3 Ways to Backlight a Model for Studio Portraits

A great portrait requires a good understanding of lighting and how to control it to capture the most flattering image of your model. But, it’s not just about lighting the model from the front. Besides the basic portrait lighting patterns, you need to consider how the subject looks against the backdrop. Are they blending in? Using a light behind the model can add a whole new dynamic to any shot. Manny Ortiz shows us three simple ways to backlight portraits to really separate the subject from the background:

1. Flash behind model facing backdrop

Ortiz uses a grid on the flash and positions it behind the model facing the backdrop.

flash behind model lighting background

This lighting position creates a halo effect around the model’s head to really pull her away from the dark background. Ortiz takes a couple shots—the first without any background lighting—to compare the effects.

lighting backdrop behind model

2. Flash behind model on camera right

Position the flash off to the side and behind the model, hitting them at an angle.

side lighting technique

This creates a rim light on the shoulder and hair to add separation.

portrait rim lighting using speedlight

3. Two flashes behind model – one on each side

Add a second flash to the other side of the setup to add an even rim light around the model.

strip box portrait lighting

separate model from background lighting

For the first two lighting setups, Ortiz uses a Godox speedlight with a flash grid. For the third technique, he uses strip boxes on each side of the model, but you can use any kind of modifier, whether it be a softbox, strip box, or flash grid. It’s up to you. Try out different placements, use your choice of modifier, and find a lighting technique you like to really focus on your subject.

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