Tech Talk – Shooting into the light

One of the most asked about images I take is the backlight ones, regardless of whether its still life or portraits. It can be one of the most difficult ones to master, I know it took me awhile, but follow a few simple tips and I am sure you will find things much easier than I did.

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They always tell you NEVER to shoot directly into the light, right? My answer is why? Some of the most beautiful images I have captured involved shooting directly into the light. However, it not as simple as pointing your camera at a window and shooting directly into the light.

Diffuse your light…

Having a window to use as a backdrop is great, especially if there is nothing especially distracting on the other side of the window. You will still need to diffuse the light coming in, even really week winter light is stronger than you think. Cheap sheer curtains or even sheets can help diffuse the light, you may have a scrim to diffuse the light already. Unless you want dappled patterned diffusion, stay away from lace. That thin foam used for packing furniture is great too, as long as you can see a subtle light when held up, it’s good to use.

Your light meter is not your friend…

Set your camera to spot metering, however, keep in mind this will not be your friend, but it will give you a base reading. Pick your mid shadows spot of your subject (ie shadow rose petals on the above image) and take a reading. Take a shot and it is probably well lit, except your subject will be very dark. This is because your camera if allowing for so much ambient light in the shot, not on the subject. Overexpose anywhere from 1 – 5 stops. If you have live view and can adjust your camera setting, try adjusting your light while watching the main subject come into play. My Sony a7ii mirrorless is a game changer for this.

Reflection is king…

Use something to reflect some of the window light back onto your subject, especially if it’s a portrait; a white reflector, white foam core, polystyrene, cardboard or my favourite is white perspex, to bounce a little light back, and opens a whole new world of possibilities.

Chromatic Aberration…

Now please do not ask me to explain the scientific and technical reason for this or even what it is. But when you shoot into the light and are too close you will see magenta and green lines on the edge of your subject, these are chromatic aberration. Try moving your subject further away from the light source, or try diffusing the light more. You can adjust for some of this in Lightroom and Photoshop, but not all. Also to really achieve that soft wrap around light & luminous look, try dropping the highlights a little in Lightroom, instead of blowing the whites out completely.

Don’t forget to experiment, a from 1 – 5 stops overexposed, you may like it not quite as strong as mine.

~ Julz