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Category: All About Photography : Photographic Field Techniques : Exposure Settings

Photography Question 
Vickie Lyon
 

Backlighting: Getting the Right Exposure


I took a picture of a cat in tree looking upward and the cat and the tree was too dark, though the light through the tree branches was quite bright. I was told that I had a backlight problem but cannot find an answer in my manual for correcting this. I have a Canon 30D and really need some help. Thanks!


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8/25/2008 6:40:05 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Read about exposure compensation. You must change the exposure from what the camera would normally determine by increasing it because of the light direction and the very bright background of the sky.


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8/25/2008 7:17:26 AM

 
Vickie Lyon   Thank you Gregory. I was told to leave the meteoring set mostly on "spot". Do you recommend that also in this kind of situation? I hate to admit this, but I am very new with cameras and though I read this section, Im still not clear if I try to match the bright light coming through the tree on set the exposure to match the cat? My apologies for I know what must sound like a lame question.


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8/25/2008 7:37:04 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Spot will work, but you have to put it on the right spot. I don't have your picture to look at, but shooting up into a tree is like shooting into the sun at evening/morning. Very bright sky or sun, but the surfaces that are facing you with the camera, the light in the direction that they are receiving is very low in comparison (although you may be able to see it with your eyes, film or digital can't record things the same as your eyes can see)
So your camera sees and determines the range of bright and dark areas. Think in terms of every time you aim your camera, it's thinking, take this scene and divide it into 8 squares. I've got 6 areas that are really bright and 2 that are dark.
What you actually want may be in the dark area, but the camera thinks there are so many bright areas, I need an exposure for those 6. So what you actually want in the dark areas, it comes out too dark.
That's how you would use exposure compensation. And a spot meter. Exposure compensation will shift that reading over or under as needed for the situation. That really bright scene, normally a fast shutter speed but exp comp will shift to a slower one. Like a catapult that has no way to adjust it's range, you move the starting point back so that in the end, you're on target.
Spot meter, you take a reading from one of the 8 areas like I said above, and that will give you the correct reading for what you want to see. But if you spot meter and it's still reading one of those 6 bright areas, you'll still be having the same problem.


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8/25/2008 8:24:53 AM

 
Vickie Lyon   Thank you!!


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8/25/2008 10:07:49 AM

 
Ronald H. Musser
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2006
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  As an old film user I have used this method alot. put your camera on manual and select an area near that the lighting is the same meter the area and balance the camera. then focus on the area you wish to capture and take the photo. Do not change the camera balance.


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9/2/2008 7:15:11 AM

 
Vickie Lyon   Thank you Ron.
Since this is all very new, let me play this back to you.
The cat was a leopard in Kenya, so I should have set the camera on manual, found something as dark as the leopard elsewhere in the tree and then what...half press the shutter? then return to the leopard and take the picture??


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9/2/2008 7:38:55 AM

 
Lois Latraverse
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/5/2006
  Gregory, that was the best answer to exposure compensation questions that I've read. It clarified a lot for me. Thanks!


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9/2/2008 9:33:04 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  You're welcome, and vickie, Ron just described spot metering for all intensive purposes.
Read on spot metering in your manual. Pressing the shutter button half way activates the meter, but spot metering as long as you have spot metering activated locks in the reading.


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9/2/2008 4:58:06 PM

 
Ronald H. Musser
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2006
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  Vickie, once you have found that dark area balance your camera, what I mean by balance is adjust the f stop and shutter speed so your camera is adjusted to that area. then return to leopard and take the picutre. I don't know if your manual will address the process for balancing your camera in manual. I am sorry about my inabiilty to explain more clearly.


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9/2/2008 7:25:47 PM

 
Vickie Lyon   Thanks to you both Ron and Gregory, this is truly a big help.


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9/3/2008 8:53:19 AM

 
Jerry Frazier   Couple things:

It's a little more simple than what I am reading here. Meter the scene as if spot metering. Or, if that doesn't work, hold your hand up to the light, and then meter your hand (it will be facing you so you'll be metering the dark part. Now, make sure the f stop and aperture are correct (in the middle). Then still in manual mode, point it at the subject and shoot. This will work most times. If you look at where your meter is, at that point, it's usually 1.5 to 2 stops above the middle. That's about right. So, having said all this, next time it's brightly backlit, just move your needle up 2 stops and shoot. Chimp it, adjust and shoot again. A little more sloppy of a method, but it works.

I'm surprised no one mentioned flash yet. But, in the above example you will get a nicely lit subject, and the background will be completely blown out. If you want a nice balanced image. Do the same thing, meter for the subject, have the camera on manual, and the flash on ETTL, or ATTL, or whatever yours is. Then shoot. What you should them see is the subject, and the backgorund nicely balanced. You may have to adjust the flash up or down a little to get it right, but this will get you headed in the right direction.


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9/5/2008 2:52:52 PM

 
Vickie Lyon   Thanks Jerry!


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9/5/2008 4:14:40 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  A little more simpler?
You described the same thing.


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9/5/2008 10:02:02 PM

 
Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  How far were you from the cat? Could you use the Canon 580EX flash as a fill light, but with the Flash Exposure Compensation?


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9/6/2008 9:49:08 AM

 
Vickie Lyon   I was about 50 feet away inside a jeep under a tree shooting up. I only have the flash built into the Canon 30D I was using. The jeep was full of people and don't think I could have gotten to my gear bag before the shot was gone anyway.


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9/6/2008 10:32:52 AM

 
Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  The flash in your camera will only go about 20 feet, so that is out.

There is what may be a perfect course for you at: http://tinyurl.com/5nt5xx

It is called Better Exposure: How to Meter Light with Sean Arbabi.

While I haven't taken this course, I've taking others to refresh my memory of what to do and when. BP has some wonderful photographers, and some truly great instructors. I strongly recommend taking courses to reduce your learning curve with your camera.


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9/6/2008 5:53:14 PM

 
Vickie Lyon   Thanks Susan,
I did take a course through BP and enjoyed it and just book a self study BP book with field exercises in it that Im really looking forward to practicing.
I would love to some day follow a pro around in the field so I could get some dedicated 'in the moment' help. Have you done this before or would you recommend anyone?


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9/7/2008 8:08:47 AM

 
  Susan, I never got to thank you for recommending my BP course "Better Exposure- How to Meter Light" - much appreciated - that was very kind of you.

Here's the link for anyone interested- I recently re-wrote the course and it's better than ever.

My book "The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure" will also be out in October.

I always make the analogy in my live Photoshop and Exposure lectures, of the camera exposure being the recipe or items you carefully select and mix together, and Photoshop being the oven you cook it all in. You need both to make a high-quality final creation.

And getting more in camera saves you from computer time post capture.

thanks!


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9/7/2008 9:37:28 AM

 
Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  After you become thoroughly familiar with and understand your camera, there are relatively expensive courses that are available some through BP others through individual photographers.

For example, while it's too late for this tour, (BP instructor) Jim Zuckerman, will be leading photo tour to Kenya from Sept. 21 to Oct. 7.

I've never been on such a tour. My daughter wanted to gift me an $800 workshop with 8 other photographers under the tutoring of a different professional. Unfortunately for me, I am unable to walk well due to continuous recovery after two bad falls and a new hip and knee.

Back 45 years ago, as a photography major in college, I participated in an internship program for a month with a professional portrait/commercial photographer. In that case, I learned a little bit of everything --lighting, darkroom techniques (film to printing), finishing and selling. After graduation from college, I freelanced.

In order to light something more stationary in the field if I were on my own, I might use my Canon 580EX flash and set it up as a master with one or two slaves on light stands or the equipment directed by knowledgeable and trustworthy people so that the master and slaves work together to light the target. But, this is way too advanced for you right now.

Even the 580EX (external) flash alone will not light something 50 feet away. For that, you would need 3 slave units (like other equally powerful external flash units) and/or something white to bounce the light to the subject. That would be tough in the case of the big cat in Kenya from a jeep full of people.

Email me at snowsk@cox.net and perhaps I can help more.


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9/7/2008 10:09:54 AM

 

BetterPhoto Member
  I'm also running an Exposure 4-day course next month, in the high sierra, in Mammoth California:

Here's a link to the event:
http://www.seanarbabi.com/workshops.html

The nice about this course too is, most likely, our walking will be limited to flat trails and short distances- some can go further and others can stay close to vehicles.

thx!


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9/7/2008 11:57:40 AM

 
Jerry Frazier   Oh.


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9/8/2008 12:24:25 PM

 
Nancy Donnell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/23/2004
  Thank you for your comment, Jerry.


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9/17/2008 12:13:31 PM

 
Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  Vickie,

If I read the manual correctly for the 580EX flash, which fits in the camera hotshoe or is used as a master unit with slave units all outside the camera, the when used outside flash will not travel far enough to reach your subject, even with two slave units.

There is an illustration of page 38 of the 580EX Speedlite manual that explains this.
[To download the Canon 580EX flash, go to:
http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=DownloadIndexAc

However, apparently the flash of the slave units travels further indoors than outside.

Of course, all this is moot with you because you said you only had the in-camera flash unit, which if I recall correctly, only goes out to 20 feet --30 feet too short for your subject.

Any of the flashes would startle the cat and you may lose your subject. It would be one thing if the flash went far enough to fill part of the shadow, but it does not from what I've read.

Jon Close, Paul Gero: If you guys are out there, could you weigh in on this.


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9/17/2008 6:35:23 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  I don't have the manual, but it's sounding like a misinterpretation to say that the flash will travel further indoors than outside.
Maybe it has something to do with sync speed and the matching aperture for ambient outdoor light for outside the shadows.
Flash startling the cat, that's a false assumption to me. Like flash and sports. Besides, this was tourist game reserve.


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9/18/2008 3:26:20 AM

 
Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  Gregory,

I sent you a message at your web site regarding your comment to my post here.

For my clarification and so we can assist Vickie better, could you respond to me personally.

Thanks.

Bunny


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9/18/2008 7:05:54 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  All of a sudden things get clandestine?


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9/18/2008 1:32:23 PM

 
Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  What I wanted to send to you, Gregory, I cannot post here. I need clarification myself and if you can help, I thought it would not hurt to ask.


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9/18/2008 3:19:45 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Relax, have an omelet. I was kidding.


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9/19/2008 7:19:40 AM

 
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