Photography - Knowledge

How to Use Rim Lighting: Add Depth and Dimension to Your Images

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Photography is the new growing hobby of the youth. Everyone seems to have a high-quality camera with them when they decide to go out or travel to someplace. Well, to be precise Wildlife Photography has been everyone’s favorite. More and more people are trying to connect with nature by using wildlife photography. You must be wondering that, with so many people trying their hand in Photography how can you make your photos stand out from the rest? You just need to relax and continue reading.

Advanced lighting techniques
Advanced Lighting Techniques (source)

The foremost element that determines the success of a photograph is the light. Have you heard about rim lighting?

I know you have, but let’s discuss a bit more about it. Keep reading!

What is Rim Lighting?

Rim lighting photography
Rim Lighting Photography

There isn’t any hardcore definition of rim lighting. But if one has to define it, it would mean that the intensity of light around the edges of the subject in a photo is more compared to the other areas.

Rim lighting adds drama to your photographs. How many times have you seen a simple photo expressing its message in the most subtle way? Well, that is because of rim lighting. Rim lighting adds drama and emotion to any photo or picture. It becomes easier to convey a message through a photo if rim lighting is used in it because it becomes the center of attraction.

Rim lighting photograph
Rim lighting Adds Drama to Photographs

How do you achieve rim lighting?

One of the most crucial things to keep in mind while you are trying your hand in wildlife Photography is the rim lighting setup. Now that we have been introduced to rim lighting, let’s look into few of the steps you need to follow in order to achieve it.

  • The first basic thing you need to do is that make sure that subject stands between your camera and the light source. Now, in wildlife photography, the source of light will most often be Sun.
  • Some subjects like Giraffes, Bears, Lions or Deer either have a lot of furs or their coat is not too smooth. These kinds of subjects are ideal for rim lighting.
Rim lighting diagram
Check Out This Rim Lighting Diagram

The above rim lighting diagram explains the rim lighting setup for a perfect shot at the subject.

And while you are trying the rim lighting effect, let's also learn a thing or two about Tilt-shift techniques as well.

Guidelines to Follow

There are a few guidelines and rim lighting techniques that you must follow in order to achieve the best results.

  • Always try to look for a subject when the sun is low in the sky. Rim lighting effect works best at that time.
  • A dark background is mandatory to yield better results, so you must find an appropriate place to get the best results.
An image of a rim light portrait.
An image of a rim light portrait


One of the most important rim lighting techniques is the exposure factor. Measuring the brightness of the scene you are trying to capture essentially determines exposure. Exposure is measured using light meters. There are two types of light meters, one is the incident light meter, which measures the light falling on the subject or scene. The other one is the reflected light meter which measures the light reflected off the scene or your subject.

exposure in photographs
Brightness of the Scene Determines Exposure

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is one of the easiest ways to perfect your rim-lit shots. Initially, try to take a test shot with a little bit of under-exposure once you see a rim-lit object. Well, it is obviously your choice if you want to underexpose. But you must know that the more you underexpose the darker the surroundings will get.

So, it is better to try the second method, i.e. Exposure Lock.

Exposure Lock (AE-L)

In order to understand rim lighting and rim lighting photography, this concept is slightly more advanced. So, let’s discuss a few things in regards to exposure lock.

The first and foremost thing that you should do is point your camera towards the sky. To activate metering on your camera, half press the shutter-release button.

Press the exposure lock button (AE-L or * button), which would reside where your right thumb would rest.

Then, you should recompose your image with your subject as you prefer and click it.

Exposure lock
Click the AE-L Button to Lock Exposure

When you’re pointing towards the sky and asking it to meter from there, it takes a reading from the sky and sets up a shutter-aperture combination. And after pressing the exposure lock button these settings will not change for the next set of clicks.

Spot metering on a bright spot

Spot metering on a bright spot
Do Spot Metering for Accurate Readings from Small Areas

Spot metering is one of the metering modes that measure the light from a small part of the scene. It is a very accurate metering mode and provides precise readings from small areas of your scene. You must aim the center of your camera towards the brightest area in your frame. Once you are done aiming at the brightest area, take an exposure reading. After that follow these steps.

  • If your metered point is mid-tone, then set the exposure at “0”.
  • If you’re reading something bright, then set the exposure to “+1”.
  • If you’re reading something very bright then set your exposure closer to “+2” but not all the way to +2.
Spot metering
Can Spot the Difference in Brightness?

When you are following these steps, you are making sure that the bright parts of the picture are accurately set.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

Till now we have learned what rim lighting is and how you can use it to give a special touch to your wildlife photos. Now, let us look into some details about how we can use Photoshop in order to make it immaculate. So, let’s discuss the usage of Photoshop in rim lighting photography.

  • Layer Style

The key to adding the rim light effect in Photoshop is Layer Style. So, now let’s look into the layer style. When you open Photoshop, go over to the layer’s panel, scroll down to the bottom and you will see a group of icons. Click on that, and a dialog box will appear with different preset style options. Below is the list of settings that you need to alter leaving the rest untouched.

  • Choke
  • Size
  • Opacity

You must not forget to experiment before you get the desired results.

More photoshop tips to make you a pro!

  • Using Color Dodge Blend Mode instead of Screen

It is your choice if you want to use the Dodge blend or Screen mode or any other modes, but it is preferred to use the Dodge Blend mode. The Screen mode will yield a brighter picture where the Color Dodge blend mode adds more contrast to it.

  • Creating a rim light from scratch using Photoshop

The rim lighting technique stands out from the rest of the lot when used in Photoshop.

Creating rim lighting using photoshop
Use Photoshop to Give Your Photos a Rim Lighting Touch (source)

Here we see an image of a girl and the background is a forest. After that, you can use a special tool, named Pen Tool (already available in Photoshop) and place it against a different background and try it out for your satisfaction. You might adjust the blending mode according to your choice of the background and the rim light settings. If you want the background to be a bit sunny then apply the layer mask and give it a yellow glow.

After you’re done selecting the background image and adding gradient overlay go to Filter>Blur>Average to blend the two images. Again, you must not stop experimenting with the backgrounds before you settle to give anyone a go.

Rim light Wildlife Photography

wildlife photography
One of the Best Use of Rim Lighting is Wildlife Photography

The most important part of rim lighting photography is gauging the intensity of light. Shooting into the sun, midday will never produce good results as the sun is very high and light harsh. In place of that, one can use the morning or the evening light. As the sun is much lower comparatively and the light is more appealing at those times of the day. Now, moving along we will see some tips to perfect rim light wildlife photography.

Also, check out the photography gears you need for perfect wildlife photography!

The Flare Problem

Well, rim lighting photography isn’t a simple task to perform. There are a lot of things you need to keep in mind when you are trying your hand at it. One of them is the flare problem. Shooting directly into the light always creates flame in the frame. In order to prevent the flames from appearing in your frame always use a lens hood. A plus point in this scenario would be if your subject can block the sun completely.

Homogeneous or Dark Backgrounds

How many times have you seen a picture getting ruined by the background? Well, you don’t have to count; it was actually a rhetorical question. The point I’m trying to convey is that selecting an appropriate background for your subject is an important thing to consider. Backgrounds that are dark, works the best to make the subject look more prominent.

Using Flash

It all depends on you, how much detailing you want? How dark you want the subject to look? In some particular cases when the subjects are not too far away, using a flash may be fruitful to provide some light around the dark and shady areas.

How to Create Rim Light Effect at Home

Creating rim lighting at home
You Can Ceate Rim Lighting Effect at Home Too

When you’re in your home, you are at your comfort zone and you can experiment with a lot of things. You can use a range of equipment as a source of light, starting from a lamp to the headlights of a car. A camera with a tripod, a glossy black tile and a bottle of water will help you in achieving the desired result. Your imagination must not know any boundaries.

Make Your Subject Stand Out With a Rim Lighting Effect

In order to make your subject stand out with a rim lighting effect all you need to do is follow these simple steps.

  • Keep in mind what we have discussed till now.
  • You need, three or four Alien 1600 strobes for light, One 20" x 30" softbox modifier, two 20∞grids for the rim lights, Vagabond II to power the lights and Pocket Wizard II units to trigger the strobes.
  • Setting up a perfect shot by choosing the best possible location keeping in mind the lighting effects.
  • And last but not the least, have patience and keep on experimenting.

Now, there’s an old saying that practice makes everything perfect and what better place to practice than home, right? Well, yes. The first baby steps towards excellence is practice, and practicing at home will give you lot of things to experiment on. You can experiment with some artificial source of light and then try rim lighting your subjects. You can always improvise and tell your friend to accompany you.

Let's Sum Up...

Rim lighting is used to create more impact on the photos that you click. Everything that we have discussed till now will help you immensely in achieving your desired result. And, whatever you do, make sure that you don’t stop experimenting because the longer you experiment the longer you try and learn different things.