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Every photographer wants their pictures to stand out from others. One way to accomplish this is with backlighting. Backlight creates dramatic results, and it can be utilized with great frequency when working on macro subjects. It adds impact and intrigue to a photograph, and it can be made artificially either in the field or studio.
When a dark subject is photographed against a dark background, the subject and background blend in tone. But if a narrow beam of light is aimed toward the primary subject from behind, the rim light separates the subject from the background. Picture a dark object offset against a navy blue background. They blend into each other. Add a backlight and the subject's outline takes on a glow and makes it discernible.
The key to backlighting is to not go overboard unless a special effect is intentional. If too much is added, you run the risk of over separating the main subject and the effect begins to spill light over to other areas and creates hot spots. To prevent this, vary the distance of the backlight. Preview the image on the LCD and reposition the light as needed.
Make sure the backlight is not aimed toward the lens. The light may create flare which softens the overall contrast and leaves little “spaceships” of light. To prevent this, carefully aim the flash toward the subject and away from the camera. If the position of the backlight is such it looks like it may flare the lens, fasten a small piece of cardboard to the side of the strobe channeling the light away from the lens.
Backlighting small subjects doesn’t have to be reserved for separating a subject from the background. Use it to show the translucency of flower petals to illuminate them from behind. It results in an image where they take on a magical glow. It can also be effectively used to add dimensionality and texture. By moving the backlight so it becomes a partial sidelight, shape and texture can be emphasized. When I create images of flowers and insects, I often vary the placement of the backlight to highlight specific portions of my subjects.