Use the “halo light” pattern in your photo lighting.
Here is a photo tip I’ve recently read that I disagree with:
“When photographing people, always make sure to avoid direct sunlight in the background of the photo. This will make odd shadows and add an undesirable element to the picture.
Position the people so the sun is to the side, but not shining directly in their face either. This will cause the subjects of your photograph to be squinting uncontrollably.”
I’m not against shooting with the sun to the side or even straight into the face, but some of the best and most dramatic portraits I’ve ever done (both humans and animals) were done with the sun at the subject’s back.
Backlighting can be very dramatic and will set you apart from all the “snapshooters” out there! If you do it right.
This does put the face in shadow, which is no problem if you expose for the shadow. Expose for the light on the shadowed face, and you will have a properly exposed shot. Just like you would have had if you exposed for the value of the light if the sun’s light was shining directly into the face.
Here’s a quick flash from the past. In ancient times (with film), we learned to expose for the shadows on film (negative) shots and to expose for the highlights in slide (positive) shots. This had more to do with the limitations of the film than an aesthetic factor, but it still works.
If you want to get rid of the shadows, you can put a flash on your camera and set it to the same strength as the background light from the sun and eliminate the facial shadows that way and end up with an evenly lit photo.
Or use a reflector to bounce light back into the face; this will be almost identical in strength as the sun.
Or, set your flash unit to a strength that is less than the strength of the light from the sun (or don’t use a flash at all) and expose for the lesser light on the face. This will give you a nicely exposed face, and a rim of brighter light from the sun that surrounds the body.
This is called “rim light” or the “halo light” effect. And believe me, it’s gorgeous!
Be careful not to get any light shining into the lens. That will blow out the image. Either position yourself in some shade or have someone shadowing the lens with a piece of paper or something.
Either shoot early or late in the day for the best results. If the sun is directly overhead it won’t work too well.
That’s your project for the next couple days. Shoot a ton of back-lit (halo light) images. Try it a few times and you will be hooked and always looking for opportunities to shoot this highly dramatic photo lighting pattern.
About the Author:
Dan Eitreim writes for OnTargetPhotoTraining. He has been a professional photographer in Southern California for over 20 years. His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies.
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