Underexposing when backlighting

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by michelleg, Oct 29, 2010.

  1. michelleg

    michelleg Member

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    I would love to be able to take better backlit photographs but they keep coming out with the subject underexposed. I'm using a sekonic light meter, taking a reading from the subjects face and I am putting iso 200 instead of the 400 on the box which I thought would give me an extra stop, but its still under exposed. I'm kind of stumped! Am I metering wrong? How can I meter for the shadows from the face is there is no obvious shady side?

    Here is an example
     

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  2. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    It may take more than a stop; and remember, caucasian skin should usually be raised a stop from neutral gray. So try two stops, or meter their clothes and get an average.

    Is there detail in the negative that's not showing up in the scan? It's possible that your software is thrown off by the bright background.
     
  3. michelleg

    michelleg Member

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    There does seem a bit more detail in the neg, but this is all so new to me I don't always know what I'm looking for!
     
  4. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    This is where incident light metering comes in handy. Meter from the girl toward the camera. Shoot what it tells you. It will then be perfect. If it's not, it's probably a processing or scanning problem. It does look to be a pretty high contrast image, which is normal for full sun shooting, but you might have too much contrast caused by overdeveloping or by automatic settings on your scanner. Put up a digital photo of the negative backlit against a window if you'd like some analysis of the negative.
     
  5. michelleg

    michelleg Member

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    Its late here now, but I will do what you suggest and post an image of the neg tomorrow. I'm not scanning myself and at the moment I feel as though I'm just picking labs not knowing how good they really are. If you can tell anything by the neg that would be great!
     
  6. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    Get a scanner! It is convenient to have the lab scan it but really you need to take control of the process as early as you can. Developing your own film is best of course but if you can't do that then try to get a negative scanner if you can because there is more in the negative than you can store in a JPG so the shadow detail may be thrown away at the store when you might be able to increase the brightness at home with the scan to retain those darker details. If you can adjust levels while scanning then you can try to adjust it so the shadows are good and the background isn't totally blown out.
     
  7. eddym

    eddym Member

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    Actually, considering the amount of backlighting in your scene, I think the detail in the girl's face looks pretty good. You could improve it by adding some fill light, either from a flash or a reflector. But if that is not practical for you, then you might just try dodging the face a little during printing. Don't overdo it; a backlit face will not look natural if it shines as if it were in full sun!
     
  8. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Tell the lab what you want.

    They may be just guessing about what you want.
     
  9. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    With back lighted subjects it is easier with an incident meter.
    Since you point the meter towards the camera there is no compensation to make.
    With a reflected meter, you have to compensate for two things. 1)the reflectivity of the skin of the subject 2)the light source itself.
    The good thing is: once you figure it out, you'll know what to do.
     
  10. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    The face looks like it is exposed just fine in the picture you showed. If you are doing what you said you are doing (metering from the subject and rating a 400 film at 200), then you are actually overexposing the face by one stop, so the exposure of the neg is fine.

    This is one of the hardest situations for which to expose, develop and print. The best option is to avoid it if possible. Another would be to artificially light the subject with flash so that you can bring the background down more in relation to her. A bounce umbrella attached to a speedlight will be the most natural looking option that is "pocketable." Shooting straight through diffusion is softer than a bare bulb, but still has a somewhat brash and artificial look unless it is also bounced, especially if the diffuser is small.

    The reason she is looking a little dark is because the print has been made too dark. It was probably made too dark because of that big bright area in it drawing the attention. If you were to print this more carefully, you could get her to be brighter. You could burn the sky and/or mask the subject, though the former is a more involved and precise process.

    I'd get my own darkroom before getting a scanner, and if you want to talk about scanners, try Hybrid Photo dot com, A.P.U.G.'s mirror site for mixed analog/digital processes.
     
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  11. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I'm going to quote a portion of 2F/2F's post above, and then disagree with it :smile:.

    "This is one of the hardest situations for which to expose, develop and print. The best option is to avoid it if possible."
    The first part is correct, but I wouldn't suggest avoiding it.

    Some of the best portraits I have seen (and a couple I have taken) have been backlit. You do, however, need to be sure that there is an appreciable amount of light coming from the front. The light from an open sky comes at least close - reflection off of a light surface might be enough to make the difference, or you may be able to use fill flash.

    2F/2F is right about a whole bunch of other things, including the fact that the print is printed too dark. Cut the lab some slack though, they have to guess about what you wanted.
     
  12. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    It is not so much the practice of back lighting that I was referring to as it was having the sun in the frame, and having such a large area of white behind a small subject. Yes, back lighting is used effectively all the time. However, we must remember that in these cases, although the back light is the strongest light, it is not the main light. You set your exposure based on the main light, not the strongest light. The main light in a back-lit situation is coming from reflection off of the surroundings (and/or an artificial source).
     
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  13. dehk

    dehk Member

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    If its scanned by the lab the lab's scanner probably tried to auto compensate the bright background. Most scanner does that.
     
  14. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Of course, without seeing the negative, who can know. One sure test is to print the negative for the minimum exposure to produce maximum black on the film base. If the subject is still too dark, then, yes, it was under exposed.
     
  15. michelleg

    michelleg Member

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    Here are a couple of photos of the negs - unfortunately I couldn't get in close due to only having a long prime lens, so if anyone is able to make any judgements on these I don't know. I tried to keep my exposure correct to be as good a representation of the negs as possible.

    Its very interesting to expose for the main light and not the strongest light. I think this thought process will help, especially when thinking too about where my main light is coming from in backlit situations.

    I always feel I'm taking a gamble with backlight but I can't resist! I have seen some amazing backlit work and I need a lot of practice to get there!

    I would like to take some control over developing and scanning and its something I'm looking into. Starting shooting film is quite overwhelming, but, its the most excited I've felt about photography for a while!

    On the photo of the 3 negs, the one at the bottom came out beautiful, it was my favourite photo I have taken of my daughter for a long time and what makes me happy is that I didn't have to take 150-200 images on digital and even when I do, this one for me is better!
     

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  16. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    If you take an incidental light reading in the normal way from the subject to the camera and note the reading, then take another another incidental reading pointing the receptor at the Sun and set the exposure at the average of the two readings the exposure will be correct whatever the direction of the light, this is called The Duplex Method.
     
  17. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    In the "close up shot" on the bottom frame it looks like the model's exposure placement is roughly somewhere in the middle so there's probably plenty of detail. Top frame seems to be similar.

    IMO, on those two frames, this this looks like a printing issue not an exposure problem.

    This brings me back to the thought that you need to talk with your lab and have them reprint it with the face given priority.
     
  18. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    Or print it yourself, again for best results! If you're going to do a hybrid workflow then scanning and printing yourself is best, otherwise as I said you can lose most of the detail and exposure before it gets to you. For B&W of course it is fun to print it yourself wet too.

    Or skip the auto-print and auto-scan stage, just get the negs developed and then talk to the lab about how you want to scan and/or print individual frames. You'll pay more but you'll get what you want.
     
  19. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    negatives 4&6 look fine. 5 I can't really tell. I presume 4 is the one you showed a print on here. The face is a nice shade of gray and should print that way.

    You really need either a negative scanner or a darkroom to get consistent quality that exceeds the photolab.
     
  20. michelleg

    michelleg Member

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    Thanks everyone - I guess the bottom line is I need to develop and scan myself. I'll be looking into it!
     
  21. njkphoto

    njkphoto Member

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    I would agree. It does not look all that bad. If you bring it up a bit the sky will become very light, which in this case it will make the image stronger.
     
  22. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Go ahead and look into it but you really don't have to.

    Doing the processing myself is fun and rewarding, for me, but it's not everybody's cup-of-tea, not even mine when the volume is high and there is a deadline. It's also a fair amount of effort.

    I do backlighting too and when I shoot a wedding I send out the film to Richard Photo Lab and they do a great job.

    The magic is in me telling them what I want and them listening, which RPL does well.