Creating the Glow

  • Ask Anything

I’m always blown away to hear from blog readers across the pond! That’s just so cool!! I received an email from Peter, a reader from England, and he was asking about lighting. So instead of typing all of this out in a long email, I thought it would be nice to just do a blog post!

So Peter from England asked: “I absolutely love your pictures from all the way over here in England but wanted to ask about your lighting techniques if I can? How do you get so much light flooding into the pictures really lighting up the lovely couple? Its an area I’m trying desperately to improve. Thanks!”

Great question! We receive a lot of comments about our lighting. We use all natural light (we use flash for our reception lighting only). This shocks some people because they can’t understand how the faces of our clients can be so well-lit while they are backlit or don’t have a fill flash. Well, I may be able to help break down this mystery just a little bit! :)

Here are a few things that contribute to having glowy images with light flooding in!


I’m sure there are other ways to achieve the “glow”, but these are the main things that I do on a regular basis that have helped me achieve my “look”! If you’re new to shooting primes and you have never shot below 3.2…. take it slow! Shooting wide open is a different ball game! Now, I don’t shoot at 1.2 because my lenses seem to be more tack sharp at 1.6 or 1.8. However, we have some friends that shoot at 1.2 all the time and their work is magical! So, it’s all personal preference! I will say that shooting at 1.2 is only for those that have mastered shooting REALLY wide open. You have to shoot slow, controlled and in great light so that it’s easy for your camera to find its’ focus! 2.2 is a great aperture that is “safe” to learn on.

So! I hope this was helpful for those that were wondering where the “glow” comes from! I realize there is much more to it than this. Each one of those steps that I mentioned take practice. These are just the basics but they are so very important! I think it’s important to note that some photographers think that the way I shoot is technically incorrect… and it may be. However, I happen to like the way my images look and so do 30+ couples a year who make a large investment to have us be a part of their big day.

Some photographers think that you can’t shoot with backlighting unless you have a flash and that’s not true. You just have to have open, available light in front of the subject and the backlighting can’t be too strong and overpowering. It takes some practice but it works! So!  To the man that stopped me during an engagement session this past weekend and told me to turn my couples around and shoot the opposite direction because the “light was better”…. I beg to differ. :) I think the light in these turned out JUST right!

** No reflectors used in these shots. I have nothing against reflectors, they’re a great tool! We just don’t use them very often. :) **

Canon 5D Mark III 50mm 1.6 1/640 ISO 320 (left image) | 50mm 1.8 1/250 ISO 320 (right image)

Canon 5D Mark III 50mm 2.5 1/500 ISO 320 

Canon 5D Mark III 35mm 1.6 1/640 ISO 320

Here are some other recent favorites with glowy light flooding in! Canon 5D Mark III 50mm 2.5 1/1000 ISO 125

Canon 5D Mark III 50mm 1.6 1/1250 ISO 160

Canon 5D Mark III 85mm 2.0 1/2500 ISO 160


 To view other Ask Anything posts, visit HERE!


xoxo, Katelyn
37 Comments Ask Anything, Education, Resources
  1. Emily reply

    yes! it’s all about that nice, directional light that makes an image that much more dynamic (or glowy! ha!) i think also many photographers make the mistake of leaving too much sun in the actual frame when they are shooting backlit… but if you just let a little peek in (the first set of images in this post is a perfect example), you get a nice glow rather than blowing out the couple with funky lens flare!! great post!!!

  2. Wynona reply

    i love it! I love prime lens and love how clear you explained. :)

  3. Kristina W. reply

    Haha, I love that someone off the street was trying to tell you how to take better photos! :) Your glowy images are awesome.

  4. Jaclie reply

    Haha, You tell em Katelyn! You’re pictures are always beautiful, I’ll definitely be practicing! :)

  5. Jessica Burdge reply

    Thank you! so helpful :)

  6. Tiffany McClure reply

    Katelyn! I was excited to read your tips and was surprised that I edit that same way in lightroom! However, I’m still working on getting that beeeautiful glow :)

    Also, I was backlighting a couple last month and we were standing in front of someones house on a sidewalk [there was a REALLY cute white picket fence!] and a man came out of the house and kinda stood and watched for a second, then said something similar to what your guy said, “Doesn’t that look a little dark in your camera? You need to have the sunlight on their faces” I quickly explained that I adjust the settings in camera so that I can backlight and that it looks beautiful!

    He goes back inside, 3 min later he comes back out with a reflector in his hand, “Here, you probably need this!” I said, “No thank you sir! I have that same on in my car but I appreciate your concern!” LOL I’d never had that happen before! Glad we can relate!

  7. Shawna Bielat reply

    you are so awesome for sharing your knowledge katelyn!! I’m a huge fan of backlighting as well and love all of your advice! I hope you gave that man yor business card so he can see that there is no one way of taking photos. And that your images totally rock!

  8. Amanda reply

    Are you using any reflectors in the above pictures?

  9. Elizabeth reply

    I love you. ;) I love how you just know, and how you share what you know, and how you stand your ground on what you know!! Ahh!!

  10. Tiffany Heidenthal reply

    Hehe “To the man that stopped me during an engagement session this past weekend and told me to turn my couples around and shoot the opposite direction because the “light was better”” that has happened to me too. It tends to be during family formals. I always smile and say “I’m just crazy that way!” and keep shooting.

  11. Carolyn reply

    When you say adjusting “Fill Light” in Lightroom, what are you adjusting? I’m using LR5

  12. Christin reply

    Thank you! Now off to practice!

  13. elaine reply

    While shooting with such a wide open aperture, do you ever have trouble keeping both subjects in focus?

  14. jane reply

    great post. I love the glow of afternoon sun. it creates stunning light and a magical feel.

  15. Oriana reply

    Great post! This is an area I am working on improving. Love the sample pics, and that they were all shot with the same 50MM!

  16. Jason and Amy reply

    Great post ! Thanks for sharing Katelyn! I would suggest however, that when shooting backlight images, it is usually best to put something dark in the background. It is much easier to see that beautiful glowy rim light on your subjects than when juxtaposed against a lot of blown sky.

  17. Erin reply

    I wanna know what you said to the man who tried to tell you to move your clients! I once asked a man to take a picture for me and he told us we needed different light and started changing my settings when I already had them right and in the light I wanted. He stuck us in direct sunlight so we were both squinting and looked all shiny.

  18. Christi reply

    I have always fought THE Natural light in the backlight but you make it look so gorgeous I think i might try it on my next shoot! :)

  19. brandy Pelphrey reply

    would you mind me asking how you adjust your white balance? Every shot or in Lightroom? And do you use spot metering? Thank you so much for the post! Love your work :)

  20. Admin reply

    @jason and Amy thanks for the comment! I’m not sure that those images would have the same feel with a heavy background:) I definitely shoot with more of a background at times, but not in the middle of a river or on the beaches in Florida:):) there’s definitely a time and place for perfectly exposed skies, just not in these cases:) in my opinion:)

  21. Teressa Rerras reply

    Beautiful! I love the natural glow.

  22. Heather reply

    You explained that perfectly, easy for everyone to understand! It always makes me laugh to hear about people who give you “tips”, they clearly have no idea who you are! haha :)

  23. Linda, Ottawa Wedding Photographer reply

    Thanks for the lighting tips. I do some of the things you do as well, but I never thought to play around in lightroom too. Thanks.

  24. Julia reply

    Hey, thanks so much for this article! I was wondering if you could explain a bit more about lightroom – how do you bump up fill light? Cheers!!!

  25. Katie reply

    I loved this post! I am wondering though if there is also a technique to shooting at such a low aperture where your subject is still in focus and tact sharp? This is where I struggle as I love and appreciate shooting with a wide open aperture, but my images are as crisp and clean as I’d like them, even with some of my prime lenses. Am I missing something? Thank you!!

  26. Reis reply

    Hey thank you so much for being consistent and delivering content. Natural light photos is something I struggle with so it is great to hear great tips. Thank you all the way from Hawaii. Cant wait to get to the beach and start shooting some all natural light portraits.

  27. Lori reply

    I will be taking your soft/glowing skin class on Nov 10 – however I was curious with your creating glow blog if you have before and after examples? Thank you and your work is wonderful!

  28. Amanda Puskar reply

    I love your work! I, too, shoot backlit images. However, when there is no clouds or anything to block some of the sun’s rays the haze will take over the images. How do you stop this from happening? I only use natural light. I hardly use a reflector. I shoot 95% of my outdoor sessions wide open on the beach 1 hr before sunset. Thanks so much!!!

  29. Tia reply

    Great post! My favorite time to photograph is in the morning as well, shortly after sunrise. Of course, the only difficult part there is trying to get the models to wake up early. lol.


  30. Carley reply

    I LOVE this post thank you so much for sharing some of your tried & true techniques. I also love that you post the camera settings for the images you share with us. I noted that your ISO for these strongly back-lit images is low in the 100s and 300s. Can you explain what effect that has on your images? Is that what allows your couples faces to not be so deep in shadow? I almost never move my ISO and I’m quickly learning that I SHOULD be. Will dropping it down really help??

  31. Eva Pollick reply

    These are beautiful images. So when I shoot wise and with these settings how should my adjust my focus mode. Single Servo or auto. And do you use any AE bracketing? I own a Nikon D5200 and three prime lenses. 35mm, 50mm and an 85mm allll at f/1.8

  32. Dori Fitzpatrick reply

    Sooooo in love with your work! Question – where do you put your focus? On their faces?

  33. Genevieve reply

    When you say “Bump up fill light” does that mean increasing the exposure? I tried to find a fill light slider but no bueno.

  34. Jeff & Michele reply

    Beautiful photos and advice! We just recently stumbled on your blog, and goodness, it’s so pleasant! We’ll be frequenting here now :)

  35. Kate reply

    thx for ur text. its very interesting! But can u also tell me, how can i get such pastel and bright colours.. ur pics are very nice!! thank u very much if u can to explain it! :)

  36. Meghan reply

    Hello! I’ve just started getting into photography and I’m not sure how to edit my pictures. Your pictures are gorgeous, do you use a computer software program? This blog was amazing at explaining to me what I can do for lighting bc I adore pictures that highlight it. Thanks!

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