Lighting Patterns and the Artist Voice: Back Lighting

Stormy clouds around Miss Liberty.

Lighting Patterns and the Artist Voice: Back Lighting

Using a specific lighting pattern can help define our photographic voice. In my previous post, I mentioned split lighting and how it can be used to evoke a certain mood and look, in particular in black-and-white portraits.

Today let’s look at backlighting. Backlighting creates silhouettes, thus enhancing the element of mystery in a photograph. It helps define the shape of a subject, without revealing any details about that subject. Personally, I find the results less (or another kind of) moody than those created by using split lighting–less moody because oftentimes there’s no hint of detail in the back-lit subject.

The Northeast blackout of 2003 revealed a spectacular silhouette of the Manhattan skyline, with not a glimpse of light in the subject, itself.

Silhouettes created by sunrise/sunset:

On a daily basis, the golden hour can create spectacular silhouettes–of buildings, skylines, people, and nature. The image posted below, Manhattan Sunrise, captures a partial NYC skyline silhouetted by the first golden hour light. The image was part of Of the Mind, an art show hosted by Casa Colombo, in Jersey City.

NYC Sunrise Up Close and Personal. Photo by Alina Oswald.
NYC Sunrise. Photo by Alina Oswald. Photo included in OF THE MIND art show at Casa Colombo.

Silhouettes created by fireworks

Silhouettes can also be captured while using backlight from fireworks. Here’s a silhouette of the Holland Tunnel utility building, backlit by the Fourth of July fireworks a few years ago. This image was also part of the Of the Mind show, at Casa Colombo.

Holland Tunnel and 4th of July fireworks. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Holland Tunnel and 4th of July fireworks. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Silhouettes created by 9/11 Tribute Light

City lights can also create silhouettes. Tribute Lights can, too. Here are a few images from my photographing the Katyn Soldier memorial, silhouetted by the Tribute in Light, one September 11 night. The image was published, together with my article about black-and-white photography, in Precise Moment, a photography magazine.

b&w photography of Katyn memorial and the 9/11 tribute lights
9/11 Tribute in Light & Katyn Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald


Backlighting can be used to capture nature. Such is an image of a dead tree, silhouetted by the last light of the day:

Dead Tree Silhouetted by Sunset Light. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Or nature and man. Such is the sunset silhouette of a sailing boat, captured between the islands of Maui and Lanai, in Hawaii:

Sailing into the Sunset. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Backlighting can also be used when photographing people, in-studio, or on location.

On-location nature-made self-portraits, such as the Brocken spectre:

We can also create silhouettes while photographing people on location, such as commuters on their way to the Oculus:

People silhouetted by live lava, in Hawaii’s Volcano National Park:

Or by city lights, in the French Quarter, during a Vampire and Ghost New Orleans tour with the phenomenal Lord Chaz:

Vampire and Ghost Tour in French Quarter, New Orleans. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Vampire and Ghost Tour in French Quarter, New Orleans. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Maybe the silhouette of this year was the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.

August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse over Garden State Skies
Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017, as it appeared over NYC area skies. Photo by Alina Oswald.

There are different ways to use backlighting to create silhouettes and tell the story.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Alina Oswald










  1. Reblogged this on ALINA OSWALD and commented:

    Photography is about painting with light and, with that, creating mood, capturing the subject’s personality, telling the story…. So, here’s again a #tbt post on backlighting – lighting patterns and the artist’s voice. Hope you enjoy the read.


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