How I shot a Sue Bryce style backlit photo in my living room

Last week I had my friend come over to play with the idea of shooting from a home studio.  This is something I’ve considered since we’ve lived here, but until I went full time photog last month (no more safety net corporate job) I didn’t really think it was possible.

Up until last week, I’d been searching for a studio space with natural light – facing the right direction, mind you – high ceilings, white walls and a comfortable feel.  A bathroom attached and the ability to play slightly loud music would have been a plus.  Each time I looked at the local rentals and walked in vacant offices, I would go home to my light, bright, high ceiling’d home and get a bit sad that I wouldn’t be able to shoot in a studio until I had substantially more income.  Each time, as I played my music slightly loud and enjoyed the natural light and eventually added a light curtain to diffuse the light from a main window…each time I looked right past the treasure that was right at my fingertips.

Do you ever do that?  Do you ever search endlessly for something that’s right in front of you?  Do you ever get so focused on “that” that you miss “this?”  It reminds me of the spanish words for this and that and the way that Coach Imbilli taught us the difference.  Ese is that and este is this – the T means “touch” – close enough to touch.  That’s what I discovered last week.

Now it’s pretty easy to shoot a basic, off camera lit portrait anywhere with the right backdrops, external light, reflector, etc, but a backlit photo, now that takes completely different needs.  That relies usually on natural light coming through a diffused area and is most natural with daylight.  Sure, you can light it with a flash or another light source, but it just has a special quality when it’s the sun that’s the light.

And let me say, they’re tricky.  A well shot backlit photo needs to be clear and crisp and well lit from the front, but pretty much blown out behind.  Basic photography knowledge tells you that if you want to increase the light to the subject, you need to drop to an itty bitty aperture – at f/2.8, I thought i’d be good, but as you can see below that’s not the case.  I tried it at different shutter speeds, but kept getting more detail in the house behind the curtain than in her face.

ISO 100, f 2.8 1/125

ISO 100, f 2.8, 1/60

ISO 10, f 3.2, 1/1000

And then I remembered from my 28 Days with Sue training about how backlit is almost counter intuitive to shoot.  When you can’t adjust the aperture any more and it doesn’t make sense to drop your shutter speed any slower, all you have left in the triangle of light science (Or the “exposure triangle” if you want to be boring), is the ISO.  If I crank up the ISO, it allows for more light!!

You basically trick your camera into thinking you’re in a darker room.   And voila!

ISO 640, f 2.8, 1/125


If you go back to some of the other shots above, you’ll see that you can see the house behind her head and even the fence and electric pole.  So not what I wanted to see, but when you crank the ISO up, that “magically” disappears and you’re left with an incredibly gorgeous backlit portrait.  You would never know that she’s sitting in the middle of my living room on the back of a chair.

Proof – and I love that my cell phone shows what’s behind the curtain.

It’s exciting when you continue to realize that you already have all you need right in front of you.  Wait until you hear about the studio lighting that I didn’t know I had in the other post about this day.

Have a great one my peeps!



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