Pro Video Tips
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Exposing for backlit shots


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Pro Video Tips

with Anthony Q. Artis

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Video: Exposing for backlit shots

So let's talk about exposing for backlit shots. Now the main reason that the conventional advice is to shoot with the sun to your back and facing your subject, is so that you can get a good exposure on your subject's face. If you're shooting with a consumer camera, smartphone, or on a DSLR or any other camera in auto exposure mode, your camera's going to auto expose for the bright light by stopping down the image and making your subject under exposed. So to get a good exposure on backlit subjects without using any extra lighting tools, we're going to have to do one of several things.
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  1. 2m 8s
    1. Intro to Pro Video Tips
      2m 8s
  2. 17m 27s
    1. Controlling reflections in glass
      4m 7s
    2. Managing color with polarizers
      2m 32s
    3. Using a polarizer to adjust skin tones
      2m 0s
    4. Using polarizers when shooting landscapes
      4m 42s
    5. Ten polarizer tips
      4m 6s
  3. 14m 34s
    1. Supplies to get to hide lav mics
      2m 13s
    2. Hiding lavs in collars
      5m 16s
    3. Hiding mics in hair
      2m 17s
    4. Hiding mics in sheer tops
      2m 40s
    5. Hiding transmitter packs on talent
      2m 8s
  4. 34m 25s
    1. Canon C100 overview
      11m 33s
    2. Looking at the Atomos Ninja
      12m 20s
    3. Checking out the C100 menu options
      10m 32s
  5. 10m 28s
    1. Ten tips for set safety
      10m 28s
  6. 9m 18s
    1. Packing a truck
      9m 18s
  7. 19m 24s
    1. Putting together your lens kit
      1m 0s
    2. Normal lenses
      1m 54s
    3. Wide lenses
      3m 5s
    4. Ultra-wide and fish-eye lenses
      2m 53s
    5. Telephoto lenses
      4m 53s
    6. Super zooms
      2m 54s
    7. Macro lenses
      2m 45s
  8. 17m 22s
    1. The importance of exposure
      1m 31s
    2. Using waveforms
      5m 3s
    3. Using histograms
      6m 53s
    4. Using zebra stripes
      3m 55s
  9. 10m 20s
    1. Shutter speed overview
      3m 18s
    2. Different ways to use shutter speed
      7m 2s
  10. 10m 29s
    1. Tips for keeping your budget down
      10m 29s
  11. 10m 11s
    1. Working with batteries
      10m 11s
  12. 24m 39s
    1. External audio settings
      4m 2s
    2. Audio input menus
      9m 31s
    3. Audio output menus
      4m 6s
    4. Setting and monitoring your levels
      7m 0s
  13. 16m 33s
    1. Introduction to backlight
      1m 18s
    2. Types of backlight
      3m 51s
    3. Exposing for backlit shots
      5m 31s
    4. Backlighting translucent object
      1m 39s
    5. Avoiding lens flare and wash out
      4m 14s
  14. 13m 28s
    1. Booming techniques
      13m 28s
  15. 5m 42s
    1. Feeding your crew
      5m 42s
  16. 8m 36s
    1. Choosing between prime, servo, and manual zoom lenses
      5m 19s
    2. Running and gunning with prime lenses
      3m 17s
  17. 10m 55s
    1. Green screen lights and materials
      3m 47s
    2. Mounting the green screen
      1m 39s
    3. Lighting the green screen
      3m 8s
    4. Lighting your subject
      2m 21s
  18. 9m 28s
    1. What to look for when buying a tripod
      6m 13s
    2. Working with monopods
      3m 15s
  19. 23m 19s
    1. Choosing a camera
      3m 2s
    2. Preparation and supplies for a surf shoot
      2m 13s
    3. Dealing with lens fog
      1m 44s
    4. Mounting your POV camera
      3m 20s
    5. Tracking and shooting your surfer from the shore
      6m 56s
    6. Interview with Tony Cruz
      6m 4s
  20. 8m 37s
    1. Introduction to lens mounts
      1m 24s
    2. Canon mounts
      2m 0s
    3. PL mounts
      1m 59s
    4. Nikon mounts
      1m 24s
    5. Micro 4/3 mounts
      1m 50s
  21. 7m 30s
    1. Introduction to lighting ratios
      1m 19s
    2. Comparing ratios
      2m 52s
    3. Measuring light ratios
      3m 19s
  22. 10m 25s
    1. Ten Looks in Ten Minutes
      10m 25s
  23. 5m 36s
    1. Using camera height and POV to better tell your story
      5m 36s
  24. 9m 49s
    1. Tips for lighting an interview subject
      9m 49s
  25. 15m 5s
    1. Taking 10 pounds off your subject
      4m 1s
    2. Dealing with nose shadows
      3m 3s
    3. Lighting different skin tones
      2m 55s
    4. Putting makeup on your subject
      5m 6s
  26. 10m 4s
    1. Types of cookies
      4m 6s
    2. Making your own custom cookies
      2m 47s
    3. Controlling the look of a cookie
      3m 11s
  27. 18m 11s
    1. Introduction to shooting sports footage
      1m 15s
    2. Getting good coverage for your sport shoot
      5m 55s
    3. Camerawork for shooting sports videos
      5m 4s
    4. Gear to bring on your sports shoot
      4m 52s
    5. Wrapping up
      1m 5s
  28. 8m 34s
    1. Tips for using bounce light
      8m 34s
  29. 21m 43s
    1. Video portrait intro
      1m 51s
    2. Video portrait camera work
      13m 32s
    3. Considerations for a video portrait interview
      4m 11s
    4. Bonus: Finished video portrait
      2m 9s
  30. 9m 48s
    1. Shooting at 24p
      3m 2s
    2. Using depth of field
      1m 37s
    3. Lighting for a film look
      1m 18s
    4. Using filters
      2m 31s
    5. Getting a film look with software
      1m 20s
  31. 38m 57s
    1. Introduction to professional car rigs
      7m 41s
    2. Attaching a side mount rig
      12m 58s
    3. Mounting a speed rail rig
      10m 54s
    4. Hood suction mount
      4m 27s
    5. Car rig safety tips
      2m 57s
  32. 14m 3s
    1. Manipulating the size of people
      6m 12s
    2. Manipulating the size of buildings
      2m 59s
    3. Making crowds look more crowded
      4m 52s
  33. 12m 32s
    1. Introduction to lighting cars
      5m 13s
    2. Lighting the car from outside
      3m 10s
    3. Lighting the car from inside
      4m 9s
  34. 13m 46s
    1. Packing your gear for air travel
      6m 8s
    2. What to do at the airport
      4m 39s
    3. Getting on the plane
      2m 59s
  35. 15m 53s
    1. Why you should hire an editor
      1m 29s
    2. Working with editors during pre-production
      3m 33s
    3. Working with editors during shooting
      4m 3s
    4. Working with editors after your shoot
      4m 18s
    5. Final tips on working with editors
      2m 30s
  36. 7m 46s
    1. Tips on avoiding scam film festivals
      7m 46s
  37. 5m 22s
    1. 36. Four common budgeting mistakes
      5m 22s
  38. 12m 13s
    1. 10 Filmmaking Lessons...I Learned the Hard Way
      12m 13s
  39. 9m 38s
    1. Why you get moire and aliasing
      2m 52s
    2. Avoiding moire
      6m 46s
  40. 18m 56s
    1. Tips on boosting your production value
      1m 46s
    2. Shooting with a shallow depth of field
      1m 36s
    3. Great audio and sound design
      2m 44s
    4. Keep your shots steady
      2m 32s
    5. Keep your camera moving
      2m 29s
    6. Location, location, location
      2m 15s
    7. Adding appropriate titles and FX
      1m 56s
    8. Hiring a colorist
      3m 38s
  41. 11m 19s
    1. Positioning yourself for the interview
      2m 29s
    2. Settings for camera and audio
      5m 57s
    3. Using a second camera
      2m 53s
  42. 8m 5s
    1. Tips on shooting an interview with one camera
      4m 25s
    2. Faking reverse shots and cutaways
      3m 40s
  43. 8m 58s
    1. The trouble with shooting windows
      1m 6s
    2. Dealing with exposure issues
      2m 55s
    3. Managing mixed color temperatures
      2m 16s
    4. Tips and tricks for shooting window scenes
      2m 41s
  44. 4m 35s
    1. Adjusting SMPTE color bars
      4m 35s
  45. 11m 32s
    1. Introduction to shooting discreetly
      1m 1s
    2. Scouting locations for a stealth shoot
      1m 47s
    3. Traveling and shooting low profile
      1m 25s
    4. Recording audio discreetly
      1m 25s
    5. Using discreet cameras and camerawork
      2m 22s
    6. Running interference
      1m 24s
    7. Adding production value with local resources
      1m 13s
    8. Always have a plan B
      55s
  46. 5m 44s
    1. Five things you can do when your production stalls out
      5m 44s
  47. 10m 44s
    1. Why to use an Interrotron
      3m 50s
    2. Setting up an Interrotron the traditional way
      4m 4s
    3. Nontraditional Interrotron setups
      2m 50s
  48. 6m 3s
    1. Five ways to achieve shallow depth of field
      6m 3s
  49. 9m 41s
    1. Tips for managing your media
      9m 41s
  50. 16m 23s
    1. Tips for renting equipment
      1m 25s
    2. Do your homework
      2m 39s
    3. Test the gear out
      4m 13s
    4. Get the best rate on your rental
      1m 49s
    5. Getting all the manuals
      59s
    6. Stay covered, with insurance
      2m 48s
    7. Dealing with damaged, lost, or stolen gear
      2m 30s
  51. 4m 36s
    1. Using your hotel TV as an ad-hoc monitor
      4m 36s
  52. 3m 49s
    1. Shooting an overhead tabletop demo with a mirror
      3m 49s
  53. 3m 0s
    1. Creating a visual heat-wave effect
      3m 0s
  54. 14m 0s
    1. 10 Tips for Shooting Live Events
      14m 0s
  55. 15m 22s
    1. Understanding the challenges of shooting live events
      3m 21s
    2. Shooting for the cut
      5m 20s
    3. Getting neutral shots and cutaways
      3m 51s
    4. Bonus: Final edited video
      2m 50s
  56. 14m 2s
    1. Tips for recording audio at live events
      1m 51s
    2. Plugging into a mixing board
      5m 52s
    3. Mic'ing the instruments
      1m 46s
    4. Mic'ing the speakers
      1m 55s
    5. Using a shotgun mic
      2m 38s
  57. 15m 59s
    1. Seven tips for better managing your crew
      3m 13s
    2. Get it all on paper first
      2m 6s
    3. Learn to delegate
      2m 12s
    4. Hiring is half the work
      2m 53s
    5. Understand how each person likes to work
      1m 34s
    6. Feed them good food
      31s
    7. Learn to speak their language
      1m 55s
    8. Goodbye
      1m 35s

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Watch the Online Video Course Pro Video Tips
11h 47m Appropriate for all Apr 15, 2014 Updated May 12, 2015

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Pro Video Tips is designed for busy videographers like you. This series brings you a new tip every week, on everything from controlling reflections to hiding mics. Host Anthony Q. Artis covers shooting techniques for particular video challenges like portraits, tools to help you control light and judge exposure, and advice for the traveling videographer, such as putting together a great lens kit or packing a truck. Come back every Tuesday for a new round of tips.

Subject:
Video
Author:
Anthony Q. Artis

Exposing for backlit shots

So let's talk about exposing for backlit shots. Now the main reason that the conventional advice is to shoot with the sun to your back and facing your subject, is so that you can get a good exposure on your subject's face. If you're shooting with a consumer camera, smartphone, or on a DSLR or any other camera in auto exposure mode, your camera's going to auto expose for the bright light by stopping down the image and making your subject under exposed. So to get a good exposure on backlit subjects without using any extra lighting tools, we're going to have to do one of several things.

First, you could use manual exposure and open up the iris to expose for your subject. You may find the waveform monitor helpful to tell when you've got your subject at a good level if you can't easily tell by eye in the bright sun. Next, we could use auto exposure, and go in very close so that only our subject fills the frame, then lock in that same setting manually. Third, on many consumer and prosumer camera's, there's a backlighting mode you can turn on in the camera menu. This will compensate for the backlight by exposing everything brighter than normal, so you can still see your subjects face clearly.

And lastly, also in the menu, you can adjust the auto exposure mode so that it overexposes everything, which will cause your background to blow out, but your subject to be normally exposed, since the auto exposure is metering on the overall brightness of the image. It's over exposing most of the image, except the part you care about most, your subject. There are three different styles you can choose when it comes to back lit shots. Because the background is so bright, and the camera side of your subject is so dark, it's often impossible to get a good exposure on both at the same time, without taking some extra steps.

So we have to make a choice. The question you have to consider is, do you want to see the background clearly at a good exposure, or, do you want to see your subject clearly at a good exposure, or, do we want to see both of them at a good exposure? With a little knowledge and a few simple tools, we can do any of the above. So let's look at several different ways we can approach exposing for a back lit shot, depending on the particular look we want to get. Let's start with two of the easiest. If it's important to see the face of the person we're shooting, we can just dial up our iris, or use one of the other methods I just discussed until their face is well exposed.

This will purposefully blow out the bright background, while also creating a complimentary glow of light around subjects and windows, or framed against the sky or similar bright backgrounds. However, if we flip the script and expose for a bright background, it will leave our subject in shadows and create a silhouette. Now early on, many film makers discover that creating a clean black silhouette isn't as easy as they thought. The key to getting a good silhouette is having the proper lighting conditions which is really only two key things.

First, the background should be very bright, so the sky, a white building reflecting the sunlight, the sun itself, a window, a brightly colored wall, will all work well to create silhouettes. The next condition is that the camera side of your subject must be as under exposed and dark as possible. That's why we need a bright background. The more we close down the iris to get a good exposure on the bright background, the dark rust object will become, and the cleaner and more impressive our silhouette will be. And as a side note, it's generally easier to get a silhouette on someone in darker clothing that doesn't reflect light, rather than someone wearing something like a white t-shirt.

Now one simple way to expose for the background of a backlit shot, and get a better exposure on our subjects at the same time, is to use a reflector. The same light coming from behind, forms a nice hair of rim light on our subject on the first pass, then bounces off the reflector to also act as a key light. Because it's the same type of light at the same color temperature, this technique will give you a very natural feel. You can also get a few different variations on the quality of the balance slide on your subject, such as whether it's hard, soft, or warmer, depending on the type of reflector you decide to go with.

Check out my location lighting course on the lynda.com library, for a demo of different types of reflectors and the looks they create. Now the other way to expose for our subjects and the background at the same time is to light our subjects with an artificial light. When we use an artificial light, just like with the other methods, we first expose for the already brightly lit background because that's the one factor we have no control over. Then we simply use an artificial light source to light our subjects at an intensity and color temperature that matches the background.

For exterior shots, this means using a daylight balance light source, or using CTB gel on a tungsten source as this will give you the most natural look. However, if you want your subjects to pop out from the scene a little more, you can light them at an intensity that's a little bit brighter than the background. This is a technique commonly used in broadcast news and other stand ups. You could also light them with a tungsten light, or add a little CTO gel to a daylight, source like HMI or joker light, if you wanted them to have a warm contrast against a day lit background, which would also make them stand out more.

So those are the different strategies for exposing for a backlit shot. Depending on which one you choose, you can get a variety of different looks for the exact same shot.

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