06/06/2009

Backlight (Contre Jour) Photography



Backlit photography can bring drama and dynamism to an image and yet, it can also enhance the transparent subtlety of a subject like a leaf, insect or flower petals. It can also be used to provide rim lighting and give a certain moodiness to all kinds of subjects and enhance texture, form and shadow where needed and create powerful silhouettes.
Backlighting will enhance mist, rain and haze adding creativity and atmosphere to landscape images.
It’s obviously not the type of photography you will choose for every shot you do, but there will come a time when you will need to think about using it for certain shots and with a bit of practice, you will be prepared.
Backlighting means that the light source is actually behind your subject and not behind you and from time to time you may just need to use a bit of fill-flash, or reflector, to balance the exposure.
Backlight photography is not without its challenges and two of the most obvious ones would be: 1. Getting the exposure right and 2. (because you are shooting toward the light source) eliminating the possibilities of lens flare.
In many backlit situations using a designated lens hood will greatly improve the chances of eliminating flare.
Having taken the above precautions a final visual inspection of the image through the viewfinder, preferably with the lens stopped down, will show any remaining areas of softness or highlights resulting from flare. This may only require a slight repositioning of the camera to eliminate it.
The other challenge in photographing backlit subjects is how best to handle exposure. Overexposure is a common problem, as the brightly-lit background will overly influence the camera's meter this will turn the subject very dark indeed, almost silhouette like.
Exposure compensation is the answer and it is best to give between one and two stops extra exposure from the 'normal' exposure suggested by the camera. Alternatively, take a spot meter reading from the shadow area and expose the shot for that meter reading. As exposure for backlit subjects is tricky it is best to try shots at various exposure readings until you are comfortable with the situation.

See also "Silhouettes"