Contre-jour is a French term that means against the light. In photography, it involves shooting into the light with your subject in front of the light. This makes for a silhouette that produces a dramatic effect, if it’s done correctly.
Contre-jour photography is tricky. You don’t want your photos to come out looking as if your subject was underexposed. Therefore, you must go out of your way to bring the right emotion to your images.
The effect is not easy to achieve, but with the right tips, you will master it in no time. Here are a few things to be aware of.
Choice of Subject
Your subject can make all the difference in producing contre-jour photography that has the intended result. To play it safe, try landscape photography. For example, if you shoot a lighthouse against the sunset, there will be no question as to whether the effect was meant to be intentional.
Your metering will play an important role in your contre-jour photography. It’s advisable to use the default multi-zone (or multi-segment) meter on your camera. This will analyze the intensity of light across the viewfinder and not just in one area making it preferable to spot metering.
When using metering, be careful not to adjust the camera to the brightest spot in your photo. This will cause overexposure.
It’s also important not to have the sun as your main light source. You can achieve this by angling away from direct sunlight and using other lighting equipment if necessary.
Reduce the Intensity of the Backlighting
As mentioned, before, you will not want to have the sun as your main light source. Therefore, it is best when the sun is just outside of the frame. If you do want to include the sun in the frame, use a narrow aperture to reduce the amount of light that gets in. This will make for a starburst effect.
If there is an object in front of the sunlight, it will also help to reduce the intensity.
Pay Attention to Highlights
When shooting contre-jour, you will want to use your histogram and any highlight functions it may have. This will help you retain highlights in your brightest areas and the detail will counter underexposure that may occur in the shadows. The compensation will also reduce the effects of a bright sky.
Bring Out Shadow Details
Your photography will be more dramatic if the subject is photographed to show a bold outline. The histogram and exposure compensation will help bring out the subject as well. Applying shadow reduction in the editing stages will further emphasize the light vs. dark elements.
Most lenses have built in elements to reduce lens flare, but if you’re shooting into the sun, it can counter any protection your camera offers. A lens hood will be helpful in cutting down on flare. A prime lens also reduces the risk because the optic design in the barrel is not complex. You will also lessen chances of flare by not shooting directly into the sun.
Note: Contre-jour photography requires looking into the sun. Make sure to keep your eyes safe. Instead of looking at the viewfinder, look into the window where you can see your photos once they are taken if using digital. A UV filter, ND filter and polarizer will also be helpful.
Contre-jour photography gives your photos a sophisticated look, but only if it’s done correctly. The tips in this article will help you get well defined silhouettes you can be proud of. What will you be shooting when you decide to go contre-jour?
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