Cats in Windows, A lesson in back-lighting

Zeb with fill flash. Check out the great rim lighting on his fluffy tail!

Cats love windows. They can spend hours watching the world fly by or basking in the warm rays of the sun. They are so very cute and snugly and you just want to capture an image of them, but the lighting is against you. So what’s a photographer to do?

Back lighting is a tricky shooting situation, one you’ll often run into with many different subjects. The problem is that the light is behind the subject, not illuminating it, so the subject is in shadow. You would prefer light shining on your subject, but the silly cat wants to sit in the window! So we’ll look at several options you can try to capture your beautiful cat or any back lit subject.

Exposure Review

First let’s briefly review exposure. When you frame an image in the view finder, the camera averages all of the reflected or direct light in the frame. It then sets an aperture, shutter speed and ISO to get the exposure or end result. In the manual modes, you control one or all of these settings, but there are only certain combinations that will give the results you want.  If you’re a beginner, the camera will choose for you.

The exposure varies widely depending on how much of the subject you have in the frame vs how much brightly lit background you have included. The less of the bright background included, the better.

I recommend reviewing how to use exposure compensation in the owners manual if you are not savvy with your camera settings.

Now for those tips for dealing with back-lighting!

Fill Flash (Beginner & Advanced)

The simplest thing to do is pop up the flash, which gives you fill lighting. The flash lights up the shadow areas on the subject so they show up against the bright background. It’s magic! The camera automatically figures out how much light to fire from the flash, so this is a great starting point for the beginner. However, it does not allow you to control the background exposure which will vary widely from really blown out to slightly blown out depending on how bright it is.

Buggs with fill flash

If you want to control the background exposure, you need to know how to set exposure in the manual modes. Use the camera meter to set an exposure for the background and then pop up the flash. This gives you a properly exposed background and subject.

Background exposure set to +1 and fill flash

Expose for the Subject (Beginner & Advanced)

The most important part of any image is the subject. So if you have bad lighting, expose for the subject and let the background do whatever it’s going to do. There are two ways to do this, the precise method and the zen method. For precision, change the metering method to spot metering. Meter the subject and set the exposure using manual mode or exposure lock in aperture or shutter priority. This is for advanced camera users. If you’re a beginner use the zen method below.

The zen method involves bracketing several exposures with the default metering method, matrix/evaluative metering, unless you’ve changed it. Bracketing is a technique used to take multiple exposures of the same lighting situation to find the exposure you like. For instance you’ll set exposure compensation to take an image at 0, + 1 and +2, then compare them to find the one you like best.

Some cameras have a setting to do this automatically or you can manually change the exposure in the manual modes. If you’re a beginner, use your owners manual to figure out how to use exposure compensation, then the camera will automatically change settings for you.

The result is a properly exposed subject and blown out background. Try to eliminate as much background as possible and fill your frame with your subject. This decreases the amount of bright light in the frame and can help get a good exposure on your subject.

Spot metering on Oz set to +2/3, no flash. Note that background is completely washed out. Same location as image above.

Go with the silhouette! (Beginner & Advanced)

A silhouette is created when there is a lot of contrast between the subject and the background. You will underexpose, make very dark, the subject and have a properly exposed or overexposed background. Try exposing for the background and see what you get. The brighter the background the better the silhouette. The higher the contrast the better.

If you’re a beginner bracket the exposures until you get a good background exposure and a really dark almost black subject.

It’s important that the subject be recognizable if you use this technique, so profiles are best.

Oz back-lit by the setting sun

Use HDR (Advanced)

If you have a very still subject or still life, then HDR, High Dynamic Range, photography is an option. Find the exposure for the background and then find the exposure for the subject. Take both of those images and then take exposures at one stop intervals to fill in the gap between. Combine the images using an HDR program . This result usually gives you an obviously stylized HDR effect, but it’s an option and has some fun results. Check your camera to see if it has a built in  HDR feature such as Canon’s 5D Mark III.

HDR of Oz using Googles HDR Efex Pro 2

Practice each of the above methods and let me know what works best for you. You’re welcome to post some of your results on my Facebook page for comments and critique. Have fun and happy shooting!

New E-book for Beginning Photographers

cover beg

I’ve finally finished my first E-book, Getting to Know Your Digital Camera! This is the culmination of years of teaching my beginning photography classes. I wanted to create a book packed with information in a fun, easy to read and view format for new photographers.  With the help of my wonderful Graphic artist friend, Cynthia Gisiner, I believe I achieved my goal! She created a beautiful format for the book and designed a smashing cover.

I have come to love teaching and hope students find this book useful. My plan is to continue with a series of beginner, intermediate and advanced books. I also have plans to add small video clips to enhance the teaching experience. The book format can support this so I can’t wait to get started on that as well.

So a copy for yourself or as a gift for the aspiring photographer in your life.  I’ve kept the price low, only $4.99! It’s available through the Kindle store on Amazon.com. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, most any device will support the Kindle reading app. Use this link to access my book on Amazon: Getting to Know Your Digital Camera

I appreciate all of the students that have made this book possible and everyone in my life that supports what I do.

Below is the full description of the book:

Learn the basics of your digital camera in a fun, easy to read manual with plenty of practice exercises so you can get shooting! Cameras help us capture the moments of our lives; so don’t miss out on learning how to make the most of your camera. We’ll start at the beginning with a digital primer. In it we’ll demystify megapixels, file size, file formats, and types of cameras. Then we’ll address basic navigation of the camera and learn some terminology. Once we have the basics set up we’ll learn a little about how the camera works. Understanding a few key features will make photographing so much more enjoyable and then you can move onto the fun stuff – making beautiful memorable pictures.

A solid foundation in photography comes from understanding the basics of how the camera works and sees the world around us. So you’ll get a primer on exposure, light, shutter speeds, and aperture. Then I’ll teach you how to choose the proper shooting mode for the situation, get sharp images by paying attention to how much light you have, avoid unwanted colorcasts, control how bright or dark the image is, know when to use the flash and when to avoid it, and so much more. Don’t worry; I will not force you to learn full manual control of the camera, yet. If you have a desire to move on, I’ll have a book for that in my Intermediate Shots series.

This book is also great for those of you unsure what type of camera to buy and for those of you looking to upgrade. Get an overview on camera types and the variety of shooting modes and what they can do in various shooting situations.

This guide, the first in a series, will give you a solid foundation in photography. These books are drawn on 12 years of teaching photography to people like you and me. Continue on to learn about composing the image and seeing great light in my next Beginning Shots e-book, Create Beautiful Images. Want more? I plan to take you to the Intermediate and Advanced levels as well. Stay tuned!

Some testimonials from former students:

“In reflecting on earlier workshops and private lessons I took with you I realize how much you provided me with inspiration and instruction for photograph. Please continue your classes and workshops to positively influence others. As you know good teachers are rare and you are one.” Morris L.

“Fantastic and fun learning experience – as I’ve come to expect from Victoria! Love the humor!” Dana T.

“I enjoyed the class and was a true novice with my camera and I’m not so afraid of it now. “ Connie H.

For more testimonials visit www.victoriasimages.com/instruction/testimonials/index.php

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