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Generations Photography | How and Why to Use Rim Lighting | Beyond the Wanderlust Guest Post

How &  Why I Use Rim Lighting

Jenna Reich | Generations Photography

Tucson, Arizona

One thing I absolutely love about photography is that there are countless ways to photograph  your subject. By using various perspectives, exposures, backlighting, side-lighting, natural light, artificial light, lens variety, etc., you can drastically change the outcome of your shot. There are so many choices, and some techniques may really speak to you!

As I was developing my style and beginning to understand which images spoke to me the most, I found that dramatic lighting was definitely one key element in getting the results I was after. One of my favorite ways to capture my subjects with a bit of drama is by using rim lighting. If you’ve never tried this technique before, I hope this post will inspire you to go out and try it. Not tomorrow, but today!

I probably can’t tell you all of the reasons I use rim lighting in one blog post, however I can share a few examples of why I choose to. (which is often… I’m kind of an addict)

It makes your subject stand out. Consider it as painting with light. It’s a way of giving your subject depth.  As a child, do you remember outlining the drawings in your coloring book before filling them in? Or, was that just me? If you did, why do you think that appealed to us? Did it enhance our coloring pages? It was important stuff – Strawberry Shortcake coloring pages needed to be pristine and perfect!

It can evoke certain emotions & moods. I LOVE using rim lighting in my kids bedroom. I like how it creates a quiet, intimate tone to the  image.

 I want the content behind my subject (which may otherwise be blown) to be part of the story. For example, on a trip to the zoo, a tiger came right up to the glass, just inches away from my daughter. I really wanted to capture the size of that enormous tiger compared to my then 2 year-old. But, if I had exposed the image so that she was properly lit, the tiger and the rest of the exhibit would have been completely blown. By metering off the tiger (who was in an outdoor exhibit), my daughter became slightly silhouetted with a touch of light defining her shape against the glass making it a much more dynamic image. And more importantly, by including the content in the background, the image told a story.

On the flip side, sometimes I use it to eliminate the background entirely- when the backdrop would otherwise be distracting or unappealing. But also, I use it creatively to allow the negative space to isolate my subject.

A little tip:

In order for the background to be blackened, the light source should illuminate your subject mainly. If there is a wall behind your subject, bringing your subject away from the wall will help keep the background darker than the subject.

This image was taken at night with the headlights from our car. I spot-metered off the brightest part of her face so I didn’t blow any highlights. By doing so, it created this lovely negative space around her and the rim lighting emphasizes the shape of her profile while adding depth to the overall image and separating her from the black background.

– Framing your subject. I love using framing in my compositions. One way I do this is by using backlight from a doorway or window. By placing your subject within the door/window frame, it guides viewers to your subject (think, leading lines).

So how do you create this effect?

Rim lighting is achieved by placing your light source behind your subject. Most often, you’ll see rim lighting hit your subject when the light is coming at them from an angle.  To get started with my camera settings, I usually spot meter off the brightest spot on my subjects face so that I’m properly exposing for highlights, not the shadows.

So, tell us… what is your favorite reason for using rim lighting? And if you’ve never tried, tell us in the comments what from this article you are excited to put into practice!?

Answer this question in the comments and we will select our favorite to win your choice of any Beyond the Wanderlust Action or Preset Package!!

Find Jenna on the WEB and on Facebook!


  • I need to practice more with rim lighting, I don’t feel like my images come out as dramatic as those exampled and that’s what I want! Definitely going to have to practice with it more because that’s what I love about it, the drama!

  • Kristina Gilbert

    Beautiful photography!! I like to use rim lighting to set a mood or just have a creative expression to everyday things.

  • Jackie Tyghem

    awesome Jenna! I have (believe it or not) never heard of this before! Going to try some rim lighting tests tomorrow! Tomorrow instead of today because its 10:30 at night LOL. xoxo love your work!

  • Jenna, so happy to see you here….these are great examples. I love your use of light so much!! Dramatic light has become one of my favorites to play with.

  • Justine Boulin

    thanks jenna! I love using rim lighting.. although I didn’t know it was called that until before this article – haha! I just love how it emphasizes your subject and directs your eye right to it.

  • Sarah Friend Harrigan

    Ok I have unintentionally used rim light, mostly to create that drama. I love how it creates such visual interest & I’m definitely going to be trying out that headlight trick now!! 🙂

  • Anna Dickinson

    I’ve unintentionally used it too Sarah! I loooove the way they turn out though. I’m excited to try it more intentionally now! I would love to do something like the headlights! Love.

  • Anna Dickinson

    I totally still color that way with my daughter by the way! 😉

  • I’ve just started using Rim Lighting after being inspired by a workshop I took with Val Spring(but I didn’t know what it was called until today, so thank you). It’s changed my life! That’s a but dramatic, but that’s absolutely how I feel. It adds so much depth to images. Also, for the first time, I have images I capture scream black and and white to me while rim lighting, where before it was more of an arbitrary decision in editing and never seemed genuine. These examples inspire me even more to continue. Thank you for this post!

  • Caro Lin

    great article! I love to frame, but didn’t use rim lighting much (yet). I’m really looking forward to doing so and I so want to try out shots with a lot of negative space like the one with the car headlights!

  • I just started using Rim Lighting after hearing about it in a workshop I just finished with Val Spring (but didn’t know what it was called until today, so thanks). It has changed my life! I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how I feel. It adds so much depth and interest to photos AND for the first time some of my photos using this technique just scream b&w to me. Before I felt like my decision to process in b&w was incredibly arbitrary and unauthentic, but I’m really starting to get it now. These examples of rim lighting are beautiful and so inspiring. Thank you.

  • Cathy Picking

    I love using rim lighting for images. this article was a great reminder and encouragement to seek creative sources for the rim light. Thanks for sharing.

  • Claire Bunn

    Jenna…what a great article! I love all of the images…ESP the water one.i haven’t played with rim lighting but it will be the next thing I focus on! Thank you.

  • Essential Life Photography

    I love rim lighting to add a quiet feel to an image and a little drama. I love this tutorial! Very helpful!

  • christine

    I am trying to use dramatic light more often to set a mood or to add visual interest, love this article your examples are gorgeous.

  • Jenna Reich

    Yes, you use rim lighting beautifully, @[1355509776:2048:Justine]! 🙂

  • Jenna Reich

    I want to see!!!

  • Jenna Reich

    You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by my page, Cathy!

  • Jenna Reich


  • Jenna Reich

    Thank you!

  • Thank you all for your kind words and comments. 🙂 xo

  • you work shows your love for the dramatic. great article Jenna! i adore the shot at the kitchen table with the rim light in his bed head. so great. i love your work so much!!

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