Back Lighting to Create Interest | Transcription
I love this technique because backlighting is one of my favorite things to do to simply turn a scene that looks completely ordinary into something absolutely extraordinary. That is your job as a photographer. The more often you can do that in front of a client and you go “See look at this what this looked before and now look.” Then they look at the back of the camera and are like “Holy cow, that’s amazing. You are absolutely fantastic. You are magical.” That’s the exact thing that you want. Now we all know that there is no magic here. It is all about the light.
Well that is kind of magical. Lighting is magical in general. When does backlighting in these types of scenes work out for your benefit? We generally want to backlight and create a rim light typically when we want to do one of two things. One is to create separation between the subject and the background. For example, if our subjects have dark hair and the background is dark, then backlighting them can create that separation. We want to make sure that we don’t go too far because if we go too far, it just looks like their hair is on fire. That is generally not a look that you want unless we are talking about Lighting 401 or lighting 301 and 401, where we made Michelle’s hair look like a cotton fire, which was a cool effect.
That’s on my mind right now because we just shot that yesterday, but that separation is one thing. Point number two, when we want to backlight is when we have basically for lack of a better term, actually this is a pretty good term. This is like a scientific term. Airborne particles, whenever you have airborne particles, generally backlighting is going to create really cool, interesting, and dynamic effects in your image. What are airborne particles? For example, water. If it is raining, if you have a fountain, like in this case, if you have some sort of a spray we will often times take spray bottles on shoots and we will create our own mist and our own rain, which we are going to get to in lighting 301.
Anytime you have fog or smoke or anything like that, if someone is smoking and taking a drag on a cigar if you put a light behind that smoke that smoke just blooms and it looks absolutely incredible. Anything with these airborne particles, the first thing I want to pop in your head is what would that look like if I backlit it. To keep things simple and straightforward, take a look at this. This was shot with the Sigma 50 mm Art at 1/100 of a second at F1.4 and ISO 200 at 4000 Kelvin. This is just exposing for that natural ambient light. Here you can see that the flash did not fire. We have this really cool curved fountain in Downtown Los Angeles, that sometimes is on; sometimes it is off; it is kind of hit or miss.
When it is on, it looks fantastic. I placed the couple inside of it and that’s that shot. I actually took that shot. I do this all the time. I’ll take that shot and then I’ll turn the flash on. The flash is already placed behind him. I’ve already got everything set up. I did the test shot already. It is all set up and good to go, but once we turn that flash on, then look at what happens to that background. We go from this to this. Now this isn’t generally a shot I would take on a real engagement session, unless I was trying to show a tutorial, but this is, why because what I do is I go look at this. Check this out. This is what the scene looks like right now as you see it and I show them that image. I go but watch what happens when I take the picture of the scene and then I show them this.
Then, of course, they go “Holy cow. That’s absolutely amazing and that’s what we want.” What have we done here? For composition and attributes, I used the first thing on my mind is I want to use a shallow, shallow depth of field and the Sigma 50 mm Art lens, I have the 85mm right now. This is not the ART but it is still a great lens but their ART series is absolutely incredibly. Talk about lenses that are tack sharp even when shooting wide open. F1.4 is wide open. You don’t get any wider than that, at least not in that lens. It is still a tack sharp image and I wanted that because I want the bokeh effect in the water. I want the depth in the water where we have small bokeh effects in the back, and we have larger bokeh effects in the front water, and we have the soft overall look to the image. I want that.
That’s the first thing that pops into my mind is I want that because I need that effect for the water. Now that we are shooting, this shot is taken basically in kind of dusk. It is not pitch black outside, but it is dark enough. We are in an area that’s like under shade too. It is fairly dark. We don’t need to worry about sync. We don’t need to worry about high-speed sync or neutral density filters. What we are doing is we want to keep the ambient exposure fairly dim. We are at 1/200 of a second and ISO 200. This is at 1/100 of a second and ISO 200. I basically sped it up by two stops. We went up to 1/200 and then brought the ISO down to 100 for these shots. Why did I do that?
The thing is that you can quickly ruin a beautiful shot like this by allowing too much of this crappy ambient stuff in your background into your frame. It would make the background more busy. It would add a lot of green tones to it. It just wouldn’t look great. I want to deepen that and darken it. Always seeing the background here, this is actually a storefront of a store that is completely empty. We see cement and the green lights and everything. It doesn’t look good. We darken down by two stops, so that we can barely see anything behind that light of what’s going on here. Then we have our Phottix Mitros. It is placed right behind the couple and it is zoomed to around, you can go anywhere for this type of a shot to 80 to 105.
You can go 50mm. I zoomed in around 80 mm and you can see that based on how tight the highlight pattern is behind them. Why because I want to create a natural vignette in the image. Okay, what that does is depending on your zoom, if you want the entire image from edge to edge to be the same brightness, then you use a wide zoom. At 24 mm the zoom on this, the light is just going to fan out in every direction, and it is going to give you basically bright edge to edge. If you want to get more of that vignetted look, you zoom it in. The further you zoom, the more that vignette you are going to get because essentially the light is going telephoto right. It is tunneling down. We know that from Lighting 101.
We are zooming it in. Probably this is around 80 mm. We are at around 1/8th to 1/16th power. Again this is the beauty of being able to use the Odin right in my camera because once that’s placed and I have the couple there, I just make a couple of quick adjustments up and down as necessary in the power till I get it to that point that I wanted. Where do I want the brightness? I want it to where basically the hottest points in the image. The brightest points in the image are just behind the couple or just around their faces. I don’t want those points to be too blown out. What I want to do is retain most of the color in the droplets. You will know that you have gone too far if everything is just blowing out from edge to edge and you have too much … You want to create that contrast.
The contrast, the beauty of the image is created from having these bright points against a darker background. If everything is just bright, then you don’t get that beautiful contrast in there. You want to make sure you get to that right power setting. We also don’t want to create like a giant explosion behind them, where it just looks like everything goes white. Then we do a couple of different shots, couple of different angles. This is an example right here. I love this shot. This was fantastic. We shot a couple of different images. When I am doing shots like this, it is all when it comes to the pose, it is all about the profile and so forth. We basically get them closing in on each other, going for kisses, things where they are facing in and not looking to the camera because their faces obviously are not lit.
For the test shot, we revealed good power at around 1/16th. We already talked about making sure that it is not too powerful. Light color, we left the flashes without their gels on. Basically, our flashes are shooting at 5500 Kelvin. The ambient light around them is around 3000 degrees Kelvin. What did I do? I dropped our white balance down to match the ambient light. We are at 3000 Kelvin on this shot. What happens is, the background now, that 5500 Kelvin flash turns blue. Now we can exaggerate this effect even more by putting even more yellow light on them and then pulling it down even more, but this effect is already great. I already like the look. I like where there is little bit of warmth in their skin from that natural ambient light. Then we see that blue in the background. That looks absolutely fantastic.
The couple is posed directly in front of the flash. What I want to make sure that happens here is that essentially I want to pose the couple in the way where they block the flash. This is going to come down to the height of the flash. Generally, I found that the best height with a shot like this, is matching to about the girl’s shoulder height, so right about here. That way it is concealed just behind them and I can basically put that light directly in between them and light where it is even like … What we want to make sure is that if the light is pointing a little bit towards her or if our camera angle is a little bit biased on one side, you end up with either a brighter highlight around the girl or a brighter highlight around the guy.
If it is too much, it can be too powerful. What we want to do is place that flash just at a height where it is hidden behind where they are kind of connecting right there, aiming it up a little bit towards their faces and making sure that we chose an angle, where that light is kind of hitting both of them fairly evenly on both sides of the face. Analyze and make sure that you don’t have any unpleasant lighting on their faces. We showed you an image earlier when we were talking about basically slowing things down and looking at the details, where we had a very unpleasant highlight that was hitting the side of her cheek and the chin and so forth.
That was partly due to light direction and also due to camera angle. Correct those things. Adjust and make sure that you have a nice rim light that outlines their shape and their body and their form, but it doesn’t create unnatural and unwanted highlights in a way that looks unflattering. That’s it. We have their entire bodies covering everything now. When they do that, you end up with this beautiful high contrast image. This is virtually directly from camera. I showed them this image and it just blew their mind. Straight out of camera. I am like wait till we get it in post. This is the beautiful part when you get into post. This image right here was slightly blurry.
You might have thought when you look at it you might just throw it away because it is not tack sharp, but anytime you have an image like this, where it is kind of telling a story in an implied way, you don’t necessarily need tack sharp focus. In fact for this image, I almost feel like it is stronger for this particular look with that slight bit of blur behind it. It allows us to focus kind of just on this effect that’s going on. It allows to focus on the emotion and everything else about the scene rather than having that sharp point right on their faces. I am not saying to shoot all your images blurry. I am saying when that happens you can actually once you start getting used to it, you can start doing it intentionally and shooting things a little bit blurry or a little bit out of focus just to get that kind of a look.
I found that generally once you get into post production, what I like to do is flip it to black and white and then I’ll exaggerate the effect along the edges of the image. I actually exaggerated that out of focus effect along the outside of the image. It still pulls attention to the center even though they are not tack sharp there. The black and white kind of takes away from … When you turn an image to black and white, it allows us to focus more on the overall … I don’t know I guess the emotion of the image, rather than certain technical details like color and sharpness, which I find that whenever something is in color, I am looking at color and sharpness before I look at anything else.
Love that look to that. Also one little tip. It is really fun to play with flares when you get this kind of a setup. This is how you do it. A flare is basically where we allow part of the flash to essentially peek through the background. If our subject is here and the flash is directly behind them, I might move in just a little bit where that flash just peeks out just a little bit from the couple and then fire the shot. Now, couple of things to note with the flare. Often times they are very much overdone. Flares are great when they are done in a minimalistic type of approach, and they are not done all of the time and done in an over the top way. Flares can become distracting when they are done that way because basically what a flare is going to do, it is going to wash out contrast and create a highlight point right where that flare is.
That highlight point is going to draw attention in. For example if I put a flare in the corner of the frame my couple is right here, my eyes automatically go to the corner of the frame where the flare is because it is the brightest place, but if I use the flare kind of creatively; maybe place it right between them, maybe place it right here in the corner where their hair is, then I can draw attention visually into the image, create kind of a cool washed out effect and an interesting look by just moving a little bit with the camera and just kind of shifting and allowing some of that natural flare in. When you block the flash completely, when basically my subjects so here’s the flash, when my subject blocks the flash completely and there is no flare, then we end up with a very high contrast and very saturated image.
When there is a flare, it is going to washout and desaturate the image basically and it is going to reduce a little bit of the sharpness too. Just kind of keep in mind what those effects have. All right that’s it for this tutorial. I want you all to take this effect, take this look and go out and just absolutely amaze and wager clients. Do the before and after image, so you can show them in-camera just how awesome you are.