Taking photo against the light

Many people think that you can only take good photographs if the sun is directly behind or to one side of the camera. Admittedly, by taking shots straight into the sun or shooting against the light, flare and incorrect exposure may result, but if handled carefully these can be avoided or used to dramatic effect. To eliminate flare, a good lens hood should suffice. In fact you should always have a lens hood attached to your camera whichever way you are shooting. Flare can result from light indirectly reflecting off a shiny surface such as a car or window as well as directly from the sun.

Calculating exposure needs careful consideration as, if your subject is strongly backlit, it could appear as a silhouette. Although this may be the effect you are after, an adjustment to exposure will be necessary if you want your subject to be visible. If you are using a camera with built in metering that has a choice of exposure modes such as average, center-weighted or spot metering, then the spot metering mode will give a more accurate reading. If your camera only has metering in the average exposure mode, the chances are that it will underexpose your subject.

It is possible to overcome this if you can move in close so that the viewfinder is covering only the subject and take your meter reading at this distance. This means depressing the shutter release button about half way. If your camera has an auto exposure lock you now keep the shutter release button slightly depressed and return to your original viewpoint. Without taking your finger off the button take your shot. Your subject will now be correctly exposed although the background will be overexposed. If you are taking more than one shot from this viewpoint you will have to repeat the procedure with each shot.

Another way round this problem is to use the exposure compensation dial - if applicable- on your camera. Camera exposure setting when against the light, set the dial to give two stops more exposure than the reading on the camera meter. If you can operate your camera manually and you have a separate exposure meter then, as above, you caould move in close to your subject to take a reading.

If you do use this method with your camera or a hand held meter, care must be taken not to cast a shadow on your subject, otherwise an incorrect reading will be obtained and overexposure will result. The preferred method of taking a reading with a hand held meter is to use the incident light method. This means attaching an invercone - a white disc - to the exposure meter sensor. The meter is then pointed to the camera and a reading taken. This method records the amount of light falling on your subject as opposed to reflecting from it.

One word of warning when taking photographs into the light: sun is very powerful and can be greatly magnified by camera lenses, so if these are pointed to the sun damage to your eyes could result - be careful!

More about Camera Settings

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