Monday, July 19, 2010

Adding Form to Backlit Photos (Intermediate)

I love backlit photos, even though some people think backlighting is overused. When the backlighting comes from sunlight, one issue is that the face is almost always illuminated by shade, which is a very soft but very flat light source (because it's omnidirectional). Sample:

If on-axis fill light is added (e.g. from a popup flash), the shaded face will be lifted, but the form looks just as flat because of the direction of the fill light. Sample:

A backlit photo can easily be made to appear more three-dimensional by lighting the face at an angle, whether using a reflector or flash.  The light can be bright enough to act as a key light, as in this sample:

(bare SB-800 flash from above and camera right, zoomed to 105mm, triggered via CLS AWL*)
*Nikon Creative Lighting System - Advanced Wireless Lighting 
Note that there is a shadow on the right side of the face (camera left), making the face look more three-dimensional than in the sample photos above.

Alternatively, the light can have a lower intensity, at an angle opposite to the backlight, to simulate the backlight bouncing off from the ground to illuminate the face.  Sample:

(SB-800 with shoot-through on camera right, triggered via AWL)

The sample photo at the top of this post is somewhere in between the two foregoing approaches.  I underexposed the ambient light, then added light from a bare SB-800 camera left and additional fill from the pop-up.  No light modifiers were used, nor did I use any postprocessing (other than conversion from RAW to JPEG) but the light doesn't look harsh due to the controlled contrast.  That's a technique I'll discuss in a future post.