I had been using my kit lens (18-135mm) for nearly four months before getting my first prime lens. I remember researching all kinds of lens and following a lot of photographers and finding their blogs. Especially hunting down the posts of “what’s in my camera bag” to better understand how they create the images that I wanted to one day create.
The main photographer I was idolizing lived in New Mexico as a ranch wife telling love stories through her imagery. I knew I wanted my second lens to be a prime lens and she kept posting images taken with her Canon 85mm 1.8 and I really like the look and feel. I read more about the lens and looked at comparisons of different prime focal lengths. There’s so many options, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm, made by Canon, Sigma, Tamron, and every lens has their uses. I wanted a lens that would flatter people and animals and noticed the 35mm focal length worked well for the wide angle range without too much distortion, and then the nifty fifty, fantastic plastic, was a great all purpose prime, but once again I liked the look and feel of the 85mm. The 85 compresses the subject which flatters and as a fast piece of glass with it’s wide aperture, I could create the delicious bokeh.
I hinted to my hubby that all I wanted for Christmas was the 85mm. And even though it arrived after Christmas, the wait was worth it. I spent all of January only using my new lens to properly learn how to utilize it in landscapes, birds, and people portraits. My 85mm is still one of my favorite lens with its bokeh and compression for portraits of my pups and portraits of families.
Backlit photos are special and magical, but how do you create them? Well, I would like to share with you how I create backlit images.
First off is positioning your subject, be it a person, animal, or object, with their back to the sun and their face in full shadow. Ideally you want your subject between you and your light source, usually the sun. If you can see the sun in your lens, there is a high chance that you will have a sun flare or two in your image and sometimes those fall on your model’s face. Sun flares can make it more artsy, but it’s good to know how to avoid sun flares and how to achieve them on purpose.
One of the most important things is to always remember to expose for your subject, just forget about the background. When you’re photographing a person, make sure to shoot for their skin tone of their face (or lightest color, especially if it’s white). You don’t want your subject to become grainy in post processing because you exposed for the background. It’s okay if the background is overexposed, because it will help bring the focus to your subject.
But how do you know if you’ve properly exposed for your subject? This is when your utilize the light meter, which you can see as you look through the viewfinder usually located along the bottom plane. Also, check to make sure your metering mode is on spot, which will help pinpoint the metering of a certain point.
As always, practice and don’t be discouraged if there’s more mistakes than successes. Everything takes time, but the more time you make to practice, the better you will improve.
Here are a couple backlit beauties that I captured during Golden Hour. You will notice that the sun is just out of frame in the upper left corner and the couple is in the sun, but directly in between me and my light source. The background is over exposed, but my models look wonderful, soft, and happy. I used my Canon 85mm 1.8 lens with settings f/2.2, 1/400, ISO 200.
When I first started shooting with my Canon Rebel T3i in the summer of 2014, I made the decision to only shoot in manual mode. Sure, I could have taken the route of using all the programmed modes: portrait, landscape, macro; or I could have just used aperture priority, ISO priority, or shutter priority to have a little more control. Instead I went cold turkey and took a lot of under and over exposed and some blurry images as I was perfecting my exposure triangle. Fast forward to now and I’ve improved immensely, but there’s always exceptions to the rules, nearly always something to learn.
What is the exposure triangle?
I would say aperture is the classic professional photographer calling card. A wide open aperture (smallest number, like f1.8) creates the wonderful blurred, bokeh backgrounds. My prime lens creates speckled, soft backgrounds, especially when your subject is close to you and the background is as far away as possible. And if your aperture is stopped down (larger number, like f11) a greater range will be in focus which might work well for landscape or a large family portrait.
If you’re photographing kids or animals, you want to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the motion. And if you want to brighten a dark landscape or blur moving water, your shutter speed needs to be long enough to achieve what you want to create. And another use for shutter speed is when you have a lens with no IM (image stabilization), you need to have your shutter speed greater than the focal length or else the image might be blurred.
Anywhere dark or dimly lit, the ISO is the underdog to brighten up your exposure. Sure you might have your aperture wide open and your shutter speed the slowest you dare to keep things sharp, but your ISO is the one to battle the darkness, but it’s easy to overdo. If you bump up your ISO too much, your image might become grainy and still a little dark.
It’s all a balancing act...
When you decide to capture a moment, decide what’s the most important part of the triangle for your image. If it’s a running animal or playing child, then I would say the shutter speed is really important so that your moving subject is in focus. Then again, you might want the amazing bokeh with your laughing little one, so you want the aperture wide open. Something to try for this would be to set your aperture how you want it, up the shutter speed to freeze any motion and then set the ISO up to pick up any slack left. So on a sunny day, my camera settings might be f2.0, 1/500 (or more if very sunny), and 100 ISO (maybe 200+ if in shade). The best way to learn is to do; practice everyday, even if a little everyday. The more you practice, the better you will be, because every scenario is different with subject, lighting, and location. There’s no way for anyone to tell you what your settings should be until you’re there and in the thick of it.
Above are two images, taken three years apart. On the left is an image I took within the first month of learning the exposure triangle and looking back I see how I could have improved. I had the aperture at its widest allowed by my kit lens and my shutter speed was way too high, thus my ISO needed to be higher than necessary. It’s a clear image with a decent composition in a backyard all in shade. The image on the right, was taken a couple weeks ago after years of practice with the exposure triangle. The settings are near perfect; the aperture is wide open just melting away the background, the shutter speed is plenty fast to freeze any motion, and the ISO is at it’s lowest to minimize any grain. Plus, my subject (my pup, Coal), is in full sun with no distracting shadows on his body and I really like the composition even if I was semi-squatting to be on his eye level. (If you want to see the camera settings, select/click on the images to read the captions with my settings.)
A couple winters ago there was a cold snap and anything liquid froze in the Columbia River Gorge. During the below freezing temperature, I ventured into the gorge with my camera and tripod. I visited a couple of the popular waterfalls and have been thinking about transforming them into paintings. Today I took the plunge, especially since I hadn’t used my Christmas present yet, a size 14 Round Paul Jackson’s Elephant Sable. I only used that brush for my paints, plus using the masking fluid and brush soap purchased from Paul Jackson during his Oregon Workshop. And of course I used a different brush designated for my masking fluid.
I started this little 8” x 10” watercolor around 10 am and worked in layers. Between photos 2 and 3, I actually took a brisk 30 minute walk with Kona and Coal, then got back to work with utilizing a hair dryer as needed with the extra wet washes. And before I knew it, 3 pm rolled around and I decided that my first painting of 2018 was complete.
I might have started this painting with something specific in mind. The Keizer Arts Association has a monthly art show and I knew this month’s theme is Pacific Northwest. I thought about painting Mt. Hood for this show or using older paintings, but I knew I could create something different yet familiar. So after I finished my watercolor, framed it, and then brought it to KAA for their January show.
2017 has been the year of exciting changes: new home, new city, new goals. 2016 was the start of searching for a new home. John and I looked at many homes and this spring we found the perfect house for us in Salem. We beat out other bids and a couple months later were proud home owners. With the time and energy required for buying and moving into a house, my art creations slowed down. But now that we’ve moved, I now have a space to convert to be my art studio. Since relocating to Salem, I met some locals and have captured memories for them with my camera.
The past couple years I’ve done goals for the new year. Last year I didn’t set goals for 2017. I looked back to 2016 and found the goals I made and will be transferring 2016 to 2017.
My art goals for 2016, now for 2017 ...
1.) Book Photography Sessions - Families, Couples, Seniors, Pets. Yes, booked a couple sessions from new clients: senior, family, and wedding.
2.) Have a booth at the St. Paul Rodeo Art Show. Yes!
3.) Have a booth set up at: a Dog Show, Lavender Festival, Gresham Art Walk, Oktoberfest, Crafty Wonderland. Art booth at Englewood Forest Festival and met photography clients.
4.) Sell original watercolors. Yes, at St. Paul Rodeo and commissions.
5.) Enter paintings and photographs into local art shows. Yup, Oregon State Fair and actually won an award!
6.) Design and sell screen printed tea towels and t-shirts. Did it in 2016, but decided to not continue this year.
7.) Post and sell items from Etsy along with my website. Only sold through my website and decided not to sell through Etsy.
8.) Design something amazing with my photography/paintings - maybe a book? On my bucket list!
9.) Go to someplace like Yellowstone and photograph the wildlife with a super-telephoto (rented) lens. Maybe for 2019? But I had a Media Access Pass to the Pendleton Round Up.
10.) Find a house to live in and have a roomy studio. Yes, done!
My goals for 2018:
1.) Create a new body of watercolors utilizing my sketchy style technique.
2.) Create an art studio space in my garage.
3.) Be accepted into a local art show.
4.) Have an art booth at the St. Paul Rodeo.
5.) Create new photography Greeting Cards.
6.) Offer holiday mini sessions for clients.
7.) Offer private art lesions in my studio.
8.) Offer private photography editing classes.
9.) Find an art gallery to represent my art.
10.) Write stories to go along with every painting.
I'm in the Christmas spirit with my favorite festive Pandora stations, lights on the Christmas tree, and wrapping gifts specially picked out for loved ones.
I also lined my pockets with puppy treats as rewards for Kona and Coal posing in front of our decorated fresh Christmas tree. I had a lot of fun with my 85mm lens and did a little free lensing with Coal. Make sure you click/select the images to see them in full view, there's some awesome bokeh with the lights.
I hope you and your loved ones are excited for spending time together and reminiscing of special times while making new memories.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I hope you stay awhile. This is my journal where I will talk about my paintings, processes, photography & adventures, post processing, social media, and more.