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Backlit Subjects with No Flash Indoors

Hi, All -

The other night, I photographed for a company that sponsors events with retired sports stars. There is a VIP room, then a "Meet and Greet line", and then a talk/interview/Q&A. The deal with this company is the final photos are delivered bu noon the following day (the event was 6-8 PM in Boston, and I got home around 9 PM). This was the first time I worked for these guys, and lost in the shuffle was the photo-delivery deadline. They gave me until 3 PM, and I had a food shoot in the morning, so things were tight.

For my own education and technique, I need some help and advice into how to make some of the photos better. In particular, when the subject is backlit by a screen, and no flash can be used (even if it were allowed, there was nowhere to bounce towards the stage). I have included two photos, unprocessed and processed, and the LR panels showing the settings I used. Time is tight, so there is no messing around with replacing backgrounds or anything to do with PS. In all (the three parts), I shot about 250 raw, and delivered 130 (60 were from the meet and greet line).

What would you guys do when presented with this? I used my Canon 6D, with the 70-200 mm F2.8 IS L II. Used F3.2 (I need to feel comfortable with F2.8), 1/100 shutter for subject motion, spot mode on the person's face. ISO set to give me mid-scale exposure.

As expected, the screen is blown out. In order to bring the screen to somewhat readable (company and sponsor names on it), I had to bring the highlights and whites down. But I feel this makes the person look "cloudy", for lack of a better term. I used noise reduction, sharpening, and boosted the clarity.

Can you guys give me some advice please?

OH, and even though I thought the stage photos I delivered looked rushed and certainly not my best, I was re-hired for another event in May. So, if it's the same sort of situation, I really would like to know how to improve in this sort of situation. Remember, I can't be dicking around with PS, especially with the tight turnaround.

Thanks - Dave


  • TrevTrev Moderator

    Send me the RAW file, upload to a website, like Dropbox, and PM me a link.

    I will see what happens in LR for you and give some settings.

    Your original photo appears to have better definition in the blacks and the WB is better, I think you put way too much Vibrance/Saturation on it mate.

    I would have dropped the exposure back to retain highlights better, but then open shadows more and added Black to get stronger blacks. Just a thought.

    But upload and PM me the link.

  • dbrunodbruno Member
    edited April 2019
    OK, Trev. The whole issue for me is the technique an getting the back screen AND the person in reasonably-good exposure. When I got the screen right, obviously the person goes too under exposed. I would like to have the in-camera technique better so I don't rely on the software so much. I realize it's bordering on impossible what I want without a flash, but I want to get it as right as possible. I'm in these types of situations somewhat often, but this one was up there with the most challenging.

    And yes, you are right, the person in the one right out of camera looks better to me, but I had to worry about the screen. Many of the photo angles came out with the screen completely blown out. These kinds of events, the sponsors want as much advertisement to show as possible.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    In that case Dave, it's virtually a 'Tom Cruise' (Mission Impossible) without flash.

    So, you do need to get it somewhere near in the software, you just cannot get it right from in camera with no flash.

    Your general exposure in the sample above I would as stated before, shoot like you did or even 'slightly' more over, bring back the exposure in LR until the highlights were fairly good then you can open more in the shadows via 'Shadows' slider and go from there.

    Want to see what I can get near it for the sample, just send me the raw file mate (Private Message me with link)
  • I know I've sent you files before. How did we do it in the past? If it's Dropbox, I need an email address to attach, correct?

    I tried a bit of what you said, and here are some settings I quickly tried: Exposure=0; Highlights=(-100); Shadows=+19; Blacks=+10; Clarity=+20; Vibrance=+20; Saturation=0.

    Let me know how to get this to you. I was going to use Google Photos, but I had an issue with it compressing things uploaded.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited April 2019
    PM Sent mate, with instructions via 'MailBigFile' Transfer site.

    or if you have a Dropbox account, just upload to your 'Public' folder, right click and copy the link, and sent that link via PM back to me and I can direct download from your Dropbox
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    I got the file mate, having a go at it now.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited April 2019
    Here is my result Dave.

    First up, I did change the WB.

    Now, the next best thing you can change is the "Tone Curve" preset which normally gives a 'Medium Contrast' to 'Linear' which takes off all contrast as you can then control it much better using the 'BASIC' Tab.

    TONE CURVE TAB: Changed to Linear:

    Here are the "Basic Tab" settings I used.
    Note I used a bit of Clarity which helps open the Midtones a bit, but no Vibrance/Saturation.
    See how I dropped the exposure back by almost 2/3rds of a stop, but opened Shadows to +40, and what I did with the Whites/Highlights.

    The key here is now added that Black Contrast back with a -35
    WB you see also.

    Settings I used here along with Noise Reduction


    (Click on this image to open in new TAB full size, not full res though)

    Here is a Photoshop Version:
    Cleaner and darker shadows which I could not get much more in just LR alone, with more definition and a 'roundness' especially of the guy's head giving more 'pop' from the image, along with better clarity of the back screen.
    Just to show what you can achieve using PS.

  • Thanks, Trev. This is a great learning experience for me. I have PS Elements 2019, really got it just to remove unwanted objects. Your PS version shows much better the color of the screen, which was a deep-ish blue. Even if I was experienced in PS or PSE (I just got it), I really would not have the time with this organization and their turnaround requirements. I would be interested - only if you had the time - of what some of your PS actions were to get that result, and how long it took you to do so. Maybe I can then mess around in PSE to try and find the same controls.

    Very much appreciate you help here - Dave
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    You would not be able to create anywhere near what I can do in Photoshop by using Elements, it's really very basic stuff compared to in Photoshop, as I use Masks/Layers, etc., and lots of backend stuff which Elements does not have.

    It took me around 2 mins to do that edit from opening in LR, doing WB and Exposure, (I went to -1.5 ev on original) taking off any contrast, no sharpening, no clarity, all virtually zeroed out, then exporting out to Photoshop, run my action and adjust Highlights, Midtones, Shadows, Sharpening, Colour Cleaning, etc., and done.

    But at least by my settings in LR you can achieve something that is totally acceptable by anyone's standards, just that I am a fussy pedantic bastard. :)

  • Hey, Trev - I've got one more question concerning how to get it as right as possible in these sort of back-lit-with-no-flash situations: I was in Spot Mode, obviously trained on the speaker's face. Do you think that would be the best choice, or would it really matter? Situations where the back-lighting screen really should be somewhat visible and readable. I have a Canon, and there is "Evaluative", "Partial", "Center-Weighted Average", and Spot for choices.

    Thanks - Dave
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    I would try to meter for the face in these situations, better to be over-exposed then bring it back, than to be under-exposed and try to open it up as the shadows will become muddy and colour moire will be much worse.

    All of my wedding shots I prefer to be over-exposed where there are dark shadows of importance, eg: nice rocks, dark building timber, etc., because I then bring exposure back down and re-open the shadows which are still 'clean' instead of dirty/muddy.

    How you, personally, achieve that is up to you.

    No matter which way you go, something will be compromised, better to have the highlights a bit blown, than skin/important parts under-exposed in my opinion.

    In raw you can easily shoot over and bring it back.

  • Thanks, Trev. I always appreciate your opinions, thoughts, and helpfulness - Dave
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