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Thread: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    I'm trying to learn more about lighting. I took this photo the other day and I like the back lighting - I suppose because the lighting is all focused on the flower and it gives the photo a portrait feel.

    The histogram covers the whole range but of course it is bunched up on the far left side, on purpose to achieve the black background but I'm thinking that perhaps there is something more I should know about doing this correctly (to set off the flower) before trying it again. There is something not quite right about the shadows on the petals?


    Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    How could I have improved this shot? Thank you.

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    I'm puzzled, mostly because your tulip is not backlit. There's a streak of rimlight at the far right petal, but that's it, the main lighting is obliquely front lighted. My idea of improvement is that you really should think of backlighting as well as thinking more about contrast and colour rendition. Maybe you would also like a different composition?
    Last edited by Inkanyezi; 7th May 2013 at 07:35 AM.

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Hi Christina,

    Shooting a backlit flower is not all that easy. I will share what I have learned form my own experience.

    To capture a backlit flower you will have to be patient and wait for the sun to be in the right position. Usually you will get the best backlighting either early morning or late afternoon. Shooting during the “golden hour” you need to use manual WB. You want the colour of your flower to be as natural as possible. Try around 4300-4800 Kelvin. Do not try doing it handheld, I tried and failed. A tripod is a must, simply because you will be shooting in low light conditions.

    I have used spot focus and spot metering as I found those settings to work best for me. Concentrate on a specific area you would like to be in focus. Using a smaller aperture for greater DOF is a good idea, see why the tripod – smaller aperture lower shutter speed! Try keeping ISO as low as possible because you will be shooting in a fairly high dynamic range environment. The higher the ISO when the dynamic range is wide, the more noise will be generated in the darker areas.

    The flower you wish to have backlit will have to be a flower with fairly thin petals, you want the light to shine trough the petals. It is very difficult to shoot a flower that is still closed as you will find the dynamic range on the flower to be to wide for your camera’s DR (I think a D600 will do a much beter job).

    Take time in observing opportunities where a flower is about to open fully with the sun shining from it’s back. Plan ahead and make sure you are there when the flower is ready and the sun is in the right position. Be careful in avoiding shooting to straight into the sun as this wil result in lots of lens flare. Keep the sun away from the front of the lens by either shooting from a shady area or by using your hand or other object to keep the sun away.

    I am posting this image as a reference to you. It is probably not the best shot of a backlit flower but it was my first attempt.

    Good luck, It is a challenge that is worth the effort.

    By the way: the result you got with that shot is what you get when using matrix metering with the incorrect WB setting.


    Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Christina,

    Your image is quite nice as a starting point. I like the dappled light in the background.

    What made you think it's back lit?

    The small bit of petal that does seem to have light shining through it makes me think that the petals on your flower are not nearly as translucent as the petals on Andre's flower. My point is that if your intention is to have the light shining through the petals as in Andre's flower, you need to use a flower that is more translucent.

    Also, even if your flower had been back lit, shooting from this angle does not allow you to capture light shining through the petals even if they had been more translucent. That's because there are so many layers of petals, unlike Andre's flower. To capture the light shining through the petals of a flower shaped as yours is, I think you probably need to shoot from above it. Otherwise, the multiple layers of petals negate any translucency. (Wow! I didn't even know that is a word.)

    I don't know what you imagined when you released the shutter, so I can only suggest things that I would do to this image now that I have seen it. I would select the flower and increase the dynamic range by using a Curve tool to brighten the highlights and to darken the darker tones though to a lesser degree.

    I would also judiciously apply local contrast enhancement to the areas of the flower that could benefit from more micro contrast.

    As for lighting, I like flowers to appear soft. Notice the side light raking across the texture in the top of the inner petals and especially the right side of the inner petal on the right. That makes the texture appear less than soft to me. That would be improved with using more diffuse light or by using a reflector to gently toss some of the light back into the shadow areas of the texture.

    I tend to like tight crops, so take that into account when I mention that I prefer a vertical orientation with a subject such as this one that is vertical. If I were to use a horizontal orientation, I would try being more daring and perhaps a little provocative by positioning the subject more off center.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 7th May 2013 at 10:27 AM.

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Andre,

    You toss out some nice ideas worth trying, but I'm less dogmatic about the necessity of using them than you seem to be. I'll explain.

    The white balance that is used should produce whatever results the photographer wants. If that's the warm look at sunset, that's fine. If the photographer doesn't want that warm look despite that it's sunset, that's also fine. In other words, apparently contrary to your thinking, there is no correct or incorrect white balance in my mind.

    A tripod can be very helpful for several reasons though I wouldn't call it a must. In a situation when the wind is blowing and there is no way to stabilize the flower, I would argue that a tripod would get in the way.

    It doesn't matter what kind of metering you use so long as you achieve the exposure that presents the subject as you envision it. You can achieve the exact same histogram using three different metering methods.

    As an example that perhaps demonstrates at least in my mind the possibilities when shooting handheld using matrix metering and auto white balance (all of which you explained not to do), consider that you liked my back lit flower shot that way. Thank you for the compliment!

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Christina, it seems you have confused backlighting with isolating a flower against a dark background. Backlighting simply means that the light is shining on the side of the subject opposite the side facing the camera. The term comes from portraiture when one is shooting a person facing the camera with the lighting on their back. Others have spoken at length about backlighting technique so I'll leave it to them.

    Using a dark background to isolate a subject as you did in this shot is one of my favorite techniques. I actually have a shot using this technique currently entered in minicomp#1586 but it is a large subject. This is one time when you can use the limited dynamic range of the camera to your advantage so that the background essentially disappears in shadow as you did here. So forgetting about backlighting for a minute, here is some feedback on you isolated flower.

    First it is cropped a little too tightly on top and bottom. Typically shots of a flower like a tulip would be made with a vertical orientation. Regarding equipment, a polarizer would have helped in this instance as you were at least partially side lit and the polarizer would have enhanced the colors and eliminated the glare on the top edge of a couple of the petals. As for exposure, as previously mentioned, matrix metering is this situation will likely cause you to overexpose as it will try to compensate for the dark background. Exposure should be set to get the flower right and ignore the background completely. So spot metering or center weighted works best. Similarly the histogram is going to be hard to use in the traditional sense as it will be bunched at the two ends. Sometimes you just need to eyeball it

    I love this technique. Clearly your eye recognized the opportunity which is a good thing. In this digital age when you face these opportunities take a dozen frames at various settings, compositions, etc. and see what works and what doesn't.

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Hi Urban,

    You're correct the tulip is not backlit, if it was I would have exposed on the background instead of the tulip. What I was trying to do was capture the light on the tulip and achieve a dark, black background at the same time which pushed the histogram to the far left. I'm still learning and confuse things sometimes.

    Thank you for your feedback. Are you saying that my photo would look better if it were higher contrast? that the colours need to be richer? And that a centered composition is not the best choice?

    Thank you.




    Quote Originally Posted by Inkanyezi View Post
    I'm puzzled, mostly because your tulip is not backlit. There's a streak of rimlight at the far right petal, but that's it, the main lighting is obliquely front lighted. My idea of improvement is that you really should think of backlighting as well as thinking more about contrast and colour rendition. Maybe you would also like a different composition?

  8. #8
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Thank you Andre for a very helpful and detailed reply and for sharing a beautiful example for me to see. I will be printing and using for a future guideline. Jeez, who knew that photographing flowers could be so complicated!


    Quote Originally Posted by AB26 View Post
    Hi Christina,

    Shooting a backlit flower is not all that easy. I will share what I have learned form my own experience.

    To capture a backlit flower you will have to be patient and wait for the sun to be in the right position. Usually you will get the best backlighting either early morning or late afternoon. Shooting during the “golden hour” you need to use manual WB. You want the colour of your flower to be as natural as possible. Try around 4300-4800 Kelvin. Do not try doing it handheld, I tried and failed. A tr


    ipod is a must, simply because you will be shooting in low light conditions.

    I have used spot focus and spot metering as I found those settings to work best for me. Concentrate on a specific area you would like to be in focus. Using a smaller aperture for greater DOF is a good idea, see why the tripod – smaller aperture lower shutter speed! Try keeping ISO as low as possible because you will be shooting in a fairly high dynamic range environment. The higher the ISO when the dynamic range is wide, the more noise will be generated in the darker areas.

    The flower you wish to have backlit will have to be a flower with fairly thin petals, you want the light to shine trough the petals. It is very difficult to shoot a flower that is still closed as you will find the dynamic range on the flower to be to wide for your camera’s DR (I think a D600 will do a much beter job).

    Take time in observing opportunities where a flower is about to open fully with the sun shining from it’s back. Plan ahead and make sure you are there when the flower is ready and the sun is in the right position. Be careful in avoiding shooting to straight into the sun as this wil result in lots of lens flare. Keep the sun away from the front of the lens by either shooting from a shady area or by using your hand or other object to keep the sun away.

    I am posting this image as a reference to you. It is probably not the best shot of a backlit flower but it was my first attempt.

    Good luck, It is a challenge that is worth the effort.

    By the way: the result you got with that shot is what you get when using matrix metering with the incorrect WB setting.


    Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    Christina,
    Mike, thank you so much for your detailed reply and advice (another printer) I was trying to capture the light on the flower with a black background to isolate the flower, and confused this with backlit.

    Great feedback, and lots of flowers around for me to practice on.



    Your image is quite nice as a starting point. I like the dappled light in the background.

    What made you think it's back lit?

    The small bit of petal that does seem to have light shining through it makes me think that the petals on your flower are not nearly as translucent as the petals on Andre's flower. My point is that if your intention is to have the light shining through the petals as in Andre's flower, you need to use a flower that is more translucent.

    Also, even if your flower had been back lit, shooting from this angle does not allow you to capture light shining through the petals even if they had been more translucent. That's because there are so many layers of petals, unlike Andre's flower. To capture the light shining through the petals of a flower shaped as yours is, I think you probably need to shoot from above it. Otherwise, the multiple layers of petals negate any translucency. (Wow! I didn't even know that is a word.)

    I don't know what you imagined when you released the shutter, so I can only suggest things that I would do to this image now that I have seen it. I would select the flower and increase the dynamic range by using a Curve tool to brighten the highlights and to darken the darker tones though to a lesser degree.

    I would also judiciously apply local contrast enhancement to the areas of the flower that could benefit from more micro contrast.

    As for lighting, I like flowers to appear soft. Notice the side light raking across the texture in the top of the inner petals and especially the right side of the inner petal on the right. That makes the texture appear less than soft to me. That would be improved with using more diffuse light or by using a reflector to gently toss some of the light back into the shadow areas of the texture.

    I tend to like tight crops, so take that into account when I mention that I prefer a vertical orientation with a subject such as this one that is vertical. If I were to use a horizontal orientation, I would try being more daring and perhaps a little provocative by positioning the subject more off center.

  10. #10
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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Hi Dan,

    Thank you for the detailed and very informative reply... Yes, I was confused about backlighting... Thank you for the explanation now I understand what I was trying to achieve.

    Terrific feedback. Printed for future reference. I viewed your exquisite photo! Thank you for letting me know it was backlit... Now I will have to try it with another subject!

    Thank you!


    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernFocus View Post
    Christina, it seems you have confused backlighting with isolating a flower against a dark background. Backlighting simply means that the light is shining on the side of the subject opposite the side facing the cam
    era. The term comes from portraiture when one is shooting a person facing the camera with the lighting on their back. Others have spoken at length about backlighting technique so I'll leave it to them.

    Using a dark background to isolate a subject as you did in this shot is one of my favorite techniques. I actually have a shot using this technique currently entered in minicomp#1586 but it is a large subject. This is one time when you can use the limited dynamic range of the camera to your advantage so that the background essentially disappears in shadow as you did here. So forgetting about backlighting for a minute, here is some feedback on you isolated flower.

    First it is cropped a little too tightly on top and bottom. Typically shots of a flower like a tulip would be made with a vertical orientation. Regarding equipment, a polarizer would have helped in this instance as you were at least partially side lit and the polarizer would have enhanced the colors and eliminated the glare on the top edge of a couple of the petals. As for exposure, as previously mentioned, matrix metering is this situation will likely cause you to overexpose as it will try to compensate for the dark background. Exposure should be set to get the flower right and ignore the background completely. So spot metering or center weighted works best. Similarly the histogram is going to be hard to use in the traditional sense as it will be bunched at the two ends. Sometimes you just need to eyeball it

    I love this technique. Clearly your eye recognized the opportunity which is a good thing. In this digital age when you face these opportunities take a dozen frames at various settings, compositions, etc. and see what works and what doesn't.

  11. #11

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post
    Hi Urban,

    You're correct the tulip is not backlit, if it was I would have exposed on the background instead of the tulip. What I was trying to do was capture the light on the tulip and achieve a dark, black background at the same time which pushed the histogram to the far left. I'm still learning and confuse things sometimes.

    Thank you for your feedback. Are you saying that my photo would look better if it were higher contrast? that the colours need to be richer? And that a centered composition is not the best choice?

    Thank you.
    As I never saw that flower irl, I cannot tell what kind of colour it is; if it is very muted, muted colour might be correct, but mostly flowers have a richer colour than your image suggests. The contrast within the flower itself is low, and it appears to have like a veil. I suppose that it could be improved.

    As others have stated, tulips aren't very transparent, so backlighting would not make the effect that André shows with his rose. Nevertheless, backlighting could be nice also with a tulip, I would try an obliquely falling backlight, that creates a rimlight and makes part of the front rather dark.

    I didn't suggest any best choice for composition. Straight central composition is OK if that's your choice, but I would try some different approaches, maybe with somewhat more of the stem. If backlit with rimlight on the stem, it could be a nice effect. Maybe portrait orientation rather than landscape, but also those are choices, any approach might work.

    The miniature rose below is partially backlit, but only through a couple of the more central petals could you find light shining through. The lamp is placed higher than the flower and only a little bit to the back of it, mostly illuminating from the side. If you see it topologically as a clock-face, with the camera at 6, my lamp is at about 2 o'clock, and André's at 12. The background is dark, because it receives very little light. It is actually a white door. A reflector is used to throw a bit of light on the shadow side of the flower. In the drops of water, the lamp and the reflector are creating highlights. I sprayed the flower with water before shooting it. Very saturated colours like the little rose's are tricky, as they are easily blown to the top of what the chip can register. Often compensation is needed in order to avoid clipping in the red channel. When the colour clips, the rounded edges that reach saturation become flat.

    Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Thank you Urban. Very helpful advice. Adore your flower, beautiful detail and love the water droplets!

  13. #13

    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Hi Cristina,
    I am still new in the world of photography, and people here gave muuuch better tips than I can, but, well, I like to try and help, so, here it goes:
    maybe using a flashlight white color? I heard you can control the amount of light in some. It is a bit like cheating, but, I mean, it could help.
    I specially like Urban's tip with the water drops: it creates texture to the image.

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Hi Lu,

    And I have tons to learn and I truly appreciate that you would take the time to provide me with some feedback. Thank you.

    Are you saying that I should try shining a flashlight with a white colour on a flower to achieve backlighting? Yes, I like Urban's tip very much, too.

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    I was just experimenting with this flower to learn about lighting, ie; this flower is not going anywhere special
    And I will try again, another day with another flower using everyone's advice.

    However since posting this flower it came to mind that perhaps my editing was also off... (this time around I did not heal the blemish)

    Here is the original photo (jpeg from camera, all normal settings)

    Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Here is the photo, edited in raw with lightroom, sharpened more and cropped for portrait (Next time around I will try and include more stem)

    Thank you.

    Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Did my edit improve the photo?

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    That's nicer, though I prefer the healed blemish. If you tried selecting the flower and increasing the dynamic range to include brighter tones and don't like it, I understand. (I prefer greater dynamic range to make it pop a bit more; it seems too flat to me.) If you haven't tried it, you would learn from doing so.

    Most important, do you prefer the latest version? If so, why. If not, why not?

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    Andre,

    You toss out some nice ideas worth trying, but I'm less dogmatic about the necessity of using them than you seem to be. I'll explain.
    Hi Mike,

    I made it clear that I am sharing what has worked for me. I am not saying it is the only way of doing it. Maybe Christina would like trying out different ways to achieve whatever she wishes to achieve.

    Oh yes, the wind. Maybe that is another guideline to follow - when the wind is blowing, do not even attempt backlit flower photography. Much better to be patient and wait for a day the wind is not blowing.

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you for your feedback. How does one increase the dynamic range to include brighter tones? I would like to learn this.

    I prefer my original crop, ie; centered but I think the flower looks better in my edit because I can see more detail in the petals (except for the unhealed blemish). However, after all of this I have decided that I don't like this photo at all, except for the black background.


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    That's nicer, though I prefer the healed blemish. If you tried selecting the flower and increasing the dynamic range to include brighter tones and don't like it, I understand. (I prefer greater dynamic range to make it pop a bit more; it seems too flat to me.) If you haven't tried it, you would learn from doing so.

    Most important, do you prefer the latest version? If so, why. If not, why not?

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post
    Jeez, who knew that photographing flowers could be so complicated!
    I realise more and more - photographing anything becomes complicated, if you want it to be WOW!

  20. #20

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    Re: Back Lit Flowers - How to improve these shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post
    How does one increase the dynamic range to include brighter tones?
    Attend to the right side of the histogram using the Levels tool, the Curve tool or both.

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