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Correctly gauge exposure for backlit portraits

Added on Friday 2nd of March 2012 05:08 am EST

by Jim Whitcomb
Operating System: 


After many years of concentrating on nature photography, I recently decided to try portrait photography. One lighting arrangement that I especially like is head and shoulder shots taken outside and back lit. However, I find getting a correct exposure tricky, and often resort to bracketing. Do you have any advice that’ll improve my results?  


Many photographers find portraits somewhat intimidating at first. But once you delve into it, you’ll find it to be fairly straightforward, provided you follow some basic guidelines.
Lighting a subject outside is often achieved using natural ambient light, which often leads to setups similar to the one shown in Figure A. In this arrangement, the main lighting source illuminating the face is indirect light from sky. The quality of the light is soft and diffused, and tends to subdue features such as wrinkles and age lines. Because the sun is positioned behind the subject, it acts as a hair or rim light to accentuate and frame the subject’s face in a way not easily achieved with studio lighting. However, some desired details of the subject’s face may become obscured if the backlighting is too bright.



Backlighting is simple, basic, and predictable. So, you may wonder why it’s so difficult to capture. The answer is found in the design of your camera’s onboard light meter, and the way in which you use it.

A light me...