Backlight can provide beautiful results, but it also introduces a number of problems: flare, erratic exposure, contrast issues and lost detail are among the most common. Understanding how they impact the image and learning how to work with each results in successfully and dramatically lit photographs. It's certainly not the easiest type of light with which to work, but taming it is a lot less difficult than you think. Don't let backlight horror stories frighten you. Use the following tips to learn how to shoot into the light.
Augment the Light—Reflector: The stronger the backlight, the less detail on the shadow side of the subject. In that it's the shadow side that faces the camera, little, if any detail is seen. In order to put light on the shadow side, use a reflector. A reflector directs light back onto the subject. In that the source of light hits the front of the reflector, aim the reflected light onto the subject. A white reflector bounces soft light onto the subject. A silver one creates a harsher and brighter source. To add warmth, use a gold one.
Augment the Light - Flash: With regards to the same issues confronted above, instead of using a reflector, let the ease of technology assist you in the form of a flash. The same effects can be had as with a reflector. If you want softer light, attach a diffuser. If you want a harsh bright source, use straight flash. Attach a warm toned gel over the front to create the same effect as a gold reflector. Flash has an added advantage of not needing an assistant to hold the reflector. While stands are available that support one on its own, a windy day can introduce many problems.
Block It: Use the sun to create an added dimension to the image in the form of a sunstar. Allow a small slice of it to peak from behind the subject. The sunstar adds a specular highlight to the image that becomes a focal point. If you're not familiar with this trick, I encourage you to play with it. Stop the lens down to ƒ/22. The aperture blades of the lens create a natural sunstar effect. Check your histogram to make sure the image isn't too dark. Due to the fact that you're shooting into a bright light source, the meter may be fooled. If the overall image is too dark, dial in plus compensation.
Silhouette It: If the subject has interesting form and shape, use strong backlight to your advantage and create a silhouette. Base the exposure on the sky. Exclude the sun from the composition and lock in the reading. This will net you a well exposed sky and silhouetted subject. If the exposure doesn’t give you a complete silhouette, dial in minus compensation. It’s also possible to use levels or curves to punch up the blacks in post processing.