Back in the day Kodak publications told amateur photographers to always have the sun at their back to avoid shadows and eliminate lens flare. It didn’t take me long to realize, even when I was an amateur photographer, that there was little drama in creating images with light that came from camera position; that’s just flat light. In fact it’s far better that the light striking your subject, wether in the studio or outdoors, comes from ANY direction other than from camera position. One of my very favorite types of directional light, especially for fine art, is using backlight as the key light when I’m outdoors.
The Key Light in photography is the dominate light striking the subject. When used properly the key light creates the three dimensionality and the drama that compels the viewer to SEE the artist’s intent in creating the image.
Time of day is the key for backlight….
|f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 120mm|
I usually go out about 2-hours before sunset to line up my subjects for backlight. I don’t wander around searching for subjects; these are already found subjects that I put on a list as future targets when the weather is good.
This image of sunflowers was taken in the middle of August in California, at 6pm. Flowers and fall colors leaves are naturals for this lighting.
With really bright flowers, (as with fall leaves), especially in a dark field, I use a spot meter on the leaves so I don’t clip the highlights.
This lighting can work with people too…
|f5.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm|
This lighting is NOT for portraits! This type of lighting, as in this image, can create great pictorials of people doing things.
This image, was done at 8pm, of people walking through an animal exhibition hall at the Idaho State Faire. The dust their feet kicked-up made for a terrific backlight image.
Now, back to some thorny blooms….
|f8.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm|
In this image, the backlight not only lights up the translucent blossoms, but the Rim Light on the cactus thorns is marvelous as well.
It’s important to note that when doing extreme backlight, with the setting sun, that you must control lens flare. In spite of the fad to Create Lens Flare, which only makes professional photographers’ work look amateurish, I control flare to make my subjects look great. With lens flare you lose color density, contrast, and sharpness—things that photography does best!
Here’s how I control lens flare…
It’s often not enough to use a large lens shade. So, I’ve added a black flag on a Mathews arm attached to my tripod. I always use this set-up when I’m doing portraits outside. I don’t really care if some photographers think they’re being artsy flaring out their nature photos but I think it’s photographic malpractice to allow flare in a portrait image all the time; it’s also bad business. It’s like improperly using soft focus.
Have a question? Don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week…
Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com
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