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Photo Assignment: Backlit Portraits

The shoot


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Photo Assignment: Backlit Portraits

with Derrick Story

Video: The shoot

Well, here we are in a beautiful park today. It's a little breezy. The sun is very bright. But that's okay, because what we're doing is backlit portraits. What does that mean? That means we are actually going to have the sun behind the model and by the way we have a lovely model today. Denise is with us. What we are going to do is have the sun back here, illuminate the hair from behind. So, you get a nice rim, a little bit on the shoulders and then all we have to figure out is how to expose the face properly. So that's the gist of what we are going to be doing. Now, I am going to be using a Canon 5D Mark II, which is a very good camera, with the 7200 mm lens, but to start out let's just shoot regular program mode, regular Evaluative-Metering.
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  1. 24m 6s
    1. Introduction
      1m 7s
    2. Defining the challenge
      6m 39s
    3. The shoot
      5m 24s
    4. Reviewing the shots
      9m 32s
    5. Now it's your turn
      1m 24s

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Photo Assignment: Backlit Portraits
24m 6s Beginner Oct 23, 2009

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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

Subjects:
Photography Portraits Lighting
Author:
Derrick Story

The shoot

Well, here we are in a beautiful park today. It's a little breezy. The sun is very bright. But that's okay, because what we're doing is backlit portraits. What does that mean? That means we are actually going to have the sun behind the model and by the way we have a lovely model today. Denise is with us. What we are going to do is have the sun back here, illuminate the hair from behind. So, you get a nice rim, a little bit on the shoulders and then all we have to figure out is how to expose the face properly. So that's the gist of what we are going to be doing. Now, I am going to be using a Canon 5D Mark II, which is a very good camera, with the 7200 mm lens, but to start out let's just shoot regular program mode, regular Evaluative-Metering.

Let's see what we get and then we will adjust from there. Okay, here we go. You are ready, Denise? All right, I am going to just line you up right here and we're going to take a few shots. Okay, so I am taking a look at her shots now. I am going to go ahead and go to Playback mode. Now one tip that I have for you when you are evaluating shots on an LCD in bright light like this is to look at the Histogram also, because you will sometimes be fooled by what you see on the screen. So I am just going to hit the Info button and take a look at the Histogram and it's not bad, not bad at all.

But I think we can do better. So the first adjustment we are going to make is switch to Spot-Metering mode and the way that I am going to do that is just go ahead, hit my Meter button, rotate the Spot Meter and what that's going to do is just measure this area in the face right here and we are going to let everything else go it's way. So let's give that a shot right now and see what happens. All right, now it's time for a spot meter smile, right there. So, as I am looking at the shots here with the spot meter, they look very good and in part because Denise is a fabulous subject.

But I will tell you that sometimes when you are using spot meter on skin tone, the camera will render the images a little dark, or a little lighter than you like. So, what I suggest you to do is use your Exposure Compensation, so you can get it just the way that you want it. Now if you want to make things a little lighter, move your Exposure Compensation on the plus side to +1 or +1 and a half. And if you want the skin tones a little darker move it to negative, -1 or -1 and a half.

Now, that being said, generally speaking this isn't my favorite method for backlit portraits. I much prefer to bring some light in from the front, because I think it's nicer on the skin tone. I think it puts a little bit more light in the eyes and overall I think it's a hair more flattering. So, that's what we are going to do right now. We are going to use a reflector and I actually have someone here to help me, Tracy. She is going to go ahead and give us a reflector. She is going to bounce that light right up into Denise's face. That's going to help balance that rim lighting that we have underneath this hair.

So let's see how that looks. Well, these reflector shots look really nice. I am very satisfied with them. However, I want to show you one more technique and this is the Fill-Flash technique. You know that I have a flash mounted on the camera here. Now, there is a couple of reasons why Fill-Flash is a good alternative. One is that you don't always have someone to help you by holding the reflector. So if you have to work alone, Fill-Flash is a good alternative. The second thing is some models, Denise included, they have blue eyes or eyes that are sensitive to light.

The reflectors actually bother their eyes and they will tend to squint and sometimes even water up a little bit. That's not very good for a portrait shoot. Fill-Flash is very un-obtrusive. So what I have done here is I have mounted the flash on the camera. I have it on a bracket so I can give some distance away from the lens for a more natural look and I have dialed it down using Flash Exposure Compensation to -1. Now, the reason why I did that is because Fill-Flash sometimes has a little bit of an artificial look.

By dialing it down to -1 you get it more of a natural look. You get the benefits of the flash, but without it looking artificial. Let's see how that's going to work. We will do a few test shots right now. All right, now we are going to do a little Fill-Flash right there. Oh! These look terrific. Fill-Flash is wonderful, the way it lights up the face and adds a little twinkle to the eyes. But all of these techniques work well whether you're using Fill-Flash, Spot-Metering, reflectors. The thing about it is don't be scared off by having the sun behind the model.

I know it's not intuitive, but if you try these different techniques we showed you today, I think you can end up with some fabulous shots. Go out there, give it a try. I think you will be happy with what you end up with.

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