It is no secret that I adore backlit images.
‘Backlit’ refers to my subject being placed between my camera and the sun or my light source.
This set up can cause some issues when metering your camera manually. The sensor can get thrown by the excessive amount of light hitting the sensor.
Here are a few tips for making better backlit images.
1. Shoot to crop out the sky.
By eliminating the sun and very bright sky, you can help the sensor cope with all the light. Remember that one or more parts of an image can blow out when the sun is bright. You can meter for the sky (set your camera to expose for the sky), but the foreground will be very dark. If you expose for the ground, the sky will be blown out (lacking all detail–white). A longer lens can help you remove the sky by using compression. Compression is a characteristic of a longer lens that appears to bring the background toward the camera. The following image was taken with my FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens. It is a macro lens that rendered the backlit weeds sharply while bringing the background forward as a frame.
2. Remember the middle.
Meter to the middle and direct your spot meter to an area of the frame where the brights and darks come together. This helps you to preserve the most of both the sky and the ground. I metered for the grass in the center of the frame below. I was able to open the shadows on the bottom and recover some of the sky at the top in Lightroom. This leads me to the next tip….
3. Remember to shoot RAW!
This will give you more data to extract details. The image will appear flat and lifeless, but you can bolster the colors and contrast in your post processing program.
4. Control haze and flare by shooting a few shots as you shift your position around your subject.
The new dehaze slider in Lightroom/ACR (under the Effects panel) is very helpful when flare is unavoidable. I personally love flare, but it is great to know there are tools to get rid of it, should I want to. 🙂
5. Use very shallow depth of field and wait until early evening to get soft and glowing backlit images.
This image was shot at f 0.95 just before sunset. The shallow DOF mixed with the old lens from 1965 left me with a very pretty image that I love. Backlighting is always easier early in the morning or early in the evening. Avoid the mid-day sun!
These tips work indoors too!
Here are a few examples. The exposures are less extreme for backlit images indoors.
I like to meter for the wall near the window to try and get the best balance of light in the image. It is ok if the window blows out completely, if you want it too. Just be careful to avoid blowing out the details on the subject’s skin.