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Backlight Situations

There are lots of different lighting situations to be aware of when you're outdoors, and backlight can be (in my opinion!) one of the most challenging. Backlight is when the light (the sun) is shining brightly behind the subject. The camera will think that there is plenty of light, and the subject will be underexposed, as illustrated by this first photo.

There are several different ways to effectively handle backlight. The one illustrated by this photo is pretty simple. First, you'll need to set your camera's exposure mode to manual, and choose your aperture. Next, look at your camera's light meter, and notice where the exposure indicator is. For a properly exposed photo (according to the camera) the indicator should be somewhere very close to the center of the meter.

Now you will need to get very close to the subject and zoom in on his or her face. Adjust the shutter speed so that the light meter indicates a properly exposed photo.

Finally, you can back up to your original position, and recompose your photo. The light meter will now be indicating that your photo will not be properly exposed, but ignore it, and take the picture. Since you "metered" for the subject's face, that is what will have proper exposure. The background will appear very bright, but the subject will be properly exposed.

There is another way to compensate for backlight conditions - use an external light source like a flash. This photo was taken with the small built-in flash on my camera. The advantage to using the flash is that both the background and the subject are properly exposed. Using the flash on most cameras is fairly simple - just pop up the flash and take the picture. Some cameras may require you to turn the flash mode to "flash on," so check your user's manual.

Another way to compensate for backlight is to combine these 2 methods. Try adjusting the exposure (aperture, ISO, and shutter speed) so that the subject will be only a little underexposed. Then, use your flash at only 1/2 or 1/4 power output to fill in the shadow areas. That way, you get to see most of the background properly exposed, and your subject will also be properly exposed, but without the harshness of a full power flash.


Michelle said...

This is a really good explanation! I can't wait to practice! Bring on the backlight :)

Your Photo Tips said...

I'm all about using flash outdoors. It'll really make your images pop, even out shadows, you'll learn to use the settings, and you'll get better images.

Damien Franco

Susy said...

Wow, I really liked this tip! Can't wait to try it! Thanks!

Jeannine said...

Great advice. Thank you.