8.25.2014

Into the light

"Take photos with the sun behind you".  I don't remember when I came across this advice but it was something that I held onto for a long time. Referred to as front light, this technique can help to  ensure your photos are evenly lit, making it easier to produce consistently well exposed images.  But there is a downside: it can result in flat, uninspiring images (aka it can be boring). Shooting with the light source behind the subject (back light) is challenging but rewarding.  Here is a summary of front, side and back light.

My first step in embracing the sun was getting better at manual mode (and also trying spot metering).  If you shoot auto in a backlight situation, the camera sets the exposure for the entire scene. This means that your subject will often end up too dark with the brighter background properly exposed. Take a look at these examples (side note: Maelle's doll is becoming a much easier model): the first photo was shot in auto and the second in manual. For the second photo I spot metered off the doll's face and added an additional stop of light because it was too dark.

By forcing myself to shoot in a wider variety of lighting situations, I have pushed myself to be more creative. Which isn't as easy as it sounds. I often ask whether the result is interesting or if it just plain wrong! Take lens flare, for example. Lens flare is caused by excessive light reflecting inside your camera, resulting in light streaks/shapes or haze. When used creatively, it can add interest but when used incorrectly, it can be distracting.

In the first photo, the sun in the bottom corner is blown out, with Maelle looking in the opposite direction. Since your eye is naturally drawn to the brightest part of the image, it can be distracting when it competes with the subject. This might have been a better photo if I shifted my angle so that the sun was behind Maelle's hat. I think the second photo is an improvement with Maelle looking in the same direction as the sun, almost as if she is searching for the source of the light. That said, the photo might have been stronger if it was taken close to sunrise/sunset when the sun's rays are less intense.



Aperture choice (the size of the opening through which light travels) can effect how bright light appears in your photo. Smaller openings (high f-stops like f/22) will create a starburst lens flare, which is often pleasing to the eye.



Larger apertures (lower f-stops like f/1.8) will result in the light source having a circular/hexagonal shape. In the first photo below, I think the multitude of lens flare spots takes away from the image, while it adds a magical, ethereal effect in the second image.





Lens flare can often manifest itself as haze, reducing contrast and saturation. Generally you want more contrast, but again it can work to your creative advantage. In the photo of my brother-in-law and future sister-in-law, the first picture is unedited and has a little too much haze for my liking.  I made some adjustments to the second image in Lightroom (my editing software) to keep the dreamy, romantic feel while toning down the haze.



Shooting in back light can also result in rim light (when light shines on the subject from behind and creates a bright outline around the head/shoulders). It can add depth, dimension and interest to the subject. To make the rim light pop, make sure the subject is set against a mid-to-dark background.