Sugarcane workers, Hacienda Salamanca
Let me get straight to the point as I have kept you waiting long enough for an article.
Shooting against the light is a current fascination of mine.
Partly because of the glass that I use which seem to be able to control light a bit better than my previous kit. It essentially means being able to preserve a bit more highlight detail.
Partly because I like shooting wide open maxing out the M9’s shutter speed at 1/4000 of a sec when the sun is fully out and bright.
Partly because Bob and Arnel were behind me all the time with heaven knows what and they’d really just get in the frame… So… what to do when they’re all shooting where the golden light chooses to fall? You go the other way… Well, partly because it is very difficult to mix it up with these guys. Bob is the king of exposure by whatever yardstick you choose to measure a photographer by (I’m serious. He does a lot of things that you will never know about so you will have to believe me when I tell you that he is the exposure king) so it can get really frustrating when you see his shots. Arnel is a creative director who brings in a couple of decades worth of advertising and photography experience into a damn recreational safari. Yes, he’s that guy with the big lighting whatchamacallit that came with a free assistant. I’m the guy with the dinky camera caught between Mr. Sekonic and Mr. Prophoto so I was thinking that maybe I should just get out of the way 😉
Oh and there is one more reason why I was forced to like shooting against the light (suddenly it’s “forced” hahaha!) … it minimizes a lot of elements in the frame. I used to like clouds and such but I rather find them distracting of late. I’m the guy who is forever finding out ways to simplify things in and out of photography. That is probably the reason why you won’t see a light meter on me. I’ve already pared down to just two small lenses and a body and I still find that begrudgingly excessive. Hey, I have my own neurosis so don’t read into it too much.
Shooting against the light blows out the sky for me and if you bend low enough, your subject can cut quite a dramatic figure across the frame.
So what does it entail, this shooting against the light business? Well, it really just means that you want to meter on the mid tones given that kind of an exposure situation. You know how that looks like, blowing out the background in favor of a beautiful smile.
I more or less know the kind of light that I want such that I can more or less guess the exposure and be off Â by just a third of a stop on a bad day. I’m serious. But it only works for a particular kind of exposure that I like. It’s hard to explain. A good starting point to understand light from the perspective is to know what ISO your camera is optimized on. The Leica M9 is optimized at ISO160. So I more or less know how, say, 1/250, ISO160, at f2 looks like… and it is a very particular kind of light, glow, luminance or however which way you want to call it. Flood me with a lot more light than that and I am loooost. Which is most of the time. Which is why I panic when the light suddenly changes and I get knocked out of my comfort zone. I’m like, “WTF! Bobby what’s your shutter speed? You shooting at f/8?” When he tells me that he’s at 5.6, I panic even more and cry like a little girl because I can’t visualize that f/stop coupled with some weird shutter speed like 1/320. I vacillate between f/2 and f/8. My friend, Casey, tells me, that those scales that I use are for amateurs. Hahaha!!! I have wonderful friends 🙂
Before I go on, this is one of the advantages of just working with one lens for a period of time. You get intimate with the light together with the glass that you use. I’m not sure that the combo iso-shutter-aperture that I just shared with you would look or feel the same on another glass, Leica or otherwise. It might be a different shutter speed altogether or maybe you don’t even get to replicate that feel at any combo on a different setup.
So back to the business at hand.
Shooting against the light is just half the magic. The other part involves a bit of skill and faith as shooting wide open with moving targets require that you get familiar with the focusing feel of your lens. At f2.0, it can be very unforgiving if your subject is near (for the 35cron, think half body filling the frame). But at the same aperture with the subject at some distance (think full body filling the frame), there’s a bit of leeway such that minor movements don’t necessarily translate to an out-of-focus subject. Of course, you have to be quick with the focusing ring. That takes practice. Simply because they will walk towards you, walk back, lift, do stuff that may take your subject out of the focusing zone. And we’re talking probably a tenth of a centimeter on and off focus on that small focus patch.
Let me backtrack a bit to summarize things for you as I can tend to be unnecessarily “talkative”.
Why it’s nice to shoot against the light wide open:
1) It’s an uncommon strategy when you’re shooting with a group. Most tend to look where the light falls and for good reason as sidelit subjects in gold can be very seductive indeed. The upside to this approach is that you get to explore a lighting nuance even more.
2) If your glass can handle it and you put the light source behind your subject, it can give your photograph that dramatic glow.
3) Less becomes more as you eliminate elements that may compete with your subject. As nice as clouds and skies are, depending on your predisposition, they can still be a nuisance and can detract slightly from the main subject. Some might say complement but in my case, it’s an unnecessary element.
4) Shoot wide open in this circumstance and a blurry foreground can become your friend and may actually work towards reinforcing the feel of a photograph. I will admit that I used to get distracted by random blurred foreground elements. In this series, I think it just works.
5) Corollary to #4, the 3d feel of shooting wide open can really enhance the main character even further.
I hope you guys enjoyed this series.
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