How to Master Backlighting

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Master Backlighting - Thoughts on Noise, Chimping and the Blinkies

Getting fabulous backlit shots can seem overwhelming at first, but with a firm grasp of the fundamentals and with a little practice, you’ll be taking great images.

Backlighting is where the light, typically the sun, is coming from behind your subject, making it tricky to get the proper exposure. Here are some tips to get you shooting like the pros.

1. Switch to Manuel Mode to get the most control of your exposure. By adjusting the shutter speed, aperture and ISO, you give yourself the best chance at nailing the exposure. Go as low as you can go on your ISO to reduce noise. Watch your shutter speed to avoid camera shake, unless you are using a tripod. And use the aperture to get the desired Depth of Field. Think Exposure Triangle.

2. Use Spot Metering Mode and expose for your subject, then move your camera to get the composition you are looking for. Remember, you are shooting in Manuel Mode, so any settings will stick until you make changes.

3. Shoot in RAW to capture as much information as you can. It will help later in post-processing to lift information in the shadows and bring out details in the highlights. If you are not using LightRoom or PhotoShop, try SnapSeed. It is a free App available for Apple and Android and gets terrific results.

4. Chimp then Adjust. Chimping is the term first coined in 1999 to describe photographers as they check their LCD screens to excess after taking a shot, sometimes to the detriment of getting the next one. According to Google, “the term derives from the habit of the photographer looking at the picture in the LCD, and saying ‘ooh, ooh, ooh!” imitating a chimpanzee.

With that piece of history stored in the knowledge bank, chimping then adjusting will give you the best chance to get the exposure right. Of course, also check your histogram and the exposure warning (blinkies), then make changes to your shutter speed, aperture and ISO until you are happy.

Getting great backlit photos is not hard, but it does take some practice ….. and chimping.