08 Feb Backlighting or Silhouette Lighting is seldom used but effective in Landscape Lighting Designs
By Mike Gambino
This article about Backlighting, also known as silhouetting, for some may come as an acquired “taste” or in the world of outdoor lighting an acquired effect. On the other hand, after reading it, keeping an open mind about it and putting it into practice, you might find I have converted you to a full appreciation of backlighting as perhaps the most beautiful lighting possible for many subjects. I personally look for opportunities to use it, although admittedly it does have its limitations.
Some designers have an unwritten rule that everything must have “proper” and appropriate front lighting– in other words, directly shining on your subject. Well, it’s not a solid and steadfast rule not meant to sometimes be broken. It may be true when you are let’s say lighting a sign or a building where you want the detail to be clear, well defined and well lit. If you backlight a subject like that you might be disappointed. But that self imposed rule is one of those “safe” rules which almost invariably prevents one from taking advantage of different lighting conditions which can cause one to miss some extraordinary effects.
Back lighting is where the source of light is located behind the subject which means your subject has its back to the light source. It’s important that the light source isn’t visible or your viewers would be facing right into it and that would not be a good thing. This effect tends to give a bright rim or border to your subject. It’s great for subtlety when lighting certain statues, dense plants, bold shaped plants like palm leaves and yucca and many, many other subjects. Back lighting can make a quite ordinary looking scene take on new life and beauty.
In order for back lighting to work, you have to compensate for the brighter parts of the property so that they do not appear to be washed out. This can result in rather dark shadow areas. Sometimes this doesn’t matter and looks fine. Other times you may want to preserve some detail in the shadows (a face on a statue for example where you want the bright light on the hair and edges but still want to see the statues face). Fill in or reflected indirect light come in handy here, but you mustn’t overdo it if you want to preserve the magic of backlighting. By the very nature of backlighting, much of the subject is going to be a bit darker than if it were front lit. Nothing looks more artificial than a backlit subject with fill in lighting. It looks unnatural because the viewer knows the light is coming from behind and it just doesn’t make sense for the area that is in shadow to be brightly lit.
Don’t avoid backlit subjects. Seek them out. Light penetrating through the undersides of leaves or flowers give the subject’s appearance much drama and accent. Lighting up your landscape from the far side can be quite striking if it is not overdone and glare is manageable. These lighting situations should not be avoided.
This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 29 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.Gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .
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