Photograph Back-Lit Leaves!

By Hannah Jones

Because I don't have much fancy equipment, I'm always looking for creative ways to use what I have. One day I saw this simple, but brilliant idea that I could even use with my point and shoot camera.

When something is semi-transparent and lit from behind, you can see an amazing amount of detail. Leaves are an excellent candidate for this! Whether they're green or in full fall color, back-lighting them against white will showcase them beautifully. And who would have thought that we could use a window to get this effect? So let's see how we can do this quite easily.

Get your supplies ready

First of all, find a clean window that has empty sky behind it (ie. no trees or other obstacles). The lighting that works best is soft and indirect. You don't want the sun shining directly onto the back of your leaf. Also, finding a steady surface or tripod to place the camera on is very helpful. The only other thing you need is clear tape.

So, let's try it out!

Set up your camera to face out the window. Then get a little piece of tape and tape the leaf by the stem to the window. Turn your camera to Aperture Priority mode and set the auto exposure override to +2. An aperture of f/8 is good if you can face the camera perfectly perpendicular to the leaf. If you can't because of the background, just increase your aperture until the whole leaf is in focus.

Now that everything is set up, take a test shot. Check your picture . . . is the background pure white without the leaf being washed out? Raise or lower the auto exposure override until you get the right mix. The darker blue the sky is, the higher you'll need to set it.

Optional: Edit out any imperfections

After uploading to editing software, check that the white point is far enough to the right. You'll probably have a couple little spots from the window or tape, or bits of background that couldn't be cropped out. I've found the clone tool works the best at removing those. Just pick a white area and clone it over the blemishes. If around the edges you have light “bleeding” through, you can use the Lightroom's brush (with "Auto Mask" turned on) to decrease the exposure in those areas.

Lets review

  1. Tape your leaf to a clean window that has plain sky as a background.
  2. Set up your camera on a tripod, turn it to Aperture Priority and overexpose at least 2 stops.
  3. Take a picture, then critique it. Is everything in focus? Is the background white? Is the leaf properly exposed?
  4. Edit so the background is pure white and has no spots.

Bonus: Get creative with flowers!

Do everything the same as with leaves. However, because the center and often the petals are so thick, light doesn't reach the front of the flower. To fix this, hold up a plain white piece of paper about a foot from the flower. The paper will reflect back just enough light to illuminate the front.


What good is it to read about how to do something as amazing as this and then never actually try it out? Move this new-found knowledge from your head to actual experience in 3 simple steps:

  1. Set your camera up and photograph a natural subject exactly has Hannah described in this article
  2. Did it turn out as expected? If not, tweak your settings as needed and try, try, try again until you get it right!
  3. Download it to your computer, make edits as needed, and share it with the Lenspiration community at

You haven't actually "learned" something until you've actually "done" it!

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