Using back-light on a photo shoot can take a photo from mundane to spectacular.
We shoot for “fun” as often as we can manage and we have some great collaborators that help make that happen. Those relationships take time to build, but once created, they are very fulfilling. Jennifer Lynn Larsen has been a part of #TeamBlue for a while, almost since the beginning in fact. She has some new archery gear (real, used in English longbow competition) and cosplay outfit so we went out and made some photos.
Compositionally, I wanted the photo to appear as a spontaneous image shot in the forest. Jenny is out hunting on a misty day. I placed her where I could use foreground trees as a frame. The trees and scrub behind her act as a backdrop and create depth in the image.
I made this image using a Nikon D810 and the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED along with 2 Paul C Buff Einstein E640 controlled through Pocket Wizard triggers (FlexTT5, AC3 and MC-2), which allow remote power control.
Using Back-Light – The Lighting Setup
This photo uses a 2 light setup. The key light on Jenny Lynn is a Einstein E640 fired through a cheap shoot-through umbrella. It is just out of frame right and is at a 90 degree angle to the cameras line of sight. The umbrella is centered at her head height.
The back light is a second Einstein E640 through a long throw and gelled full CTO. It is as high as it will go on a 13′ light stand. Using back-light in combination with some atmosphere (I’ll get to that in a moment) is what makes this image. It lights up the trees and scrub between the camera and the back-light creating depth.
Besides the back-light, this image relies on canned atmosphere. No, I’m not talking about the Perri-air from Spaceballs. Atmosphere Aerosol is a real thing. It looks like a can of hair spray and lets you haze a reasonable area quickly assuming there is no wind. Combined with the back-light, it gives the look of a foggy day. The haze catches and scatters the orange back-light.
Determining Flash Power
I couldn’t tell you the powers I used for the two Einstein E640s, but I can explain how I arrived at them.
My intention was a fundamentally low key image of a druid in a dark forest. I started with an ambient exposure that was fairly dark. Observe the trees around Jenny Lynn in the back-light misfire image above. Because it was an overcast day, and we were under heavy tree cover, it was reasonably dim to start with. My settings were ISO64, f/5.6, 1/250s. I probably could not have pulled this shot off on a bright clear day.
Next I added the back-light. Why the back-light first instead of the key light? I knew going in that the back-light was going to drive the image so I wanted to make sure I dialed it in first. Once it was set, I could adjust the key light. I started by guessing a starting power on the Einstein and then adjust based on the back of camera preview and histogram.
With digital, we have the ability to see the results instantly. Why make life hard by not using it?
Finally, I turned on the key light (shoot-through umbrella, just out of frame right) and tweaked the power until Jenny Lynn looked the way I wanted.
Post Processing in Capture One
I did very little to this image during post processing. The image needed more exposure and contrast and I added some highlight and shadow recovery to bring in details on the edges of the histogram.
I increased exposure 1.6 stop, which may seem extreme. However, I frequently shoot in this way with my Nikons, protecting the highlights. Nikons have no problem with shadow recovery (this is the opposite of Canon typically). It isn’t clear if this is needed as much with the D810 as it was on the older Nikons. Regardless, it is my habit, especially for images with light sources in them (the back-light).
Before and After the Edit
The Fine Print: I am not sponsored by any of the equipment makers in this post. This is just the stuff I like to use!