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Photo Assignment: Backlit Portraits is an interactive video course in which participating photographers can view and discuss each other's work. Professional photographer Derrick Story shows how to make onsite adjustments in a portrait shoot where backlighting is predominant. He teaches how to work with reflectors to bounce light into the areas that need it, and he explains how to use spot metering to control the exposure for the subject's face. At the end of the course, Derrick describes how to upload photos to Flickr for review and comment.
Backlit Portrait Photo Assignment Flickr Discussion Group
Well, here we are and we are looking at our shoot from the other day and this is a lot of fun. I love this part, where you get to really look at your shots and kind of figure out what you did and how it turned out. So, we did four different techniques. We just shot with the regular camera right here. Exposure was set to Program. Metering was set to Evaluative. We didn't do anything fancy and the camera did a pretty good job. It's amazing how well these cameras render pictures these days.
In the old days using filaments and so forth, I guarantee that my camera would not have done as well as this Canon 5D Mark II did on this shoot right here. But there is room for improvement. So that's why we also tried Spot-Metering mode. So, this next set of shots right here, we used Spot-Metering and there is a difference. At first you might not notice it, but we're going to take a closer look and I will show there are some real differences between Evaluative-Metering and Spot-Metering.
After we did that, then we tried using a reflector and that's this next set of shots right here. We had a white photo disc and we were actually balancing light up into the Denise's face and it gives us another look. There are some pros and cons to this and I am going to cover those in just a second. Then finally we used Fill-Flash and that is this bottom row right here, where we forgot about the reflector and everything else and we mounted a flash on our bracket and we used Fill-Flash to balance the light between the background and her hair and on her face.
So let's take a closer look and let's see what the subtle and maybe not so subtle differences are among these four different techniques. So here we are in Evaluative- Metering mode and again, what the camera is doing is reviewing the entire scene and then trying to give us the best exposure possible. I think it's done a pretty good job. If we move in closer, let me just go up to 100% here, we see that we are not dramatically underexposed on the face.
The eyes are not as bright as they could be, but they are also not bad. Now we will notice a real difference when we use Spot-Metering also. So, let me put that up side by side here. Here we go in Spot-Metering mode and right away just even at this level here, you notice that the tones here on the face are a little bit brighter. Now if we move in closer, another thing you're going to notice is that there's less texture. All right, look at those. Do you see? They actually have less texture.
It's more pleasing and the eyes are definitely brighter. So, we told the camera, look, forget about everything else and just really expose for the skin tones. It gives us a different look and I think in all honesty, it gives us a better look than this shooting right out of the can, as you would say. Now the one thing about Spot-Metering is that you can vary depending on conditions. So sometimes using Spot-Metering, we're just going off the skin tones here, the background can get very bright.
It can blow out, so it depends, but it's a good technique to know and definitely a good technique to practice, because some conditions, this one for example, I thought it was very affective. Okay, now let's see. We have a reflector along with this and we have some of the holder, which is an important when using a reflector. You need someone to actually position it for you. In this case, here is a good reflector shot. Let's take a closer look at it. I think that bouncing light off a reflector gives us a very natural look.
It's sort of in between Spot- Metering and doing nothing at all. I think it's very pleasing. Now I am going to show you a little tip for right here. We are going to zoom in. One of the things that you can tell when you are looking at your pictures and trying to figure out what lighting you may have used, just look in the eyes. You can actually see the reflection of the reflector right here is off to the right side and there it is right there. Now, you look at the skin tones. They look pretty good, and I think they look very natural also.
Now, let's compare it. For example, let's pull up here a Spot-Metered shot. She has a similar expression here, so we will go with this one. All right, so let's take a look at these side by side. Here is our reflector, right here. There is our spot-meter right here. So, let's zoom in and see what the differences are. Here's our reflection and you can see that right there in the eyes. Here's our spot-meter, so we don't really have anything reflecting in the eyes.
You can see that the tones from the reflector are a little bit more natural, not quite as bright. Remember one of the things that I talked about out in the field is that when you use Spot-Metering, sometimes it will make the skin tones a little too bright, or depending on the model maybe a little too dark. So, it's something that you want to try and even sometimes you have to play with. Remember when I talked about Exposure Compensation when using the Spot-Meter, where you might want to go +1 to make things brighter or -1 to make things a little bit darker.
So, you have to kind of keep that in mind. Sometimes you have to play with Spot -Metering, whereas I think with the reflector, out of the can I think you just get sort of a more natural look. It's something that I think is very nice, but it has some down sides too. Let's talk about those for a second. Let's just focus on this shot right here, this reflector shot. We will bring it up. Reflector shots require usually someone to hold the reflector, so that's another person that you may or may not have with you.
Now, you can use the ground or other surfaces, but then that's different positioning. So, normally when you say reflector, you need an assistant to help you with that. The other thing is that light that's coming off the reflector is bright. It's really bright. You will notice that you can start to see that in the model's eyes. If the model is sensitive to bright light, they may start to squint a little bit and sometimes they will even tear up. So, it's not as comfortable for the model as some of the other techniques that we have talked about.
Now let's compare that let's say to Fill-Flash which we have right down here. So here's a Fill-Flash shot right here and we will just take a quick look at that. Now, look at the Fill-Flash and look how her eyes are open. Her face seems more relaxed. If we zoom in, we can actually see the difference. See how Fill-Flash gives us a different look right there in the eyes and we get the pinpoint from the flash. But you will also see that Fill-Flash causes more reflection on the face here.
So we have sort of these spectral highlights right here, a little bit on the forehead. Those may not bother you. Some people will want to touch them up. It's sort of up to you, but it is definitely a look that comes with Fill-Flash. Now if we compare her eyes here to let's say right here where we used the reflector, you will see that they are definitely more open. Here she is closing them down a little bit, because that light is bright. So the advantages of Fill-Flash of course are that you don't need an assistant and that it is easier on the model.
The disadvantage I think is that it's not quite as natural. Remember even here, I dialed it back to -1 right on the flash exposure to render a more natural look and you can still tell that it's Fill-Flash. It's not a bad look, but it's a different look. So we have all of these options to consider when we are thinking about these shots. Again, right here is our reflector shot. Here is our Fill-Flash shot.
So the four techniques that we have available to us when we are out working in this bright exciting light is of course just let the camera go its own way as we have right here. Those shots are pretty good. Then we have Spot-Metering where we just go ahead and measure right off the skin and sometimes you have to play with Spot-Metering a little bit. Then we have a reflector and I think reflector renders very nice shots, but you need an assistant and it can be hard on your model's eyes.
Then of course we have a Fill-Flash, which allows you to work very quickly. That's why event photographers love Fill-Flash because they can work by themselves and they can work fast and it's not very irritating to the model's eyes. I would like it if you practice all four techniques. You might want to start with just the metering right out of the can, take a look at the LCD, and then try these other techniques, adjust with the lighting, adjust with the model and see what you come up with and I'm actually positive you are going to come up with some beautiful shots that I hope that you will share with all of us.
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