Editing a Backlit Photo in Lightroom

April 25, 2013

in Before & After, Lightroom, Photography Tutorials, Susan Keller

I Heart Faces Photo Editing Tutorial - Backlighting

Backlighting, how I love thee. Let me count the ways … In 9 out of 10 back lit images, I’m more than willing to blow out the sky and expose for the people. In fact, I even wrote about this propensity a few years ago in another I Heart Faces tutorial  called Give Overexposure a Try.  And honestly, blowing out the sky in Southern California isn’t usually a big deal – the sky here, for most of the year, is pretty boring and non-descript. But this particular evening with this lovely family, the sky was beautiful, blue, and filled with fluffy clouds at the horizon. I couldn’t bear to blow it out.

So I had to change up my exposure strategy. I didn’t want to lose the clouds. But I didn’t want to silhouette the sweet family. Usually I try to get my exposure “right” in camera so that I have minimal editing to do on the back side. But in this case, I knew I had to capture a “dark” image and “fix” it afterwards. So I split the difference and chose an exposure that gave me something in between. Here are the settings I ended up using:

Canon 5D (classic), 15mm lens (my fishy), ISO 200, f/5.0, 1/800 second. And yes, I shoot jpg. [For the record: YES. I KNOW. I can capture MORE and edit MORE with raw. Let’s save that discussion for a different day. grin].

“Before” Photo

Here is my resulting SOOC jpg image:

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for Backlight Tutorial

Editing for Backlight

I import everything directly into Lightroom 4. Lightroom is my workhorse: 99% of my editing happens inside of Lightroom without ever taking a side trip to Photoshop. Because Lightroom is THAT GOOD.

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for Backlight Tutorial

  • Adding Contrast

Digging right in … I know for sure that I’ll want to add contrast. Big Landscape Scenes beg for contrast. And especially my landscapes, because I have my picture style in camera set to “0” contrast. (the theory being that I can always add contrast in post processing, but it’s really really hard to remove contrast once it’s already there). I’ll be adding contrast with the contrast slider and also by bumping my whites and darkening my blacks. I will also boost the exposure a tad, brighten the shadows significantly, darken the highlights (to keep my cloud detail) and boost the vibrance. I will also minimally adjust my white balance, adding +5 yellow to bring in a little more sunshiney glow & brightness. The resulting image is below, with the slider detail on the right …

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for backlight Tutorial

  • Enhancing Detail

This picture is already taking shape beautifully. Moving down the development panel, I still want to work out some of that sky detail. I’m going to darken my blues (luminance down). I’m also going to lighten my oranges (luminance up, a neat trick to brighten skin) to bring back some people detail. I’m also going to nudge up the sharpening a bit.

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for Backlight Tutorial

Still working on that sky … I grab a local adjustment brush (the settings are show below – I’m adding clarity and darkening the exposure a tad) and painting over just the sky and clouds. These are minute adjustments and may not show clearly in the image below, but I wanted to list the steps for you, nonetheless.

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for Backlight Tutorial

  • Applying Presets for a Bit of Haze

I’m happy with the image just like this. But I’m going to go ahead and sprinkle some One Willow fairy dust on it. I’m adding Festoon (Haze) from the Palette Collection and Edge Burn from the Timeless Collection. After applying the preset, I did adjust my exposure down to +.16 and added +8 clarity. I also tweaked my blue & orange luminance.

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for Backlight Tutorial

“After” Photo

Voila! Cute people detail not lost in a silhouette and gorgeous sky detail not blown out. I’m a happy editing camper! BTW, it took me way longer to explain this than to actually do it. This was a 30 second edit. Lightroom is awesome!

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for Backlight Tutorial

Here’s the comparison again:

I Heart Faces Photo Editing for Backlight Tutorial

Susan Keller, I Heart Faces Creative Team

Susan Keller is an Orange County Baby, Child & Family Photographer who loves coffee, good books, big landscapes, her dudes, and using ellipses instead of words. You can find her on Facebook and blogging at Short on Words.




{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Wayne December 27, 2016

This is incredible! If you ever make any editing tutorials for PaintShopPro, something like this http://www.paintshoppro.com/en/pages/photo-editing-workflow/ I would be very happy to read it! I found this article very helpful but I am a beginner in PaintShop Pro photo editing so I would appreciate to read more about it, and I hope I am not the only one! Thanks! 🙂


Chris H April 26, 2013

Great tutorial! Wish I had lightroom. Curious about your shooting jpg vs. raw comment? Do you always shoot jpg and why?


Michael Jennings January 9, 2016

A lot of professionals, almost all of them, would recommend shooting in RAW. Simply put, raw leaves you more room and freedom when it comes to editing your image. JPEG images have a little less quality and less freedom when adjusting dark shadows and bright highlights.


Anfiska April 26, 2013

Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.
Very helpful tutorial! Thanks!


Jean Smith April 25, 2013

Love this! Beautiful edit and photo!


amy j. April 25, 2013

Great article!


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