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How I Got the Shot – Backlit with Window Light

Toward the end of the CanAm Photo Expo, led by Doug Hansgate, I wanted to experiment with the beautiful window light I saw coming in the Expo hallway. Most of the gear was already packed or being used. I made a homemade reflector (a piece of white foam core I found laying around) and started to grab people to shoot. At first, most people said: “Oh, no, don’t. I never take a good photo.” When they saw how much fun we were having, they joined in and this is how I got the shot.

Manipulating Light with Aperture and a Reflector

I set my aperture to f/2.8 to blow out the background that had a very thin curtain. This low aperture also made the subjects skin look soft. I tried f/1.4, but at that shallow depth of field, any error on my part would have ruined the photo.

I positioned my homemade reflector the white foam core in front of the subject to bounce light from the window onto their face.This also added a beautiful catchlight in the subjects eyes.

Spot Metering

Each person wore something different, so instead of changing settings for each person, I trusted the camera’s auto ISO judgement. The camera set exposure by using its internal metering system. Once I saw what the camera interpreted as a proper exposure, I realized it was trying to take a reading of the entire scene and balance the light. Since the subjects were backlit, the majority of the light was coming from behind. This caused the camera to underexpose the subjects face, making it dark. I changed my meter to spot meter. This instructed the camera to read or meter the light values on a very small area I selected with the focus point. This made the window look completely white while making adding a nice rim around the subject keeping their face properly exposed.

Final thoughts

The concept, lockdown two of the three elements that produce a proper exposure: Aperture, Shutter and ISO. In this case, I wanted an aperture of f/2.8, and a shutter of 1/100th sec. ISO was the only value that had to change. Once set, I could focus on getting the subjects to relax and have fun.

Shot with a Sigma 85mm 1.4 f/2.8 @1/100th sec ISO: AUTO SPOT METER

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