Backlighting as a Creative Tool in Close-Up Photography - dummies

Backlighting as a Creative Tool in Close-Up Photography

By Thomas Clark

Backlighting a subject for macro photography generally is referred to as silhouette lighting because it tends to reveal the shape of something without providing much (if any) information on its front side. In macro and close-up photography, you can find interesting ways to represent the silhouette of a subject because of the blurry backgrounds shallow depths of field cause.

The photograph shows an example of backlighting. Notice how the image becomes mainly about shape and color.


100mm, 1/1000, f/22, 250

Silhouette lighting is an old trick in photography and is a major cliché. There are correct times and places to utilize the technique, but backlighting is far more interesting when used creatively and with a greater purpose.

Many subjects in macro and close-up photography tend to have transparent qualities, such as flower petals, leaves, water drops, glass surfaces, and the wings of insects. Recognize when you’re dealing with one of these types of subjects and try the backlighting technique to see what you can come up with.

Because the spray produced when you cut a grapefruit is more interesting than the fruit itself, backlighting, combined with the dark background, backlighting emphasizes the transparent qualities of the spray and makes it stand out in the image. A fill light was also used in this image to make the surface area of the grapefruit visible.

Please use extreme caution when attempting to create action shots such as the example. Consider what you need to achieve the shot, such as timing, lighting, and precision; but make sure that you ensure a safe working environment.


50mm, 1/640, f/16, 400

Some other instances in which you can use backlighting to add interest in an image include the following:

  • When an insect is positioned on the backside of a leaf, backlighting causes the silhouette or shadow of the insect to be imposed onto the leaf’s surface.

  • Subjects with fuzzy or furry textures (such as dandelions or caterpillars) have a bright glowing rim when backlit.


    100mm, 1/160, f/4, 500

  • Subjects with multiple, overlapping transparent layers may produce interesting results when backlit. For example, an orchid has overlapping petals; because light has to pass through two layers at these areas, they appear darker when the flower is backlit than the areas that don’t overlap.

  • Backlighting a subject with transparent qualities can reveal internal structures like the veins of a leaf, as this photograph shows.