Photo Tip “Dark Background in Backlit Images”

Light and shadow play

Contrasts have a striking effect; they can move the important elements to the forefront. A black background against a correctly exposed foreground offers maximum contrast.

With backlit images of semi-transparent objects (e.g. flowers, leaves) it is relatively easy to create a dark or black background depending on the lighting conditions. Find a perspective from which the illuminated object has a background that is in shadow. Suitable lighting conditions are where light and shadow alternate, e.g. in parks or forests.

Additionally, you should ensure correct exposure. Exposure is metered on the brightly lit areas of the image. If they only take up a small part of the image, automatic exposure can help to avoid undesired underexposure. In these cases, exposure compensation (+/-) or (if insufficient) manual exposure metering M is the solution. Avoid using the flash and deactivate the flash if need be. To check exposure, use the camera’s histogram and overexposure warning.


In the following image, the exposure had to be compensated as the illuminated blade of grass is only a small part of the entire image itself. If a multi-zone mode had been used, it would have probably resulted in underexposure. Another possibility would have been spot metering. Here you need to take into consideration that a very precise metering is required and spot metering may meter too many dark areas of the image.

Blade of grass – Corsica 2006

Blade of grass – Corsica 2006

Diaphragm: 7.1
Exposure: 1/250
Mode: Program mode auto exposure (P)
Exposure metering mode: Multi-zone
Exposure compensation: -2

In the following image, the background is also in shadow. Despite the high difference in contrast, this image didn’t require any exposure compensation as the illuminated foreground was large enough for a correct multi-zone metering.

Park – Regensburg 2009

Park – Regensburg 2009

Diaphragm: 8
Exposure: 1/64
Mode: Program mode auto exposure (P)
Exposure metering mode: Multi-zone
Exposure compensation: 0

Light and shadow also alternate in the following images. The bright semi transparent images areas stand out against the background which is in shadow. With the right section of image, both of the following images would be comparable to the lighting conditions above.

Park – Regensburg 2009

Park – Regensburg 2009

Diaphragm: 8
Exposure: 1/64
Mode: Program mode auto exposure (P)
Exposure metering mode: Multi-zone
Exposure compensation: 0

Leave – Rainforest – Oriente – Ecuador 2002

Leave – Rainforest – Oriente – Ecuador 2002

Analog image captured on reversal film – no image data available

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