Exposure metering – Let your background blow out!
Too often there’s the desire for us to bring the detail in our backgrounds back in by adding flash. But there are times when the image will be stronger if we just allow the background to completely blow out. It especially works in our favor if the background is cluttered, because then by letting the background completely over-expose, we can simplify our composition.
The key here then is to expose for your subject with careful exposure metering.
The photo at the top of the article is of Randa, whose wedding I photographed the past weekend. While finishing her preparation in the bedroom, I noticed a gesture she made as she tried to control the veil … but I also knew that if I exposed correctly for her as my subject, the background would melt away. So we played with the idea for a minute.
This comparative photo in the sequence, is with the exposure pulled down by 3 stops with the RAW file. That will give you an idea of what the background would look like. Not bad … but not as simple as I like.
Then by exposing correctly for her, the background disappeared. I also lose some detail in the veil, but I can live with that, since this image is more about the mood and the gesture than it is about exact retention of detail in the veil.
Here is the image without any post-processing. (Aside from a slight tweak of the white balance of the RAW file.)
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used
- 1/80 @ f/2.8 @ 1600 ISO
- Nikon D3s
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II / Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II / used at 130mm
Then for the final image, shown at the start of the article, I used the Totally Rad action sets, with a mixture of presets that I named ‘Vintage‘, that I’ve used before with some images. It gives the image a warm muted look that works well in this context.
The technique is so simple, but it relies on us recognizing the potential while actually shooting.
This is exactly the technique I used when I photographed Anelisa in the shopping mall when working on the review of the Fuji X100. By exposing for my subject, I let my background blow out, giving an ethereal looking photograph.
- Exposure metering – expose for your subject !
- More articles on available light photography
- More articles about wedding photography
- Randa & Adam – wedding photographer – Crystal Plaza, NJ
12 Comments, Add Your Own
1Roy Barnes says
Neil, great shot! What kind of metering would you use in this instance? Spot or centre-weighted? Love the warmth shown in the final image.
2Neil vN says
Roy … I usually stay with Matrix metering and manual exposure mode.
In this case, I didn’t specifically meter … I just dialed in the settings that I knew would work. Experience.
If I had to meter, then spotmetering off her skin on the shadow side would have been my starting point. Then I’d adjust to taste by looking at my camera’s preview.
Love the light, the color, the composition, and of course a stunning bride.
Completely agree! While it’s critical not to allow important details to blow out, I have absolutely no issue about letting backgrounds go, as long as it doesn’t detract from the image as a whole (it rarely does, and in this case, it improves the image greatly).
5Alexis Hadjisoteriou says
Thanx Neil for another great tip.
Question: If you have a situation such as this with a really clattered room in the background but not enough strong sunlight in the back to burn out the details how do you achieve the same effect with flash. In order words can I blast the background to completely burn it so that we don’t see it?
6Michelle Handal says
That’s is a hell of experience!!!
You look, and you dial in.
Hi Neil – Adam and I just came back from our honeymoon and our parents forwarded us this right away. I absolutely LOVE this image and can’t wait to see all of the rest. You are simply the best – thank you for working with us that day.
9Abi Leto says
I’m just starting out in photography, and I was wondering…with and ISO of 1600 wouldn’t you have a lot of noise???
10Neil vN says
It depends on:
– the camera you have,
– your post-processing,
– whether you under-expose (or not),
– and how large you’re going to use the images.
1600 ISO isn’t a problem for the Nikon D3 / D4 or Canon 5D mark 3 and such.
I tried this earlier on today. Though the background was blown out, the subject was slightly over exposed. When I underexposed by a stop for the subject the background was ‘less blown out’. I don’t seem to know where I am going wrong, or what I am doing wrong. Please help??
12Neil vN says
Expose properly for your subject, and let the background blow out. To what extent, you have no control (unless you use additional lighting.)
If your subject is (slightly) over-exposed, then it is still up to you to control exposure – shutter speed / aperture / ISO.