastic!!