Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Prepping the camera for shooting in backlit situations, part of Exploring Photography: Backlighting.
- I'll be honest, I don't keep the front of my lenses very clean. It normally isn't an issue. If there's stuff on the end of your lens, dust, or, I can see I've got water spots on here because I've been out shooting in the rain. A lot of times it doesn't matter because the camera simply focuses past them, so you never see any of that stuff anyway. I actually worry more about this end of the lens because if this end is dirty, that can get stuff on the sensor, and sensor dust is sometimes far more visible than stuff on the end of the lens.
However, this gets me in trouble, partly because people see the end of my lens and go, "Oh my god, the end of your lens is dirty." But also, because when I'm shooting into light, when I'm shooting into a backlit situation, all this stuff on the end of my lens lights up and becomes very visible. So, if I'm going out and I'm going to do some landscape shooting, which means there's a good chance that I'm gonna be shooting into the sun. Or, if I'm going into a studio situation where I know that I'm gonna be really wanting to play with a lot of lighting situations, I will make an extra effort to clean my lens.
Yes, yes, I know, I should do this diligently anyway. I should also floss and stretch, and do all sorts of other things. Anyway, I'm going to clean just the front element. Now, I have a daylight, or skylight, or UV filter, whatever you wanna call it, on the end of my lens. This is to protect the lens, and it's great because it, actually it's coming off. It means that the front-end of my lens, the actual front element of my lens, I never have to interact with. I don't have to clean it, it doesn't get dirty. The reason that's good is that, the cleaning process can actually be potentially damaging to your lens.
I have here an actual lens cleaning cloth. It's the same color on both sides. The advantage of this over my T-shirt is that my shirt has been out in the world and who knows what kind of sand has blown into it or other things that could scratch the front element of my lens. So, I'm going to use a special cloth, one that I haven't been out, dragging around the world. I try to keep these in my bag in a sealed up place where they will stay clean, and I'm just going to work to try to get these water spots off.
Now, if you have a lens-cleaning solution of some kind, one that you know is safe for coated optics, you can spray some of that on also. It usually take just a very little bit, and what I mean by coated optics is that filters and lens elements will often have special chemical coatings on them. These coatings are usually designed to... the point of them is to reduce lens flare and glare in the lens. And if you just throw some Windex or something on there, an ammonia-based cleaner, that can sometimes mess with the coating. It's important to use, if you are going to use a cleaner, to be sure that you use one that is safe for a fine optical instrument, and you're actually gonna use a special lens-cleaning cloth rather than your shirt, or just licking the front of the lens or something like that.
Sometimes you gotta get it at an oblique angle to really see the stuff that's on there. Play with the light until you see it all. I'm going in circles so that I don't just smear the stuff around, and that's looking a lot better. That, I hope, now that I'm heading out to do some backlight shooting, that's gonna keep me from getting circles or spots, or areas of regular, varying contrast in my image. Keeping your lens clean is something you should do all of the time, but especially when you're about to go do the kind of shooting that we're about to do.
Backlighting can add drama to almost any subject, from leaves to hair, to smoke, to glassware. In this course, photographer, author, and educator Ben Long explores the creative options and exposure challenges behind backlighting in several difference scenarios, from landscapes to portraits, using both natural and artificial light sources.