One Light Beauty Lighting – Light Your Subject From Behind

Beauty lighting behind the subject???

I know you are thinking the title is wrong. Even back in the film days the inside of the Kodak boxes had the Daylight Lighting Table that explained you should put the light behind the camera with the subject facing towards the light.

If you have read many of my articles know how I feel about rules. If you haven’t read them, I would encourage you to do so as it is important to remember my KISS IT formula.

The lighting concept for this article is very simple. ALL of the light will be behind the subject. The exposure is based on the light being reflected back to the subject from the reflectors that will be placed in front of or on the side of the subject.

I am not a big fan of simple white backgrounds when coupled with butterfly or clamshell lighting arrangements; they feel too sterile to me. I love to use the backlighting effect for the purity and dream like quality that it creates. When I look at these images I am drawn to my subjects eyes and facial expressions with very few distractions. This light is also very flattering and reduces the amount of retouching needed to clean up facial flaws or blemishes.

As you will see on the examples below, I am shooting in a white space made up of a white background, white ceiling, white walls and white reflectors.

For the sake of this article I am going to show you two variations on this beauty lighting theme that I routinely use.

For most of the shots in this article we are going to work with 1 – 320ws Paul C. Buff AlienBee B800, a few of the shots are done with a Photogenic 1250DR. See if you can tell the difference

Before we get into the examples it is worth noting that my studio space is relatively small. I shoot most of my beauty images in a shooting area that is barely over 500 sq. feet. When I have a client project that requires a larger space, I rent a 4,000sq foot studio and pass the cost along to the client. As I explained in the previous article, I use a 70-200mm zoom for most of my studio shooting (close-up or full length).

So let’s put all of this information to work and take a look at a few examples:

Beauty Lighting Arrangement #1:

Beauty Lighting Arrangement #1

In this first shot (below) the model is seated between a white wall on camera left and a moveable white wall on camera right. (This could be a piece of 48” x 96” Foam Core Board)

Example of a one light beauty shot

It is important to note that the subject is recessed into the space so that there is a fair amount of white wall in front of her that serves as reflectors to help provide an even light to the front of her face. (See Lighting Diagram – Arrangement #1 Above) 1 strobe is aimed at the wall behind the model. My exposure is based upon the light that is reflecting on to her face – NOT the light that is behind her.

Beauty Lighting example #2

These next two shots (above) were done moments apart. The lighting, exposure, background, outfit, makeup and hair are all the same. The only things that changed were the pose, and the camera angle/composition.

One of the key elements to exposing these backlit images is that you must expose for the shadows. This is not a technique that you can create with automatic exposure settings. (Remember… AUTO = Four Letter Word)

Beauty Lighting Arrangement #2:

Beauty Lighting Diagram #2

The four shots that you see below are done within 5 minutes of each other. The lighting, exposure, background, outfit and makeup are all the same. The only things that changed were the models pose, her hair and the camera angle/composition.

backlight beauty lighting

The model was placed about eight feet in front of a white background with two large white reflectors about three to four feet in front of her on either side of the camera lens.

This arrangement is more versatile if you want your model to move or if you want to do a bedroom type setting and have your model working on a prop bed or platform.

one_light_example3@2x

This backlit technique also lends itself very well to Black and White images as you can see in the two examples above.

BTW… When I shoot black and white images – I either shoot them as black and white tiffs – no color data or at a minimum, set my color settings to black and white so that I am seeing a black and white preview on my cameras lcd display. Hey back in the film days you exposed and lit your shot differently for color than you did black and white. Why should digital be any different unless you are lazy? Alas, that will be a subject for another article.

Bonus Beauty Lighting Effect:

One of the great bonuses to this backlighting that I have already mentioned is that it is very forgiving to skin blemishes and flaws. It is also extremely forgiving to flyaway hairs.

Unretouched Beauty Images

Compare the two un-retouched images above. The image on the left is front lit and the models hair shows every stray and frizz. The image on the right is backlit and MOST of the flyaway hair disappears thanks to the lighting.

This can be a lifesaver if your hair stylist is horrible or you simply don’t have one available.

Post Processing Notes:

I am a firm believer of “get it right in the camera”. This lighting style does however require one small but very important adjustment in post processing.

When you try these lighting arrangements you will notice as soon as you take your first test shot that the images your camera records are low in contrast. Certainly you can make some contrast adjustments in camera with a DSLR, however I discourage this because if you are like me you will change the contrast setting and then forget to change it back.

My workflow is simply to increase the contrast in either Lightroom or Camera Raw before doing any additional post processing.

Be sure to watch the video above for an additional bonus post production (Photoshop) trick to add a dreamy window light effect to these shots.