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Shoot: Backlighting

Lesson 20 from: Incredible Engagement Photography

Pye Jirsa

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Lesson Info

20. Shoot: Backlighting

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of the lesson is incredible engagement photography and specifically focusing on shooting with backlighting.


  1. What is the first step in approaching a scene when using backlighting?

    The first step is to subtract light from the scene and imagine what it will look like in the camera.

  2. How can a spot meter be used to control the background exposure?

    The spot meter can be used to meter a specific area of the background and adjust the settings accordingly to achieve the desired darkness or brightness.

  3. Why is it important to manually set the flash power instead of relying on TTL?

    Manually setting the flash power allows for more control over the exposure and ensures that the desired effect is achieved.

  4. How can the zoom function on a flash be used to control the spill of light?

    The zoom function on a flash can be adjusted to control the spread of light. A wider zoom setting will hit more of the wall, while a narrower zoom setting will create a tighter pattern of light.

  5. How can the use of gels and grids affect the color and intensity of light?

    Gels can be used to change the color temperature of the light, while grids can be used to create a more focused and narrow beam of light.

  6. What can be done to correct any unwanted highlights on the subject's face?

    Adjusting the pose and the angle of the flash can help to eliminate unwanted highlights and create a more flattering lighting effect.

  7. What is the benefit of using negative space in engagement photography?

    Using negative space can draw the viewer's attention to the subjects and create a more dramatic and artistic effect.

  8. How can backlighting be used to create wall art for clients?

    By using backlighting and negative space, photographers can capture unique and visually striking images that can be printed in large sizes and displayed as wall art.


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Posing Guidance for Him


Posing Guidance for Her


Foundational Posing


Posing Touch Points


Couples Body Language


Posing Three Point Check


Posing Tips with Demo


Lesson Info

Shoot: Backlighting

Special effects in the studio. Let's get this party started. What we're gonna do first, is, I wanna do this.. And this is where I want you guys to start thinking of everything that we're doing, look at a scene and approach a scene and start doing things where in your mind you're subtracting light from everything and adding it to certain places and imagining what it's gonna look like in the camera. Imagine it first, prevision it first, pre-visualize it and then actually make it happen by placing the lights where you think things should go. If it happens that they shouldn't go in those places then you just make some adjustments, OK? Let's get started. What I want to do first, I'm gonna step through the process. I don't wanna skip steps. I know exactly what I want right now, but I wanna show you guys the steps to get there. So rather than just setting up a gel backlight and doing everything the way that I want it, I'm gonna start with just a backlight and we're gonna build onto each one, ...

OK? So what we're gonna do here is, I'm thinking what if I subtract out light from this scene. So this goes to, basically, a really dark gray. Just dark enough that I have background there. And then, I place the couple maybe in front of it and I can do a couple different things. The first thing that I wanna do because I think it might look kinda cool, and something that we might not think about as much, I'm actually gonna angle the flash and put it right on the background. So, rather than having it as a backlight to the couple, I'm actually gonna backlight the background itself. Make sense? Let me get this guy. We all had lunch, if you guys watched the break, we were all doing calisthenics and stuff... Fun. Maybe we should do some right now, wake you all up. I want our models to rest a little bit. So just to let them rest a bit, we'll just do it without. So what did we talk about earlier? Well, we're building that foundation, right? So what I want you guys to do first is, before you think of doing all this flash stuff, first step is get the background to look the way that you want it to. Number one. That's why the spot meter comes in so handy. Because I can go right up to the metal, I can put it over a dark area of the metal, and I can go "hey I want that metal to be dark," and if we switch the display over to my camera you'll actually see this. I want the metal to be dark. So I haven't even taken a single shot, right? I just want the metal dark. I'm gonna take this off so it doesn't fire. Is the metal now dark? I didn't have to take a test shot. I just went and spot metered off a place and then dialed in my settings and I'm good to go. Now I'm gonna add this guy. It's set to 1/16 power right now. This is the one area, when it comes to flash, you will need to play around a little bit. I know from experience that probably a 1/200 and F2 and I'm at low ISO right now so 1/200 of a second, F2, low ISO. I'm gonna leave that on 1/8 power and just see if it's a good amount of flash. OK. So I'm gonna dial this up to 1/8. (camera shutter) Not too bad, 1/8 is a little bit on the powerful side so when I'm looking at my highlight alert I can see that... You see the blinkies? It's hard to see that kinda stuff with just a histogram because you don't know how much of this white area is actually blown with a histogram, you don't know. So leave that on. So what I'm gonna do is dial this down to maybe 1/32. Let's go down to 1/32. Take one more test pop. (camera shutter) Okay, that looks pretty nice, that's about where I want it. So it took me one try to get the light right, right? Now if that was set on TTL, how is it possible that that thing would know what I'm trying to do with this scene? You know what I mean? That's why we say don't use through the lens and those kinda things. They're cool when you're starting out, just to get something that might be usable, but it's not gonna know that that's the exposure that I want to get on a scene, not to mention, I don't know where the power setting is. Right now I know I'm shooting at 1/32 power which means I know that's gonna recycle instantaneously. I wouldn't know what power setting it's at with TTL. I would just kind of be guessing. So from here I can actually do a couple different things. This is set to 200 zoom, right? What if it was actually a 24 zoom? It would hit more of the wall. So I'm gonna put it down to 20. We'll take a quick test pop (camera shutters) Okay and now what you see is a wider pattern. I'm gonna first, use the zoom to control where it's spilling and if that's not giving me enough control, that's when we'll just pop on a Mag Mod. So can you pop that on to the Mag Mod? And now watch how much tighter that pattern's gonna get. Cool? This controls it right up, right? Great. So, last thing, I kinda want to play around with color temperature right now and I'd like that wall to be maybe more metallic orange, so what I'd like to do is, let's put on a grid (laughs) MagMod's gonna hate me for this. I always lose the things inside of it. I'm terrible with keeping track of stuff. These are just CTO gels and I just sandwich it between the thing. I know it's not designed to do that, but, actually, you can just sandwich it between the grid and the... Flash if you wanted to, either way. There we go, perfect. Alright, so this is gonna send my color to orange. (camera shutters) Now what we're gonna do is just grab our couple. So I'm gonna say, "guys, come on in." And what I wanna do is... I want your body, Travis, to block this. I should've just ended the phrase right there, right? I want your body (laughter) to stand right here. So stand right here and I want your shoulder just to cover up the flash, basically, okay? So stand right in front of that, perfect. Why don't you come right in front of him and what I'm gonna do is, if you have an assistant, great, use them, but I kinda want to demonstrate some of this stuff without an assistant just so you guys can see how I would do it if I was solo. Remember the flash test button that we have on here? Okay, can I not see a little bit of where that's hitting as I push the test button? Can you guys see the little bit of reflection? You see it turning on? Barely? It's really bright in here. So all I'm gonna do is angle this now, slightly over here and a little bit up. That should be good. Okay, Travis, take a tiny step this way, right there. A little more, right there. Look towards each other, guys. Perfect. (camera shutters) Beautiful. Right now we need to figure out, this is where most people go "crap, "this isn't the look I want to have. I wanted to have "a silhouette, I wanted to have them darker." And, we kinda would freak out, right? But this is where I want you guys to pause and just say, "look, if it's not the way that I want it to be, it's most likely because my flash to ambient balance is off right now, I just need to fix it," okay? What that means is, I have too much ambient light on their faces and not enough light on the background. All I'm gonna do is go to the camera. We're gonna shut out ambient light by going up in our aperture, so I'm already at 1/200 of a second so I can't raise my shutter speed up, we're gonna run into synchronization issues, which we'll talk about. So I'm just gonna go up to like, say, maybe two stops up to F4. I'm going to now dial my flash up by two stops. So from 1/32 to 1/8. Look toward each other again, guys. Perfect. (camera shutter) Now we're gonna get an image that's too dark. So, what I'm gonna say is, I kind of liked this pattern on the wall. Jay, do you want to take off the Mag Mod and just leave the gel on it? Take off the grid, just leave the gel on. And I like an exposure that's, maybe, in between those two. So, I'm gonna go to F28. With the grid on it's gonna reduce power output, so we're just gonna take a quick test pop and see. Your gels actually do the same thing, too. Gels reduce power. (camera shutter) There we go. Perfect. Now, my dear, all I want you to do is, you'd actually see that in that side, but what I want you to do is take your hair and put it behind you so I get a clean profile of your face. Perfect, Travis, lean forward a little bit. Go for a little kiss, guys. (camera shutter) I love that smile. Perfect. Do that kiss one more time, you guys can pucker a little bit for this kiss. There you go, and I want your nose in front, my dear. There you go, sorry Travis, I'll call you my dear too. I know you want me to. (camera shutters) Not really, probably. From that close point go to an almost kiss. Get in tight, go for that almost kiss, right there. Travis, are you blowing into her mouth? (laughter) That's cute. Okay, so now we get this. Now, the fun part about this kind of stuff is when you go, well now what if we start using a ton of negative space. So if you are outside against a white wall, you can pinlight that background so you have a backlight on the background, shoot it super wide, and get a really cool effect where all of the attention just draws right into them. So this is that style and that look And what you probably would do is use something like this. I like, with my silhouette shots, I generally will leave some detail in the subjects. I don't let them go pitch black I just don't like that look. I like there to be some detail in the face and that kind of stuff. Unless we are going wide on the horizon type stuff, we'll go fully silhouetted, but even then it's kinda cool to have a little bit of detail in there. Now, let's just do a simple change. What if we turn that flash back towards them? Perfect. Back it up a little bit. Perfect, and then move it just a little bit to this side. Right there, perfect, right there. Towards each other guys, right there, fantastic. Hold hands and let the hand relax on my side. Perfect, just like that. (camera shutters) One tiny adjustment, let me go to a wider view of this. Two completely different looks and the exact same wall. The same wall that we shot in natural light which looked 100 percent different. Good? Any questions so far? Now what I would do is, this is the one thing that we teach our people to do is, the one thing. As if there is one thing, the one thing that we do. So one of the things that we tell our people is once you've captured the shot, zoom in and analyze the details. You guys saw how I noticed that her hair was blocking part of her profile. Most people when you're starting out, you're gonna go take a shot and go, "that's such a cool backlight, that's awesome," and you're gonna not mind the details and make those corrections, you'll get back to the studio and be like "oh man, I wish I'd done that." So take a moment to kinda glance through. On this one, I kind of like it, it looks pretty good. His beard looks amazing so... I'm just gonna say that we're good to go. But what I might do is this, you'll notice that the highlight on her face and, by the way, where did I point the flash? Towards her. Right? Okay. We let the light spill onto him, we kind of point it toward her, but notice the light is a little bit edge lit heavily underneath the chin. This isn't terrible, but if you notice that you have a huge highlight going underneath the chin, That's generally going to be because the flash is too close and it's too low, so what we'll do is we'll raise the flash up just a bit. His head is still gonna block it. We'll point it down and towards her hair. And then as soon as we do this, you'll see that it's gonna chisel out that line. It's gonna make it thin out because now the angle is much different, so, there we go, right there guys. Actually, Travis, do you mind stepping a little bit to this side? Right there, perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Hold that right there guys, that's fantastic. (camera shutter) Perfect. And now what we end up getting is a little bit of spill into the eyes, actually. So I probably would correct that a little bit by saying, I want you to bring your chin, Danielle, just a little bit to my side, so look towards, there you go. Bring the chin just back to my side a little bit. Actually, you know what, look straight on to him. Chin down a little bit, have him kiss your forehead. Perfect. (camera shutters) Okay, and then what do we see on this next shot? You probably see it on that one too, right there. See this? So, this is gonna look like she just grew a beard out of her neck. (laughter) But it's actually the same color as his, which is amazing. (laughter) So I'm gonna say let's go with it. So just correct it real quick, leave that hair behind. Go in for that peck on the forehead, perfect. I love with back-lit shots like this, to do soft and kind of, very romantic kind of poses. They work very well. For a kiss, might go for something on the forehead, but there we go. Now that edge is much tighter, we don't have that line. Rather than play with the light, to get to what I wanted, I just changed the pose because I was like, "if I turn her chin towards my side, this side of "her face is going to be brightly lit "with that flash that's going right into her face." I was like, "well we could do that and screw around "and I could be embarrassed because it's not gonna work right, or I could just say "'kiss her forehead' and block the light from "hitting her right there," so that's easier to do. I'll do that all the time on shoots and I'll just say I'm gonna plan to just deliver that one shot from this particular set, so that way we don't have to play with it still. Okay, how we doing so far? Great. Questions? Do you guys have any questions? Studio audience? We're good. We're good. That's beautiful. They're good. You guys are solid. Solid. I want to show you all the difference now, just real quick. So let's pull up our three shots. Just do one of these ones. Which one should we pick? Let's do this one. No, what happened? There we go. Same scene, that light set up is, like, two minutes to do. That's super quick and I loved, Trevor had a great question and I want you guys to ask that all the time, is this practical to do by yourself in certain situations? I'll tell you straight up, it is not practical to boom up two stands and everything blooming, blowing around in the wind, that kind of stuff. These things, I'm gonna try to teach you the most simple ways of getting the images that you want. You can do it by yourself, if you have a assistant it will go quicker, it's a little bit nicer. But almost everything we show you, you can do all by your lonesome. But look at how different that scene looks from shot to shot, right? I want to show you guys something. That, let's see, So, remember back-lighting something and then using negative space, right? So this is, whoa, that is one small part of that wall. This is that exact technique used over a whole bunch of negative space, And you can see how it just, your eye just goes right there. And why do I love shots like this? Because I want my clients to have wall art. I want them to come to me and purchase 40 by 60's and large, matte prints and large things that we get to charge a good amount for because there's value in what we can provide and these are the types of shots they're gonna do that with because most couple I know, they're not gonna take a shot like this, even something that's kind of artistic like this one, you generally wouldn't blow that up and put it as a 40 by 60 in your house because you're gonna think that your friends walk in and they're gonna be like "Oh, you guys are kinda conceded, come on, what's up with the big giant picture," actually, I had to do that for, my wife liked that picture and it hung up in our house. It wasn't this one. Little story, quick story. We did our photos 13 years ago in China before we were into photography and they took our images on a green screen, then replaced it with bubbles in the background. My wife loved the picture and for like four years this 20 by 30 with, like, bubbles was on my fireplace mantle and I'm like "honey, that's the worst picture." And she's like "that's the only one we have of each other." Point being, if you want them to blow thing up, most couples are not gonna feel comfortabe blowing up those close up shots. They'll put as an 8 by 10, they'll do an 8 by 12, they'll do an 18 by whatever, but if you wanna sell big prints, shoot small people, make them small. They can still be visible, you can still tell who they are.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Pre-Shoot Videos
Keynote 1
Keynote 2
Presets Installation Guide
Gear Guide
Favorite Software
Lightroom Presets

Ratings and Reviews

CPR Photography

I think Pye Jirsa is one of the best, if not the best, instructor for photography on Creative Live. He is very personable, smart and approachable. He has a perfect blend of personality (comments, laughs, tangents..) to the amount of instruction. He asks the questions for you, because he knows you are thinking those questions right then. He's very good about identifying settings, gear, etc.. and not leaving us in the dark about how he "got the shot". He goes into great detail. His instructions flow, but are linear, which is helpful. He's very organized, and you can tell that he really put a lot of work into his presentations (slides, video, test shoots, live teaching, graphics, etc..) I have been listening to him for like 10 hours straight, and still haven't gotten tired of him. He keeps things moving, He's very funny too. Nice job, I've learned so much. :)

a Creativelive Student

This course was AMAZING. I'd say int he past year or two I've fallen into a slump. Uninspired by my surroundings and uninspired by my clients. As a result, it showed through my work. My posing suffered as well and more than a handful of times some of my shoots became more than awkward. Then I bought this course and watched most of it in the course of a day. I walked away inspired, blown away, and renewed. The next day I walked into an engagement session confident. I gave my couples a quick overview on posing and then we just had fun in front of the camera. Immediately afterwards they texted me about how amazing their shoot was and how relaxed I made them feel about posing. The photos turned out fantastic to say the least. I've since shot several more engagement sessions and each one of them has been amazing. If anything, this course should inspire photographers to think outside the box and provide you with the necessary skills to take incredible engagement photos. Thank you Pye and Creative Live! I cannot speak more highly of this course. I should also state I purchased Pye's Natural Light course on SLR Lounge: this course is a wonderful addition to that. If you already own the natural light course and are hesitant about purchasing this one, don't. Buy it and reap the benefits!


This is by far one of the best courses I have taken. Pye makes learning fun and easy to understand. I feel like I have learned so much throughout the course, that I have truly advanced my photography skills. I am so excited to get out there and try so many of the techniques that he showed. I would love to take another course of his. The pricing for the course doesn't even compare to how wonderful the education truly is, I really got more than my money's worth on this one.

Student Work