Back Flare Flash – a tutorial by Simon Terlecki


Back-Flare Flash Tutorial
by Simon Terlecki

Portrait photography with a back-lit flare effect.

This shot was produced in what I personally consider a worst-case scenario: tiny room that is too small to fit both the model and myself (I had to shoot through a doorway), with a low white ceiling as well as white walls bouncing light all over the place where you can’t easily control it. If it’s possible in those conditions, it’s possible to get good results in any condition.


The first thing to take into consideration is the background. For the flares to stand out in your photograph, you need at least a dark background; personally, I prefer a black background for greater emphasis. In the small room I was shooting in, I had no choice but to use a black backdrop to get the background to be black. Of course, if you’ve got enough space behind your subject, you might not even need any type of backdrop since the light falloff will be negligible.

Normally, in a studio situation, you set your Key light exposure to your camera, and once satisfied with the main light, you add the extra lights you want, be they rim-lights, fill-lights or whatever your style demands.

Since this is a special effects shot, your workflow will require a slight adjustment. The first thing you will want to do is to position your light, or lights that you will use to flare the background. Position them so that the light is aimed at the approximate area your lens will be when you take your shots. Since you want this to flare, don’t be afraid of shooting straight at your camera.

Do a few test shots while the model makes herself pretty to make sure you get the effect you want. If you want a bigger flare, boost the light. Just work on getting the effect to your liking, once that is done, the hard part is over, and it wasn’t all that hard anyway. ;-)

So you now have your background dark, you have set your flashes in the back and are satisfied with the flares, or star bursts you are getting; all you’ve got to do now is get your model in between those lights and your lens and get your picture. It’s that easy… Well, almost. :-D

Odds are, the slight spillage from your rear flashes aren’t enough to light your main subject properly, so add a reflector at an angle to her to get as much of that back-light onto her. Depending on the intensity and distance of your effects lights, it might well be enough to light her, especially if you have a reflector aiming at her from above as well as from below. In my case, since the model was literally in the doorway, little of the back-lighting reached the area in front of her, so I used a third flash, using minimal power settings since I was close and did not want to make her pure white, and aimed at the reflector itself (to give it a bit of bounce and make the light source larger than the tiny hot-shoe flash, to soften the light for the model’s face).

The final image:

Back Flare Flash

Some artistic considerations:

Air blown into the model’s hair using either a wind machine or a hair-dryer set to cool can add a sense of movement to an otherwise still image, and can help bring a bit of life to your model’s looks.

Some lenses are “too good” for this type of effect shot. Lenses that are hyper-efficient at eliminating glare and flare will not make for an interesting image. With those lenses, you might end up with a cute model with one or two balls of white in the background instead of radiating light from the background.

Lenses that have curved aperture blades or shooting wide open will result in a more “glowy” type of look as opposed the a star-burst effect from straight aperture lens. For my image, I used Nikon’s older 50mm 1.8D, not the newer G that has rounded blades, and I closed down the aperture to F8 since I wanted to get the star effect.

One final thing to consider for the lens is that usually, the more blades in your aperture, the more star points you will get. Typically, an even number of blades will give you the same number of star points as blades, and an odd number of blades will give you two star points for every blade. The reasons for this are simple but not important for this tutorial.

The most important thing is to just try this and different things, play around with the setup and have fun!

Simon Terlecki is a portrait photographer that does both natural lighting, studio and combined lighting  photography. Please visit his website here: Simon Terlecki


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Back Flare Flash – A Tutorial by Simon Terlecki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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