The light shines in from behind the subject and creates a magical halo. Sun flares slant down across the lens. What could have been a plain scene is turned into something warm and inviting. Setting up a backlit scene takes a little bit of forethought, but is relatively easy if you keep these basic points in mind.
We were taught as young photographers to always have the sun to our backs so our subject will be “properly” lit. This can create boring, flat scenes with no flare. Challenge yourself to understand photography rules and then to break them. Understanding photo basics will give you boundaries that you can then go beyond. Generally, if you just point your camera at a subject or scene with the sun behind it, your subject will be cast in shadow and too dark to see. This happens because your camera’s light meter is reading the light behind the subject and shutting your aperture down to let less light in, or reducing your shutter speed to do the same.
If your camera has a manual setting, you will find this technique easier. The light will be more interesting if you either schedule your shoot early in the day or later in the afternoon. Any time the light is slanting is a good time to try this. It is always a good idea to use a tripod for the sharpest shots, but as there will be plenty of light to work with; it isn’t absolutely necessary, just recommended.
Place your subject (human or otherwise) with the sun behind it. Set your aperture at the preferred setting. If you like a lot of blur, use the lowest; if you want a sharper (front to back) image use a higher aperture setting. Point your camera at your subject. If you have a digital camera you can take a shot with the recommended settings and see if you like it. More than likely the subject will be too dark. Leave your aperture setting the same, and reduce your shutter speed to allow more light to hit your sensor.
If you are using a film camera, you will need to meter close to your subject instead of metering your whole scene. The result is a more “blown out” or over-exposed background, but that is trade-off of back lighting a scene. Try to keep the sun partially in or just on the edge of the frame so the sun flares slant across the lens of your camera. This creates a delicate light trail across the upper part of your image. Try different settings and camera positions to see what you come up with. It can be a fun and refreshing new photographic adventure. Enjoy!