While exploring the southern edge of the San Rafael Mountains along the flanks of Figueroa Mountain in the Los Padres National Forest, I took the road leading back to one of the trailheads for the San Rafael Wilderness. Driving slowly, looking for photographic opportunities, I rounded a sharp bend and was presented with a small cluster of tall trees being strongly back-lit by the early morning sun. The orientation of the canyon was such that the slope behind the trees was in deep shadow, causing the back-lit trees to burst forth visually from their surroundings. The effect was so intense, it almost looked like the trees were on fire as their leaves danced in the light morning breeze, shimmering and flashing as they moved.
It is common dogma for beginning photographers not to shoot into the sun, but as with most dogmatic statements, there is much latitude for breaking the rules. When done thoughtfully, and under the right conditions, back-lit images can be incredibly beautiful and extremely engaging. Light from the back on semi-translucent objects, like leaves, presents colors and details that would be lost if the light was coming from the front. While front lighting during the right time of day can produce warm glowing colors, it can't produce the same sort of glow that occurs when light is coming from behind the subject.
Care must be taken when shooting a back-lit subject, as capturing the sun, or other light source in the field of view (or shooting at too small of angle between the subject and the light source) can result in silhouettes, rather than glowing subjects with interesting details. It's really all about the angles.
I make no claims about being an expert on back-lit subjects, rather, like most photographers, it is something that I play with when the opportunity presents itself. I've certainly taken many photos of back-lit subjects that weren't worth keeping.
But like most photographic skills, playing with different techniques and approaches is the best way to hone your skills and make better photos along the way.
This photo was taken with a Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L lens zoomed to 150mm and mounted on a Canon EOS 5D Mk III. The exposure was set to 1/750 sec at f/8.0 and ISO 800.