13 pullbacks that show how pro photographers light their images

Have you ever looked at an image and been amazed at the light, left to wonder how they did it?

Sometimes it’s about turning your subject the right way and sometimes it’s about creating the light yourself. For a little insight, we asked the Click Pros to share how they light their subjects so beautifully.

Not only did they tell us how they do it but they shared some amazing pullback photos, too!

Have you ever looked at an image and been amazed at the light, left to wonder how they did it? Sometimes it's about turning your subject the right way...

1. Carrie Howland

I’ve shot in this orchard many times and it offers glorious backlighting as the sun sets in the distance. However, on this occasion we had nothing but clouds and the peach trees were very full and didn’t allow what little light we had to filter through. I was so thankful that I had my Polaroid Brightsaber with me. My assistant stood in the trees and held the Brightsaber up at a 45 degree angle simulating soft (imaginary) window light. A little careful cloning was all it took to create a stunning image.

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2. Kendra Swalls

This was taken inside my studio around 12:30pm with west facing windows behind the subject and a south facing window to the right of the subject.

When shooting backlit, I always meter for the subject so that they will be properly exposed while the background is blown out. This gives the image a very bright and ethereal effect. You could also use a reflector to add extra light onto the subject’s face, however, in this case I had plenty of light from the south facing window on the subject’s right so a reflector was not necessary.

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3. Annick Paradis

This was my first attempt to do a semi-silhouette picture. I waited to have a dark room with a low sun outside. It was winter in Australia and was taken around 3pm. With the low light later in the day, the contrast was not too dramatic between outside and inside and it assured me that my picture would not turn into a silhouette. I was looking for a rim of light around my daughter and for light fall through the dollhouse.

Then, instead of metering for my daughter to be properly exposed, I metered for the highlights. Tadam! I got my first semi-silhouette picture!

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4. Kaela Elliott

When photographing still life, you can just use window light. Position your subject near the window. Move your subject around and try different angles to get the light falling on your subject in the way you want. Try moving it around and playing with how the light falls on it and where the shadows are.

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5. Anita Perminova

Shooting into the light creates some challenges. When shooting portraits, I meter off of the skin of my subject. I make sure that the hairs are not blown out by checking “blinkies” (the overexposed areas) on the back of my camera. I tend to shoot with my camera lens wide opened in order to ensure that the highlights in the background are less noticeable.

As well, I have to say that it’s quite challenging to lock your focus when backlighting, as the camera is finding it difficult to find anything to focus on. Generally, I am blocking the sun with my hand, pick up a focal point, remove my hand and shoot right away trying to keep a fixed distance to my subject (this can be really handy when shooting moving subjects).

In terms of editing, I am trying to get “correctly” exposed images in camera as much as possible, the most important thing is to have your lens flares or sun rays in the shot. The exposure can be adjusted in the post processing. To create a vivid contrast I simply increase the highlights and intensify the shadows. Then I play around with color and do a bit of dodging and burning. These steps help to create portraits with a captivating atmosphere.

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6. Kristin Dokoza

Playing with dappled light and long shadows can truly create a magical scene. I was drawn immediately to the light streaming in from behind this grove of trees. That tree stump was begging to be used as a prop. Having her sit to the side and capturing pretty rim light. Getting myself down to a low perspective and letting those long shadows draw the viewer in. I had to move myself around and used the tree behind her to help as a contrast point and grab focus on her profile.

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7.  Maggie Fuller

At the end of soccer practice when you know you need to head home for school the next day but the field is emptying and the golden sun is about to disappear behind the low trees… you pull out your camera and create something with the sunshine. When I shoot with disappearing backlight like this I will focus on the subject using back button focus and then keep that focus while I take a few shots or until the subject moves closer or further away from me. In these images I was using my wide angle lens (shot at 14mm) as I like the dramatic difference between the sky and the grass. Because the direct light is almost gone you can also use it as side light or even direct light for different feels. And then it disappears so fast signaling time to go home!

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8. Bri Lehn

My favorite indoor lighting trick is to create depth and dimension through shadows. I usually close all the curtains in the room, and then open a single curtain just enough that the light is barely glancing off the front of my subjects. In the pullback below, you can see the light from the window is just lighting the front of the subject’s face, but the sides and back of his head are fading into shadow.

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9. Krista Campbell

I LOVE to capture indoor sunflare. I have one bedroom at my home that gets sunlight from the west. I wait until the sun is lower in the sky (about an hour before sunset). I wait until the sun falls to the middle of the window and then I place my subject on the bed. I make sure that the sun is blocked a little… either by the window frame or my subject’s head.

My favorite lenses to use to capture indoor sunflare is a 24mm tilt-shift and an inexpensive Helios 44-2. Getting down low and tilting the lens as I shoot helps to get that magical flare. Don’t be afraid to experiment! It also helps if you use your camera in live view mode so that you can see the flare on the back of the camera. I meter off of my subject’s face and underexpose the image slightly to make the sunflare and light more pronounced in my image.

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10. Michelle Turner

If you want to preserve the sky or if you simply need to add better (or more) light to your subject, you can throw some light on them! If you have a lot of natural light coming from behind the subject, then a reflector will help you light up your subject. I like to use a metallic reflector (I use a sunsilver reflector) to mimic the look of a pocket of hard sunlight while I use a white reflector to give my subjects a more subtle kiss of light.

If you don’t have a lot of light coming from behind your subject (if a reflector won’t throw as much light as you want), then simply using a bit of off camera flash can help you create the image that you want! Expose for the background and then add a bit of off camera flash (passed through a modifier if you’d like softer light) to lift the shadows on your subject’s face.

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11. Megan Cieloha

Don’t forget to move around your subject when looking for light! Simply by changing your perspective you can use a single subject positioning, and a single light source, to create several very different looking images within a few moments time.

learn how to use light indoors with megan cieloha
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12. Jennifer Nobriga

When shooting littles, it’s not always feasible to use a reflector to cast light on their sweet faces. grab a white, or a light, neutral colored object (like the stuffed bunny you see here) and get them to hold and/or play with it. Bam… instant reflector.

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13. Meg Loeks

A great way to highlight a subject’s profile is by having your subject face the light source. In this image the subjects are facing one single light source, an east facing window. The light softly falls on the front of their faces and then dramatically drops off because there is no other light source in the room. Placing them close to the light source also allows for higher contrast, thus enhancing depth and texture.

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About the Author:

From the parent company Click & Company, Clickin Moms has revolutionized the photography industry as the first and largest organization to embrace and serve female photographers of all levels, from hobbyists to professionals.


  1. Alex Jan 02 2017 at 8:04 am - Reply

    Wow, what a collection of great tips, and amazing photos as well. I think I agree the most with Megan – moving around your subject can sometimes really make a difference. Just changing a point of view helps you take a completely different photo.

    Well done, Bri, with that photo of 2 little ones, my fave in this article!

  2. Sara Masters-Blacksten Jan 04 2017 at 10:01 am - Reply

    I love seeing pullbacks on other photographers work!

  3. paul hepworth Jan 05 2017 at 3:27 am - Reply

    thanks for sharing

  4. Saima Feb 16 2017 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Very educational and love seeing the original shot and then the pull back shots. It is amazing how moving the subject and making sure that adequate amount of light changes the outlook of an image. Thank you for these great tips, I see some tips where I am going to try for myself.

  5. Shaan Aug 18 2017 at 5:58 am - Reply

    What a great way to see how these shots were made.

    Very helpful, thank you!

  6. Tristan B. Sep 20 2017 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Really helpful, great post!

  7. ellie | from scratch, mostly Oct 19 2017 at 2:09 am - Reply

    This is truly one of the coolest website/blogs I’ve ever been to! So fun and filled with incredible info <33 Love these photos~Especially of the brother and sister up on each other's face 😉

  8. Eric Nov 08 2017 at 6:48 am - Reply

    Thank you for this article. I love to see the behind the scene but I don’t think I can manage this myself!

  9. Mandy Pelton Nov 20 2017 at 2:11 am - Reply

    Wow. This was so helpful!!!

  10. Mariko Feb 09 2018 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much! I learn so much from seeing pull backs. Especially of the indoor shots without studio light since those are my biggest weakness.

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