Yesterday I talked about how to photograph a subject backlit such that you retain some detail in the subject’s shadowed side.

I have gotten a lot of questions, so today I am going to expand that a bit with three different backlit images taken within 5 minutes of each other in the Great Trinity Forest in Dallas. FYI – I am shooting aperture priority, matrix metering, not spot metering (that is a whole different conversation).

Great Egrets

7:24pm.  The egrets are backlit, the background of the pond is in shadows.  This allows me to “open up” or overexpose the image one stop from my camera’s overall reading to pull in some detail and open up the shadows.   That allows me to get everything in balance. The sun’s direct reflection is not in the image, so I don’t have to contend with that.

Great Egrets

7:26pm. I point the camera directly into the reflection of the setting sun. Where that reflection is brightest, it is REALLY BRIGHT. So if I expose solely for the reflection, it would have some color but everything else would be black, except for the silhouette of anything standing in the reflection.  If I expose for the shadows, the bright sun reflection will overexpose or “blow out” (i.e. meaning the camera recorded no detail).

So you have to make a choice. Hmmmmm. Option one won’t work unless the egret is completely within the reflection.  Mine is not.

So I chose option two. I overexposed the entire image by 1 and 1/3 stops from the meter reading and let much of the reflection blow out to white. But that extra light opened up the dark areas of the image, especially  the rim-light around the egrets’ silhouettes.

Great Egrets

7:29pm.  As the sun sets, the intense reflection fades and there is a brief moment when I can overexpose the overall image greatly (here by two stops), but still hold some color in the reflection.   Why overexpose so much, you ask? This helps to both pull out more shadow detail and push the sunset colors from red to pastel.

Which image do a I like the most?  I usually like pastels, but I love the feathered silhouettes in the middle image.