Backlit Subjects

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by Hillsong, Aug 30, 2010.

  1. Hillsong

    Hillsong TPF Noob!

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    Alright. So a bit of a technical question. I'm learning that direct sunlight for just about any portrait is not ideal (producing harsh highlights/shadows, etc.) and i've learned that backlighting is a great way to have soft, even light across the subjects face. I've attempted a variety of shots using this, and its produced lighting that i like for the subjects face, however the background is a different story. I imagine that in order to allow more of the background to be visible, i need to increase the amount of light on the subjects face in order to do so. I'm going to acquire a Sb-600 in the next month so i know i will be able use that for fill flash, but for other techniques, what do i have? I'm on a very VERY tight budget (I'm sacrificing prized cymbals that i sadly cannot use in order to get necessities [ i.e. Gas, food] as well as the flash.). I know reflectors can be used to bounce back light onto the subject, but i typically shoot alone, with no one to help with holding the reflectors. On the matter of reflectors, I've heard that dashboard reflectors work well as the poor-man's reflectors. Any other suggestions? I attached one of my pics so ya'll can get an idea what I've shot using backlighting so far.

    Disclaimers:

    1) yes, i know comp isn't the best, and her lanyard is distracting, but this was a semi-impromptu shoot, and we didn't have a place to really set down her keys, etc.

    2) i know the subject seems a tad overexposed (not the background, but the subject herself). This stems from a personal preference on images. I take photos at exposures that i feel best represent the individual, which typically means that i shoot at a stop or two lighter than most would (or perhaps even more). Regardless of that, my question is more about the background and creating more depth to the image rather than a blown out background. (YES i have dropped the exposure in LR3 and no more detail can be pulled out from the background to be merged, etc.) I shoot in RAW which does allow for a little leeway in editing, but i would prefer to combat the problem in camera and shift reliance away from PP.


    I know this is alot to chew through and answer, but i appreciate the input. Any good (inexpensive) suggestions for reflectors, etc., will be GREATLY appreciated :)

    Thanks!

    -Hillsong

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    You are starting to think about light, which is good...so keep going with that.

    A truly 'back lit' subject won't have any light on the front of them...so you'd end up with a silhouette. That's not the case here, so there is obviously some light on her face (front side)...so consider where that light is coming from. Part (or most) of it is the open sky behind you...even though the sun is in front of you. Also, the sand & water are reflective surfaces that could be bouncing some light back onto her.
    So now that you know about all those light sources that give you nice soft light on her face, you could find a location or position that doesn't have such a bright background.

    And yes, of course, you can use something to purposefully reflect some light back onto your subject. Dashboard reflectors do work, and can be pretty cheap...but it could be anything really. For example, go to Staples, Home Depot or Wal-mart etc. and get a sheet of white foam core board or that plastic corrugated board (sometimes called gator board). Shouldn't cost you any more than $5.

    And if you don't have an assistant, then ask your model to bring a friend...or flag down a stranger who might be walking on the beach. I think that a lot of people would be willing to help out on a 'photo shoot'.
     
  3. pdq5oh

    pdq5oh TPF Noob!

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    When you get the flash experiment with it & learn how to use it's features. You'll be able to remove the slight shadows & add catch light to the subject's eyes. Well done, back-lit photos are among some of the most pleasing, IMO. Good luck & like Big Mike said, think about light. That's really all photography really is.
     
  4. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Oh ya, I forgot to mention the flash.

    Yes, using a flash is one way to light the front of your subject.
    Often, the goal of the photographer is to balance the flash exposure with the ambient (background) exposure. So in this case, you might want to have the background nicely exposed and then have your subject nicely exposed as well.

    To do this, you can 'meter' the background and get your exposure settings (shutter speed & aperture) for that. Then the flash, in i-TTL (auto) mode, can light up the subject to match the background. But there are some things to be aware of here.

    Firstly, when using flash, you are usually limited to your camera's max sync speed. It's usually something like 1/200. So you don't want to go any faster than that. (although you can go slower if the lighting calls for it) With that limitation, it will be up to the aperture to control the ambient light. If the sun is in the background, you will need a small aperture (high F number). The issue with that, is that the smaller the aperture, the more flash power you need....and at some point, you will reach the limits of your flash's working range.

    If you don't have a bright background, you might have to use a slower shutter speed, to help expose for the background. This is key because changing the shutter speed won't change the flash exposure, so you can use it change the ambient exposure while keeping the flash exposure the same.

    You can use FEC (flash exposure compensation) to adjust the flash exposure.
     
  5. Hillsong

    Hillsong TPF Noob!

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    Thanks so much for all the input! A few more quick questions:

    1) This is assuming I don't have my flash yet: If the Sand, Water, and ambient light in the atmosphere produce the soft light, how can i change the background on a similar location of the above image. This happens to be a south facing beach. When i tried turning her to get more character in the background, I ended getting strong highlights from where the sun was directly hitting her face. Is it just a matter of finding a really good spot that is blocked from direct light, where the background is also going to show up at a similar metering to my subject?

    2) If i do end up picking up some Gator Board or something similar to bounce back some light, are there any ground based angles that i might be able to prop the board at to catch light without looking unnatural in the case that i can't get someone to help with the shoot?

    3) When i do get the flash, would not directly mounted flash shots make the subject look flatter due to the light coming from the same direction as the capture? Would it be worthwhile to invest in an Off-Camera flash set up?
     
  6. Hillsong

    Hillsong TPF Noob!

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    Also, What would be the benefits of a SB-800 over a SB-600 for similar shots?
     
  7. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Sounds like a good plan to me.

    It is often acceptable to have the reflector below the model, especially when the light source is higher than the model. You could get creative and rig up something to hold the reflector. A simple light stand and some clips might work.

    I would say that it's always good to invest in off-camera lighting. However when using the flash for fill only, it shouldn't matter too much if it's on or off camera. But 'fill only' can be boring in a situation like this, while off camera light can add drama etc.
    It's got more power, which would be helpful when trying to compete with a bright background.
     
  8. Hillsong

    Hillsong TPF Noob!

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    Thanks so much for the in depth response! I really do appreciate it. Now it's time for me to stop theorizing and start practicing! :)
     
  9. sam_justice

    sam_justice TPF Noob!

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    If you're starting to think about flash photography I suggest getting these
    Order The OneLight Workshop DVD they're a set of DVDs, I know you said you're on a tight budget but shop around and you can get them WAY cheaper. They're incredible though, explains all about the basics of flash, inverse square law in laymans terms, equipment (inc a Nikon flash similar to the SB600) and then goes on shoot and explains how to start shooting flash. Fantastic addition
     
  10. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    The SB-800 can be used as a Commander flash, it can zoom to 105 mm, it has SU-4 mode, it has an external powerpack jack, it has a built-in PC port.

    The SB-600 is very basic and cannot do/has any of the above, except it can zoom to 85mm.
     
  11. Hillsong

    Hillsong TPF Noob!

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    is the increased power/utility worth spending the additional $150+ for it? I don't have any flashes atm, and i'm just wondering if I should save up for the sb-800 first, or get an sb-600 much sooner.

    -Hillsong
     
  12. Christie Photo

    Christie Photo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    True enough, but what will you use for a "main."

    This is always a problem for me when I hear about camera mounted fill. What usually happens is it becomes a camera mounted main, producing a less than satisfactory lighting scheme.

    Now for my disclaimer: I have never had an opportunity to make seaside portraits. I've seen some pretty spectacular ones. I suspect these are made either just as the sun sets, or when the sun is low in an overcast sky. But living here in Illinois, I just don't get the opportunity to do this sort of work. Nor do I ever worry about shark attacks.

    But I think the main light has to be really large... like open sky. You are right about direct sun not being the answer. But yet, a very large, soft directional light source is needed for the main.

    I better let someone from the coast take it from here.

    -Pete

    Does Brooks offer any seminars for this?
     

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