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This is a back lighted photograph. Convention has it that the photographer should always have the sun to his back and thus front light the subject. Unfortunately, front lighting is very harsh, causing strong shadows and squinting eyes. Back lighting here, however, caused Vanessa's face to render very dark. It also means that the sun rays impinge directly into the camera lens creating what is termed, lens flare. There is little flare in this picture because a lens shade was attached to block the direct rays. Automatic cameras often have a problem exposing this type of picture due to the fact that the camera "sees" the bright background and even the direct sun rays, thus underexposing the negative. It is possible to open the camera lens to expose for the shadow region of the subject, but the machine printer will most likely print the face too dark anyway because its internal meter is fooled in much the same manner as the automatic camera. Interestingly, if positive film (slide film) is used, it would be possible to expose for the shadow area and it would render fairly well, with the bright background washing out. Overall, this picture is a failure because of excessive lighting contrast. There just isn't any way for the film to register the tremendous range of subject contrast imaged on the film surface. However, there are ways to take a back lighted picture successfully and a procedure will be explored.


Observe carefully and you see that the only difference between this picture and the one above is light added to the shadows. This was accomplished by a technique known as fill-in flash. A simple on-the-camera flash was used. The downside to this type of flash is that specular highlights reflect off the face, just like a mirror, back to the camera. It is clearly unnatural, but an acceptable compromise. To avoid the shiny skin reflections, you may hook up a flash gun with an extension cord and have an assistant hold the flash off camera about 30 degrees from the camera-to-subject line of sight. Calculation of the flash intensity required for this type of shot can be frustrating to novices. Some modern cameras with TTL (thru the lens) flash metering will do it automatically; otherwise, use the flash power control on the flash to attenuate the flash when needed. If in doubt, take several shots, using different power levels and choose the best balanced results. For detailed ways to calculate fill-in flash, consult a photography textbook. Fill-in flash is usually used for bright sunlight fill as in this example; it can be used in shade, but is tricky. Be sure to bracket. Also, when using fill-in flash, make certain you do not exceed your camera's shutter "sync" speed. This information should be in your camera owner's manual.


This picture is interesting because it introduces an element useful in good composition: giving the subject something to do. The tennis racket is the prop here. Almost anything will work. Most people have some hobby or vocation which can add interest to pictures. Fill-in flash was also used here, but not to balance harsh shadows, since the picture was posed in the shade. There was no direct sunlight at all on Vanessa, but the flash was used to balance the darkness of shade with the bright sun lighted background. Without flash fill, the difference in illumination is approximately 8:1, far exceeding the 3:1 maximum that film can handle. Fill in flash at 1:1 to the day light background makes an ideal exposure. When Hollywood films, they bring to the outdoor set lights, reflectors, and a crew to operate them. You can emulate the same using on-the-camera flash outdoors! However, despite the technical qualities of this photograph, there is an obvious fault in composition: the eyelids appear closed. Most viewers first go directly to the eyes in any portrait and expect them open. The photographic solution is to take a series of shots, not just one, and select from the series the fault-free pictures meeting your standards.