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Controlling the sun in a back lit portrait is the focus of this lesson. There are several ways to solve this lighting dilemma; the most common and easiest is the flash fill setting on your camera. Most modern digital cameras have a auto “flash fill” setting that gives adequate results when you apply them to a back lit outdoor portrait.

The main concern when using the light source on the camera is that the light is very small and tends to create contrasty, unflattering results. This effect can look unnatural on the subject while the scene or background may look great.

We will take you beyond using the flash fill and show you how to apply bounce reflectors to control your lighting. Reflectors can help to balance the light on the subject with the light on the background to produce natural looking professional results without sacrificing anything.

This lesson uses the Olympus E-1 SLR digital camera. We show how to apply exposure, resolution, and white balance settings on the E-1 for optimal image quality.

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • Selecting a scene
  • Entering the camera settings
  • Balancing foreground and background with LitePanels
  • Choosing a camera angle
  • Selecting your exposure

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.

Selecting a scene:

For this lesson, we found a scene on the beach with the waves breaking softly in the background and the sun beginning to rise just off to the left and in the background. This position of the sun will allow us to use the sun as our hair light, and then bounce the sun back in to the subject to create our lighting pattern.

In figure 1, we see our assistant setting up the light stands in the general area where we will set up the LitePanel reflectors and we see the lighting direction in the sand.

Figure 1


Before we begin shooting, we need to establish our camera settings. The following steps show how to set the E-1 for manual exposure, daylight white balance, high resolution, ISO, and manual focus. For further explanation of these settings, click the blue links on each step.


Entering the Camera Settings

We set our E-1 camera's mode setting to manual exposure for greater control over exposure level and depth of field (figure 2).

You will notice two sets of numbers displayed next to each other in the control panel. The first indicates your shutter speed and the second indicates your aperture setting.

Figure 2


The main dial on top of the camera adjusts the shutter speed. The sub-dial on the top, rear of the camera adjusts the aperture (figures 3 and 4).


The white balance should be set to daylight (5500ºK) since we are shooting outside (figure 5). This setting is also used for most flash photography applications.

To set the white balance, hold down the "WB" button next to the main dial while turning the main dial. The new setting will appear in the LCD display.

Figure 5


We set the E-1 camera's resolution to TIFF for the highest quality photos. When set to TIFF, 40 images can be recorded on a 1 GB media card.


Figure 6

To set the resolution, hold down the resolution button, located above the LCD display, while turning the main dial. The new setting will appear at the top, right corner of the LCD display (figure 6).


We set the ISO to 100 (the E-1's lowest setting) for the best quality images.

To set the ISO, hold down the ISO button below the LCD screen while turning the main dial. The new ISO setting will appear on the left side of the LCD screen (figures 7 and 8).



While the E-1 has an automatic focus mode, it also allows you to focus the camera manually.

To set the E-1 to manual focus mode, locate the focus mode switch at the front, bottom, left side of the camera near the lens barrel. Push the switch to the MF (manual focus) position (figure 9). The lens can then be focused manually with the focus ring on the lens barrel (figure 10).


We then made a base line meter reading of the sun light on the set and found our exposure to be 1/125 @ f/8.5. We set the shutter speed and aperture manually and took a shot of our model laying on her beach blanket (figure 11).

In figure 11, we see the background scene exposed properly but we have very little detail on the subject's face.

Figure 11


Balancing Foreground and Background with LitePanels

So with this as our starting point, we set up a Photoflex 39 x 39 LitePanel frame and installed a white/soft gold cover with the white side facing the subject. We then set up a second LitePanel, a 39 x 72, and installed a white/soft gold cover, again with the white side out.

We placed the first LitePanel, the 39x39, to camera right at 45 degrees from the camera and had an assistant hold it so that it caught the sun and reflected it back in the model's face. We then set the second LitePanel to camera left at 45 degrees and had our second assistant do the same as the first (figures 12 and 13).

Note: A Main and T Clamp on a Litestand works well if you do not have assistants.



Selecting Your Exposure

The exposure of our first shot (figure 11) was good for the background. Our set exposure will work well for us. We simply need to add light to the darker areas by reflecting sun light back on our model.

So we broke out the meter again and, as I took meter readings, our assistants adjusted the LitePanels until we balanced the light on the subject with the light on the background. We wanted to get the sense of backlighting, so we set the light reflections to meter about 1/2 stop less than the background or about f/11. With our lighting set, we posed our model and shot a photo (figure 15).



Our results in figure 15 show how the reflected light from the LitePanels have balanced the light on the subject with the light elsewhere in the scene.

In figures 14 and 15, we can see the comparison for before and after the addition of the LitePanels.


Choosing a camera angle

Now that we have our lighting established, we can play with the camera angle. In the previous figures, our camera was set to about 2 feet from the sand on a tripod. This camera position is interesting, but if we bring the point of view down to just off the sand, we see more of the beach and the surf making the shot much more interesting.

With the lens and exposure combination we were using, we could hand hold the camera and still get sharp images. So we removed the camera from the tripod and set it aside. I then got down on the sand (figure 16), framed up our model, and shot the next series of shots (figures 17-20).

Figure 16


In our final results series we see how the lower camera position has changed the look of the overall shot as well as the look of the model. These are some simple products and tips that can make your next outdoor photo shoot much more special.


Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.

Recommended Links

  • To learn more about Photoflex equipment, go to www.photoflex.com
  • For more tips and techniques on lighting and cameras, visit www.webphotoschool.com and sign
    up for access to the Member Lessons.

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