Monday, February 21, 2011

Turnabout Is Fair Play (Basic)

If you saw the shot above, it may be tempting to conclude that it simply is the wrong time of the day to take photos.  The sunlight is very harsh, and it looks like it's coming from above.

Before you put away the camera though, check out the view from the other side.  The light may not be as bad as it may initially seem. 

(More after the jump.)


The shots above were taken within minutes of each other under the same lighting conditions, but with very different results.  In the shot on the right, the light is far more flattering to the subject, and colors are saturated instead of washed out.  All it took was to turn around and shoot facing the sun, to have the sun act as a rim light.

You may have heard some photographers say that you should shoot with the sun behind you and that you shouldn't shoot into the sun.  Well, shooting with the sun behind you results in a shot like the one at the top of this post, while shooting into the sun gets you results like those below.  You can judge the merits of that advice for yourself :).



I'll concede that shooting into the sun poses some challenges, such as:
  • Flare: shooting into the sun raises the possibility of flare.  The solution is to use a lens hood, and avoid unnecessary filters (such as a UV filter for "protection") unless you're absolutely sure the filter won't make the lens more susceptible to flare.
  • Difficulty with autofocus:  if the backlight is very strong, your camera may have difficulty focusing on the subject.  You can instead lock focus on another non-backlit subject that is at an equal distance, then recompose with the subject in view.
  • Exposure:  if you're not used to shooting a backlit subject, determining the correct exposure can be a little confusing at first.  There's no need to be intimidated.  In the worst case scenario, most modern cameras have exposure algorithms that are sophisticated enough to get a decent exposure in backlit conditions.  The backlit shots above were taken by a Nikon D70, a 7-year old camera, which handled the exposure with aplomb in Shutter Priority mode without the need for exposure compensation or for switching to center-weighted metering.
Using fill flash will also help you tame the wide range of shadows and highlights by lifting the shadowed face of the subject.  There is unfortunately no single solution for using flash in backlit situations.  But the good news is, there is not just a single solution for using flash in backlit situations :)  Using flash with backlit subjects is something that we will discuss in a future post.