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Today's Photo Minute

The Story Behind the Image – Find High Contrast Light

The Concept:

Lighting makes or breaks many images. One of the favorite phrases I heard last year at a photography conference that I have been working on doing recently is, “See the light, shoot the light”. While we often try to avoid high contrast lighting, sometimes, it can be our friend. I was sitting on the back deck in the evening and noticed that a small insect was flying around in the direct sun but with the shadow of my house behind it, the bug really stood out. I had been fighting with the carpenter bees that were starting to find my deck to be an appetizing meal and decided to get my camera ready to possibly catch one of the bees up against the dramatically dark background. I did some test shots and realized that beyond capturing the bee in the air (which I had practiced for two hours a couple years ago and learned more about my autofocus system during that time than ever before), there were two techniques it was going to take to have a chance to get this image:

  1. I had to make sure I was far enough back from where I hoped to shoot the bee so that I was beyond the minimum focusing distance of my lens. Given I was using the 150-600mm, that was about 10 feet away. If I was closer than that, my lens would not be able to focus.
  2. Because the bee would be illuminated by the sun but up against a relatively dark background, I would also have to do quite a bit of minus exposure compensation because otherwise, my light meter would overexpose the subject. With some test shots of the deck railings (in the bright sun with the dark background similar to where the bee would be), I was able to determine that -3.00 exposure comp. was about correct.

After getting all my camera settings ready including AF-C focus with a group focus area mode, I waited. Every couple minutes, a big bee would come flying over the deck and tend to hover above the deck railing, Then he would drop down between the wooden slats up against the dark background I was going for. Of course, focusing quickly and through the slats was a challenge but with some practice, I was able to capture 3 images that had the bee in sharp focus, etc. The above one was my favorite.

I have placed some sample images here of what the lighting looked like when the sun went behind a cloud (low contrast and would not have worked well), when the sun was directly on the area and how little view I had between the slats.

The Assignment:

Find a subject that is in one type of light (likely brighter) and that has a dark background behind it. Be sure to do some test shots in order to get the exposure compensation on your camera set correctly and not overexpose the subject. Then have fun creating some really dynamic images. Be sure to share your favorites on our Facebook page. Below is another image of a tree branch where I was able to apply the same principle.

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