February 5, 2010

Backlighting with the Sun - Shutter Speed Controls Ambient Light - Lightenupandshoot.com

Here's a quick walk-through of two scenarios where I use the sun to to backlight my subject. I usually start with a natural light shot before I resort to using a flash.  Using flash will give you the ability to control the background/ambient light (shutter speed controls ambient light) while properly illuminating your subject with flash (aperture controls flash exposure.)

Photo examples after the break:

Above is a natural light shot of Paulo at 1/40.  A decent image, but I want more contrast.  Next,  I pop up a light and adjust shutter to control the sunlight and adjust aperture until Paulo is properly exposed.

Increased shutter speed to 1/320 and threw up a flash inside of a 28" Apollo softbox to illuminate the Paulo.  Note that the softbox was pointed away from the wall and merely feathering against the subject to create more contrast.

Next,  Carina is backlit by the sun just before sunset at 1/40 (natural light.)  Nice shot but I wanted to see more detail in the background and sky.  I changed the shutter speed to 1/80 and added a flash to illuminate Carina's face since adjusting the shutter speed put less light on her face.

I then used aperture to control the flash exposure on Carina's face until she was properly exposed.  But,  I still wanted more detail in the background and sky.  So,  I increased the shutter speed in the shot below to 1/320.  Note that when using flash,  shutter speed will not affect the flash exposure (aperture controls flash exposure.)

In the final image above, Shutter speed was increased from 1/80 to 1/320 (2 stops) so that more detail in the background can be seen.  In Lightroom I  adjusted the blue hues and desaturated the image to get the final look that I was trying to achieve.  


  1. I spent over a year playing around with off camera flash. My big struggle WAS trying to control my background. After discovering your blog/videos I've made tremendous progress. Thanks! In this video I like how you show progress toward the final image and the various outcomes at different settings. Once again, very informative.

  2. Robert,

    Thanks man! It's really cool to hear from people when they say that their photography has improved from our silly videos. Andy and I try to keep it light. Our philosophy is to get out and shoot no matter what; have fun! Occasionally lightenupandshoot strikes a chord that resonates throughout the photography community. I am happy to help. Don't be afraid to join our facebook and shoot us a personal line anytime. Andy and I love helping the community.

  3. I'm one step ahead of you. I'm already on your facebook page and have bumped into Andy online a few times!

  4. You guys are really writing a whole new book on creative lighting and location. The inspiration on WHAT to shoot is just as valuable as the experience you share regarding how to work with light.

  5. Keep the vids coming!!!

  6. The info and the way you give it is amazing. I compare it to back in the day, learning from that one teacher who just made everything fun. Everything seems so much easier and less confusing. You really motivated me when I found this site, and inspired me to focus more on my photography. Keep up the AWESOME work! :)

  7. Love the process you show here. Very helpful to use newbs. I found this site via the strobist flickr group and have read/watched every post in the last 2 days. Great stuff you guys got, and I love your little jokes and light-heartedness. And Carina is en fuego guy. Let's see more of her :) Haha.

  8. Awesome shots Michael. I love Carina's outfit. Might have to suggest that to some of my models.


  9. Shooting at 1/320 how did you deal with the fact this is over your max sync speed? I'd have expected the flash to fall off more dramatically in the lower part of the image.

  10. You guys post up great videos and as mentioned you present very helpful information in a very easy way to understand.

    As the previous poster mentioned, I was curious how you managed to use a 1/320 shutter with the flashes. I am assuming it's high speed sync but maybe not?