Balancing Backlighting With Flash


Have you been in a situation where the subject you wanted to shoot was in the shade or had a shadow cast on it, and the background was blown out in your attempt to properly expose your subject?



In this post we are going to cover how to make much better photos out of situations like this.

Equipment needed

Camera that allows for manual exposure

Flash (on camera or off camera)

Light Meter (optional)

Step 1. Camera Settings

First thing to do is make sure your camera is set on manual. We need total control over the cameras shutter speed and f-stop to make a proper exposure. Also make sure your shutter speed is at or under 1/250th of a second because most cameras flash sync speed won’t allow for faster shutter speed when shooting with flash. If you are getting a black band across the bottom of the photo this is because your shutter is closing before all the light can be captured and you need to lower your shutter speed.

Step 2. Background

The next thing we are going to do is set our cameras exposure for the background. If you are shooting digital take some test photos until your background is exposed correctly and you have it looking how you want.

If shooting film I would meter the light and underexpose between 1/3 to a full stop under the settings on the light meter.

For my photo I knew I wanted the background full of color from the green plants and trees in the background. To achieve that look I came up with a shutter speed of 1/90th and an f-stop of 9.5.


Step 3. Flash

Our next step is to set the flash so the subject can be properly exposed. If you do not have a light meter and are shooting digital start taking test photos and lower or power up your flash until the subjects exposure is correct.

If you have a light meter simply meter your light to your exposure settings.


Step 4. Take the photo

Make sure your composition is correct and press the shutter button. If you have done everything right you will have a photo where the subject and background are both exposed correctly and will give you a much better photo then one we started off with.


If you enjoyed the post and would like to see more like this please let me know and I would love to see any work of anyone who was inspired to try a shot like this after reading this post.


3 thoughts on “Balancing Backlighting With Flash

  1. So, after you determined your background exposure(1/90 f9.5)and the flash exposure, how do you tally the two exposure to come up with the right exposure?

    Thank you for the tutorial.


  2. Hey Ben! Nice tutorial and great examples. I’m not familiar with Nikons, but the Canon EOS cameras using ETTL (evaluative thru the lens) and ETTL-II flash systems allow the photog to be a little lazier. I set my camera on manual as you do, set my aperture to what I want for DOF, then – pointing at the background – adjust my shutter speed and ISO until the light meter in the camera shows the level of exposure I want. I may chimp to confirm visually that it’s what I want. With the flash set to ETTL or ETTL-II (depending on the model of the camera), I spot-meter on the subject’s face and shoot. The flash automatically emits the right amount of light to properly expose the subject. It’s not foolproof (ETTL-II takes into account distance from the subject, which improves the reliability), but generally does a pretty nice job. Congratulations on the two-page magazine spread!


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