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15.5 - Be Careful with Backlighting

As discussed in the Lighting Contrast section, most digital sensors cannot record scenes that have both dark and light areas.

You have to choose which part of the scene to record properly, the bright area or the dark area.

Light meters don't know what is important in a scene.

You have to decide.

In the example below, the light meter won't know whether the sky is more important to you—or the parrot.


Let's say you're on the dock at Key West and the sun is setting.

You're taking a picture of a man with the parrot on his shoulder.

You expect the colors of the parrot will look good with the colors of the sunset behind the bird.

When you look at the photograph, however, the sunset looks great, but the parrot is a dark silhouette.

The above situation is called backlighting.

Backlighting can confuse even sophisticated light metering systems.

How do you measure the light better than the light meter?

Take the light reading from the parrot, not the bright sky.

There are three methods.

Method #1 - Walk Closer

Walk up to the parrot, and measure the light on the parrot.

Lock in the exposure with the auto exposure lock button (AEL).

Then, step back, and take the photograph.

Method #2 - Closer with Spot Metering

Switch your light meter to spot metering, if your camera has this feature.

When your camera is set for spot metering, it is measuring the light in a small portion of the viewfinder.

Set your exposure by pointing the spot metering zone at the bird.

Lock in the exposure with the auto exposure lock button (AEL).

Then, take the photograph.

Method #3 - Add Light

You can also add more light to the man and bird.

Use fill flash or a reflector.

Then, the sensor can record the scene properly.