Backlighting (lighting design)

Backlighting (lighting design)

In the context of lighting design, backlighting refers to the process of illuminating the subject from the back. In other words, the lighting instrument and the viewer are facing towards each other, with the subject in between. This causes the edges of the subject to , while the other areas remain darker. The back light is usually placed directly behind the subject in a 4-point lighting setup.

A back light, which lights foreground elements from the rear, is not to be confused with a background light, which lights background elements (such as scenery).

The back light is sometimes called hair or shoulder light, because when lighting an actor or an actress, backlighting will cause the edges of his or her hair to glow if he or she has fuzzy hair. This gives an angelic halo type affect around the head. This is often used in order to show that the actor or actress so lit is "good" or "pure". In television this effect is often used in soap operas and has become something of a cliché of the genre. It is also sometimes called the kicker.

Backlighting helps to provide separation between the subject and its background. In the theatre it is often used to give a more three-dimensional appearance to actors or set elements, when front lighting alone would give a two-dimensional look. In "chiaroscuro" effects in painting, such as the candlelit paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby ("illustration, left"), backlighting helps separate subjects in the foreground and emphasizes depth.

In photography, a back light (usually the sun) that is about sixteen times more intense than the key light will produce a silhouette.

The vertical angle of the back light can change the effect. A low angle could cause the light to hit the camera lens, causing a lens flare. A high angle could cause the nose of the subject to extend out from the mostly-vertical shadow of the head, producing a potentially unwanted highlight in the middle of the face.

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