THE BEAUTY OF LIGHT FROM BEHIND
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
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