Tuesday, August 11, 2015


As a professional photographer I need to be in control of my lighting in any situation whether outside using natural light or in the studio using flash.  

Backlight, especially when outside, is one of my trademarks in portrait photography—Flare is Not! Since I’m often pointing my lens towards the setting sun I go to great lengths in controlling lens flare. Why? Because even a small amount of flare reduces image density and contrast that weakens the subject.  However, these days I see many photographers using so much lens flare that it actually obliterates all subject detail! In my opinion, the results usually just produce an unsellable, amateurish, product.

There are two types of people photography: People looking at the camera and people Not looking at the camera and I handle backlight flare differently with each…

People Not Looking at the Camera: This is storytelling or editorial photography, so this is where I use more backlight, maybe with some flare; a looser artistic approach. In this situation I use the standard lens shade on my 70-200mm lens and try to keep my lens at 200mm, most of the time, to crop out the light source.

The basic rule here: Whether outside or in the studio it’s not a good idea to photograph your light source.  If I can’t crop out the light source in camera I’ll frame the image so I can crop out the over exposed source in Photoshop later.

In the example below I zoomed out, relatively wide, to capture this great backlit scene of the people exiting a large livestock exhibit at the state faire. The backlight was enhanced by the dust they kicked-up as they walked through the barn’s dirt floor. Then I created this pano-like strip with a post capture crop.

In the original un-cropped image you can see whey I say not to photography your light source!

The next image set, also done in that barn at the state faire, show how flare, created by pointing the lens at the setting sun, can really destroy subject density and contrast.  In addition I had all that dust being kicked-up by the horse, which also lowered contrast and enhanced the backlight; so this is what I did:

The full image on the left is being dominated by the sun at the expense of my subject. So, after doing everything I could to bring back subject density and contrast in ACR (with clarity, contrast,black point, exposure, and knocking down highlights) I then cropped in to remove my blown-out light source.  I like the gritty quality that was enhanced by cropping in.  The gritty backlight’s source was a combination of the dust in the air and the high ISO (1600) I had to use in the dim barn. Then all my adjustments in ACR added to the look.

Stay tuned…Next week I’ll address people looking at the camera. Let me know if you have questions.

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman, Certified
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

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