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Archive 2011 · Backlighting woes
  
 
no_surrender
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p.1 #1 · Backlighting woes


Shot a retirement ceremony today and am pretty disgusted with the results. Ceremony inside of our hangar with retiree's back to sunlit outside, facing into the hangar with the sun overhead. Used my 430EXII for fill flash, but just wasn't enough to overcome how bright it was behind everyone.

Well, I learned something today...when the subject is backlit to this extent, they appear cut and pasted into the frame. Any suggestions on how to process these? Also, how to overcome this scenario to achieve better results? The only option I might have been able to do would be to maybe place my speedlite on a stand closer to the action, but I would have been limited because the only way I could have controlled it off camera is with a 24 foot ETTL cord.

-Frustrated in Vegas



Dec 03, 2011 at 08:20 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #2 · Backlighting woes


no_surrender wrote:
...when the subject is backlit to this extent, they appear cut and pasted into the frame. ...Also, how to overcome this scenario to achieve better results?


Set manual exposure for the background, and then use a lot of added light on the subjects. Short of having everyone turn around and shooting in the opposite direction, it's really the only option.

If you're trying to do it with one small light the problem is that when you have the bright background properly exposed through a combination of low ISO, fast shutter, small aperture, and maybe a neutral density filter, a small speedlight just can't put out enough light to get a good exposure of the subjects.



Dec 03, 2011 at 08:31 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #3 · Backlighting woes


no_surrender wrote:
...Any suggestions on how to process these?


You may be able to darken a copy of the image in Photoshop and then use layer masking to combine the image of the subject(s) with the darkened BG. It's hard to say without seeing it, but that might work.



Dec 03, 2011 at 08:36 AM
no_surrender
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p.1 #4 · Backlighting woes


Thanks BrianO, I'm still looking through them in Lightroom. I'll post a few examples shortly.


Dec 03, 2011 at 08:40 AM
no_surrender
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p.1 #5 · Backlighting woes


Example of the "cut and paste" look from backlit outdoors.




  Canon EOS 30D    EF70-200mm f/4L USM lens    200mm    f/4.0    1/250s    250 ISO    0.0 EV  



Edited on Dec 03, 2011 at 08:53 AM · View previous versions



Dec 03, 2011 at 08:44 AM
no_surrender
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p.1 #6 · Backlighting woes


Mistake #1/500...
Batteries were apparently low in my speedlite, it would only flash once then take FOREVER to cycle.

Mistake #2/500...
Spare batteries were AAA for my headlamp I used over the weekend while camping, didn't realize I didn't have AA.





With fill flash SOOC

  Canon EOS 30D    EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens    32mm    f/8.0    1/60s    250 ISO    0.0 EV  







Without fill flash SOOC

  Canon EOS 30D    EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens    32mm    f/8.0    1/60s    250 ISO    0.0 EV  




Dec 03, 2011 at 08:52 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #7 · Backlighting woes


no_surrender wrote:
...Batteries were apparently low in my speedlite, it would only flash once then take FOREVER to cycle.


Yeah, that'll happen when the poor little guy is giving his all each time he's flogged into trying to match the sun.

These shots aren't as bad as I was expecting from your first post, but having two or three more Speedlites, or a couple of big strobes, would have helped.



Dec 03, 2011 at 08:59 AM
no_surrender
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p.1 #8 · Backlighting woes


One more of the "cut and paste." SOOC




  Canon EOS 30D    EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens    33mm    f/8.0    1/200s    320 ISO    0.0 EV  




Dec 03, 2011 at 09:01 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #9 · Backlighting woes


The data for this one says it was shot at 1/60 second. You could have shot it at 1/200 - 1/250 (depending on the camera) to reduce the background exposure without affecting the flash exposure.








Dec 03, 2011 at 09:04 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #10 · Backlighting woes


no_surrender wrote:
One more of the "cut and paste." SOOC


Part of the problem is that the flash is too close to the lens axis, and so is not creating any modeling shadows to reveal shape.

An off-camera flash/strobe at 45 degrees or so to one side would help.



Dec 03, 2011 at 09:08 AM
 

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no_surrender
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p.1 #11 · Backlighting woes


BrianO wrote:
Yeah, that'll happen when the poor little guy is giving his all each time he's flogged into trying to match the sun.

These shots aren't as bad as I was expecting from your first post, but having two or three more Speedlites, or a couple of big strobes, would have helped.


Two or three or even ONE more speedlite is probably not going to happen for a while. I just jumped off the cliff with everyone else and picked up a 70-200 f/2.8 IS II. Glad to hear it may not be as bad as I (still) think. Just feel like these shots are going to let everyone down. I consider myself an "on the verge of becoming an advanced amateur", but was hoping for better results than what I got. The good part is that I'm just an amateur with a hobby. The bad part (or good) is that the guy that requested I shoot this said, "hey, you're a lot more professional than I though." Normally, someone is tasked with photographing these things and they end up using the unit point and shoot or Rebel series with kit lens and no experience. So I should end up with better results, but so far I really don't feel like I have. Better news is that I'm my own worst enemy and hopefully I'm just being hard on myself, but then again it seems like NOTHING is sharp!



Dec 03, 2011 at 09:09 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #12 · Backlighting woes


All else said, I really like the shot of the honor guard. The bright background gives a feeling for the location (Nellis?) as being a hot, dry climate. There's still plenty of detail in the subjects.


Dec 03, 2011 at 09:12 AM
no_surrender
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p.1 #13 · Backlighting woes


BrianO wrote:
Part of the problem is that the flash is too close to the lens axis, and so is not creating any modeling shadows to reveal shape.

An off-camera flash/strobe at 45 degrees or so to one side would help.


Tell me about it! I was considering mounting the flash on my other tripod and just leaving the ETTL cord plugged into it, but I decided not to because A) tripping hazard, B) I would be confined to one small area. In all reality, I don't think anybody there would expect strobes, umbrellas, wireless speedlites, etc. Like I said, he was already surprised just by the tripod I think and external flash...



Dec 03, 2011 at 09:13 AM
no_surrender
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p.1 #14 · Backlighting woes


BrianO wrote:
All else said, I really like the shot of the honor guard. The bright background gives a feeling for the location (Nellis?) as being a hot, dry climate. There's still plenty of detail in the subjects.


Yes, I'm at Nellis. Now that I've illustrated my frustration with the backlighting and lack of fill flash, let me demonstrate how poor the majority of these turned out by posting a few more...





  Canon EOS 30D    EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens    17mm    f/8.0    1/250s    250 ISO    0.0 EV  






  Canon EOS 30D    EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens    17mm    f/8.0    1/250s    250 ISO    0.0 EV  






  Canon EOS 30D    EF70-200mm f/4L USM lens    70mm    f/8.0    1/100s    250 ISO    0.0 EV  




Dec 03, 2011 at 09:23 AM
Mark_L
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p.1 #15 · Backlighting woes


I prefer the white sky rather than an exposure of almost 100% flash on the people, it looks odd because it IS unnatural especially with on camera flash. Any time the flash contributes more than about 50% of the exposure thing will look unnatural. If you look, a lot of wedding pictures have a blown sky, it would be nice to keep it but it looks ok without - it's not a landscape shot, the important bit is the people.

I would have been tempted to shoot some 'plate' shots of the angles beforehand exposed for the background and banded in later. As long as you don't go crazy and try and make the background too dark this approach can work well.



Dec 03, 2011 at 11:05 AM
cgardner
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p.1 #16 · Backlighting woes


You just need to know the Sunny 16 / Shady 5.6 rule of thumb and limitations of your gear.

The biggest gear limitation is the sensor range of the camera. Most outdoor scenes exceed it. Sometimes that can be remedied by, flash other times flash is not an option and exposure compromises must be made.

The Sunny 16 / Shady 5.6 rule of thumb is based on the sun and shade being constant on clear day; shady side 3 stops below the sunny side. Adjusted for the 1/250th sync of the camera you need to shoot at f/11@ 1/250th @ ISO 100 when what is most important in the scene is in the direct sunlight (sun at your back), and f/4 @ 1/250 @ ISO 100 when your most important content (like faces) are in the shadows (sun in your face). Exposure in-between f/11 and f/4 (i.e. f/10... f/4.5) will blow the highlights of light colored objects to some degree. While less than ideal that can be made non-distracting in shoots by cropping.

In a situation like the backlit hanger what I'd do without flash, or under performing flash, would be to take wide establishing shots outdoors with the sun at my back exposing for the sunlit highlights knowing that most of the scene range would be recorded faithfully. Indoors in the hanger a wide shot exposed for the outdoors will also work to establish the scene related to the outdoor shots. Then for interior shots of the people I'd expose for the open shady side, using shallower DOF and cropping tight enough that the blown highlights in the background didn't become a distraction.

Flash exposure with ETTL-II bodies is based on a baseline ambient reading separate ambient reading taken after full press of the shutter. So if the ambient highlights are blown by the shutter/aperture selection it will affect flash in ETTL mode to some degree. This is the default sequence of the metering in Av / ETTL:

Half press of shutter: Ambient Exposure Lock / Focus Lock

Full press of shutter:

1) Baseline ambient lighting map created for flash calculation







2) Pre-flash fired to create combined ambient + flash map





3) Metering logic subtracts baseline ambient readings from the ambient+pre-flash







What I've discovered with testing is that when the ambient exposure set with shutter and aperture manually or via EC adjustment in Av mode ETTL-II will do a very good job of exposing backlight subjects within the limits of the range of the flash at FEC = 0. In the test below shot in Av mode it took - 2 EC to get the sunny parts below clipping on the target...





... but when flash was turned on FEC =0 produced this result






So by default in Av mode EC=0 will bias exposure to made the shaded foreground placed in the middle of the frame more normal looking with detail, but doing so will blow the highlights on the edges. It can do this because it evaluates discrete zones on the viewfinder in evaluative mode, not the average. Overriding the Av default with - 2 EC underexposes the background, but that's what is needed for successful results with flash. You simply need to know the range of your flash and stay within it.

The simplest way to determine max range on a flash in any situation is to fire a ranging shot in M flash mode at 1/1 power. For example after taking the wide ambient only establishing shot inside the hanger without flash what I'd do is expose for the outside, put my flash in M mode at 1/1 and fire off direct and bounced test shots shot. Those tests then tell me how close I need to be for the flash to be effective.

Due to the way flash and ambient are metered Av and ETTL exposures can vary a great deal in a situation like that and its better to use all manual control rather than chase and correct the camera's guesses. That's where the habit of shooting the establishing shots is valuable. They will not always be at the "rule of thumb" f/11 sunny and f/4 shady values, but in shooting the establishing shots you will know what they are. Knowing that, use M mode on the camera and switch between them as needed for detail in the sunny background or detail in the shaded foreground when shooting with the flash.

If for example you could shoot from say 10ft in the range of your flash you could set aperture from the f/11 sunny baseline for full range of detail in the background, f/8 to blow the background by a stop, f/5.6 to blow it by two stops, etc. The more you are able to open the aperture and blow the background highlights the greater the effective range of the flash will be. By the time you get to f/4 (or whatever your shady baseline is) the background will be totally blown out and you won't need any flash at all to expose the shaded faces correctly.

Flash isn't always fill...

Any flash added to an outdoor scene is generically considered "fill flash" but it's actual cause and effect depends on its angle relative to the lens axis. Flash close to the lens which illuminates everything the camera sees adds EVENLY to whatever ambient fill there is. In the hanger situation if the camera is set at f/11 to correctly expose the outside there is ambient fill inside, just not enough of it for the lame camera sensor to record detail in the shadows of the ambient.

If you raise your flash on a bracket or move it off axis on a stand with a radio trigger it's not "fill" anymore in the role of lifting everything the camera sees. Moving a flash off axis changes it's role to "frontal key light" and changes role of the sun to "hair / accent" light. The fill? That still comes from whatever ambient light is bouncing around the space hitting the parts of the scene the camera sees.

Why is this distinction in terminology important? If you think of the flash in a backlit scenario as "key" light rather than "fill" it is easier to conceptualize how to position it and set exposure for it. Natural lighting comes from overhead most of the time and the reason many flash shots look fake is the angle of the flash is too low. Raising it on a bracket or a stand over the heads of subject or above objects so it hits at about a 45 downward angle produces more natural looking results. The flash overlaps the ambient "fill" to create modeling highlights. That being the case you need to set the flash exposure based on the highlights on the front side, not the shadow tone.

In a sunny backlit + flash situation I ideally want the sunlit parts below clipping on skin and white clothing and start by setting shutter and aperture to produce that result with white at 250 eyedropper reading about 1/3 stop below clipping in the playback (one click). As mentioned if shooting in Av mode it usually requires about - 2 EC. Then adding flash from my bracket I will raise flash until I see clipping on the white clothing in front, then reduce the flash by 2/3 stops (two clicks). That simple two step procedure puts the sunny highlights 1/3 stop below clipping and the shaded frontal white highlights 1/3 stop darker than the sunny highlights which still retain detail...







The net result is adding flash in front at the same downward angle the skylight is already modeling the face, blending the two seamlessly with the skylight providing the fill for the frontal shadows and avoiding a blown out background.

So it is possible to get perceptually correct exposure in foreground and background with natural looking results, you just need to know how to use the ambient light to best advantage, the range limits of your flash gear, and how to position it most effectively for natural modeling on the things in front it illuminates. The simplest way to get more natural modeling with flash is raise it on a flash bracket. Bouncing flash is also a way to get a more natural downward angle, but it's less efficient and not possible outdoors, or practical indoors with high /dark ceilings.




Dec 03, 2011 at 02:16 PM
sic0048
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p.1 #17 · Backlighting woes


The shots were the flash went off are certainly good enough to work with a little PP. They are not going to win any photo contests, but I think everyone will enjoy them.

The biggest problem you had was the recycle time of the flashes. I'm sure they were going off at or near full power and without fresh batteries I'm sure it took a while to recharge the capacitor.




Dec 03, 2011 at 04:31 PM
RoadconePhoto
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p.1 #18 · Backlighting woes


MOAR flash or just expose for your subjects and say eff the background... You could maybe get away with a pair of B800's in umbrellas to provide your overall fill... for what you tried i think the Bee's + VML would be way more useful... or grab a 580EX2 and a flash bracket and set it on kill with an extra battery pack!


Dec 05, 2011 at 07:56 PM
BrianO
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p.1 #19 · Backlighting woes


RoadconePhoto wrote:
MOAR flash...


I'm not familiar with that terminology. What is it?



Dec 05, 2011 at 08:46 PM
c2thew
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p.1 #20 · Backlighting woes


BrianO wrote:
I'm not familiar with that terminology. What is it?


It's internet speak: Give me MOARR!!!!



Dec 05, 2011 at 10:46 PM
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