How To Create Epic Backlit Wedding Photos

So in the beginning of my wedding photography career I attempted to make sun-flare photos my signature, but the more weddings that I shot, the more another type of shot became my signature photo.

The backlit photo. 

I love shooting this type of photo because the creativity is unlimited. It involves both myself, my knowledge of OCF (Off Camera Flash), knowing my camera settings,  and my clients working with me to create these epic images. So below is a collection of some of my favorite backlit images, the story behind them and, as far as I can remember, the set-ups that I used.

This was one of my first successful backlit images. I remember trying them before this and not quite getting what I wanted. Later I realized that I did not understand the correlation between aperture/shutter speed/ISO and light as it pertained to OFC. 

This image was shot with a Canon 5D2 and a Canon 16-35 at 16mm. I was standing on a wet hill, soaking wet and trying to not fall. I was using a Yongnuo flash system (they were super cheap like $30 for a flash so I wasn't worried about the flash getting wet). The flash was set at about 1/2 power and was about 5 feet behind them. During this wedding we shot several backlit photos, because this couple was amazing and wanted to create some super rad photos. When we were walking back to the venue, I asked if they were down to try some other photos. So I snapped a quick one where they were posed, and then I asked Landon (the groom) to give me a heel-click jump. We probably tried it 3-4 times before getting this image. Nailing an image of someone in the air with a flash is mad difficult. 

For both these images I set the flash at full power and it was about 15-20 feet behind them. 

The photo below was actually shot in the evening, where there was still plenty of light. I set my aperture at f22 so that I could simulate a darker environment, and set the flash at 1/2 power. You can still see the ambient light in the sky, but I like this image because you can see the detail and the expression in their faces.

The more I experiment with backlit photos, the more I try to challenge myself. I try and find elements in the landscape to include as a way to enhance the image. When I arrived at the venue for the image below, I knew that I wanted to include the fountain. Backlighting the water with the silhouette of the couple would create the extra pop to the image that I wanted. The flash was set at full power so that it would be light enough to capture the fountain and the couple. This was shot on a Canon 5D3 with a Canon 16-35 set at 16mm. The flash system was the YN600.   

The photo below is in my top 3 favorite photos. I was on the beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The tide was going out so there was wet sand with very shallow "puddles" of water left. I placed the couple on an "island" with the flash about 5 feet behind them at full power. I used full power as there was nothing to reflect the light down and I wanted a good spread to the photo. Again this was a 5D3, with a Sigma 24mm Art lens and the YN600 flash. 

While I love the drama in the photo above, I always try to get a couple poses so that when I get back to the computer I have more to work with. Some look great on the back of the camera, then they just don't work on the screen. The photo below is a little more cute and fun. 

Anytime that there is a little rain, I love to go out and get a backlit photo. The reflecting of the light on the raindrops ads just a little extra element to the photo. The photo below was shot with the Nikon D750 and a Sigma 24mm Art and the YN 560 IV. The flash was about 5 feet behind the couple, and set at 3/4th power. 

The photo below, was snapped during our 3.5 seconds of rain that we had on this 98 degree/ 400% humidity day. I don't think that my shirt was dry at all during that day. If there was a wet t-shirt contest, I would have won. But anyway, we wanted to get out there and use the arch in the backlit photos. As we were setting up the rain started and I snapped this photo. 

I am adding the photo below, because it was slightly different for me. Most of the time I use the bride's dress to block/diffuse the light. It is so much harder to block the flash with just a leg or some other element that is present in the frame. The bride in this image was holding her dress up so that it did not get wet. So I placed the flash further back than normal. Usually I set it at 5-10 feet. but this time I set it at about 20 feet. I was going to use their torso's to block the light. But when I got back to the computer, I liked the photo where the light was sneaking between them and created more of a flare. Due to my settings the light had a slightly red tint, so I accentuated this in the editing of the image. The flare and the placement of the light created a nice circle of light around them. 

As I said, I always try to up my game when it comes to backlit photos. I almost never think of using it for a detail shot, but when we were out creating photos for this wedding, I realized that utilizing this super still puddle to capture a unique backlit photo would give me some epic results. For this photo (Nikon D750/Sigma 24mm Art and YN560IV) I actually set the flash closer to the couple than I normally do so that I could get more of the reflection in the puddle. 

Originally, I was going to use the puddle for the full length portrait as well, but I felt like that lacked creativity and was too similar to what I had just created. So with the help of Steve, who as you can see has some serious hops, we created this photo. It is number 2 on my list of favorite backlit photos. 

We used an alley right next to the venue to create this photo. There was a little rain fall from the trees above us that was left over from the downpour earlier. I set the flash at full power about 15 feet behind them. I love this photo because, due to the amazing sensors in the Nikon cameras, I was able to recover some detail in Steve and Kelsey's faces. Talk about a couple that is stoked to be married. 

The photo below was shot just a few minutes after the arch rain photo above. For this photo I utilized a piece of copper pipe and my flash to create this "ring of fire" photo. (The idea was first introduced by Sam Hurd). The placement of the couple in relation to the arch and the flash was pivotal. I had the flash, set at 3/4 power with the head angled up slightly about 5 feet behind the arch. I placed the couple about a foot in front of the arch so as to not have any bounce from the flash affect the couple. I was in live view on the camera so that I could see where the copper pipe was in relation to the couple. It took about 5 shots to get the ring where I wanted it in the photo. ( Nikon D750/Sigma 24mm Art/YN560IV) 

I created this photo at my last wedding of 2016. I had seen this gazebo earlier in the day when we were shooting bridal photos and knew that I wanted to use it for the backlit photo later in the night. The beauty of this one was that my second shooter was a stand in while I figured out the best settings. For this photo the flash was set about 2 feet behind the couple, at about 1/2 power with the head of the flash angled almost straight up. I knew that the gazebo would bounce the flash giving me fill light on the couple, and I did not want to go full power as I wanted the light concentrated within the gazebo. 

The image below is my favorite backlit image I have ever made. I love it because it was a combination of the couples boating skill, daring, photography knowledge, and hope. For this wedding I knew that we were going to attempt a backlit image of the couple in a canoe, in the water. So I wore pants I did not care about as I knew that I would be wading in the lake to create this image.

The set up for this photo was more intense than any other backlit image due to the fact that I had to get my flash out into the water at a distance that was far enough to give me the light spread that I needed. So I brought a light stand and waded into the lake until I was chest deep. I placed my flash so that the head of the flash was about 12 inches from the surface of the water. The flash itself was one click up from parallel to the water.  The flash was 1/2 power so that it would not blind the couple. I waded back to the shore grabbed my camera (Canon 5D3/Sigma 24mm Art/YN600 flash) and then waded back out until I was just over waist deep. I had the couple float by the flash at a distance of about 5 feet and fired off several frames. We did this several times until I knew that I had enough to work with. After retrieving my equipment, and wading back to shore, soaking wet, I headed to the car, and changed for the drive home. When I looked at the images on the computer I knew that to achieve what I wanted I would have to composite two frames in order to have each couple properly lit. So below is the result of that waterlogged foray into a lake with $3000 of camera equipment hovering just above the water. 

Below is a diagram of the basic lighting setup for these images. The flowers have no relevance, I just wanted to add a little extra fun. 

Things to remember when creating images like this. 

1. The angle of the flash head affects the spread and any bounce. If there are trees or a building or a gazebo, remember that there will be some bounce, adding fill to the image. 

2. Practice with aperture/shutter/ISO to learn the correlation between them and flash.  Here is a great article that explains this.

3. Don't blind your couples. Tell them to close their eyes, or pose their heads away from the flash. 

4. get risky, try things, tell your couples that you want to give them something unique. 

5. Have fun. 

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