Contre Jour Photography

"Always stand with the sun behind you when taking a photo…" That's what we're brought up to think isn't it? HAH! “Always stand with the sun right behind your subject” - that's what I say! Seriously though, in these days of technical marvel and digital wizardry, it's now easier than ever to 'break the rules' and try out some exciting techniques.

Shooting into the light (or Contre Jour if you want to get all continental about it) photography has long been a wonderful way to help you achieve results that really stand out from your peers'. Atmospherically lit with a golden halo; jet black silhouettes against a spectacular sunset; moody misty landscapes with the shadows of the trees all fanning out towards you - these are some of the benefits of plucking up the courage to go against your instinct and the perceived wisdom of others.

And this (winter) is a great time of year to get your contre jour shots - the sun's low in the sky for much of the day producing long shadows and making it easier to compose your shots with the sun in the background. And if you really want to get some great shots with the sun just poking it's nose over the horizon, being out at 08:30 in the winter sure beats 04:30 in the summer…

The two main hurdles when shooting like this are: getting the exposure right, and controlling lens flare (officially a bad thing but we'll come on to that later). In terms of exposure, the first decision is whether it's the subject or the background that's the focus of the photo. If it's the background (i.e. a sunset) then you'll probably need to under expose (which is likely to render anything in the foreground a silhouette). But if your subject's in the foreground you'll need to overexpose, to lighten the shadows but render the background bleached out. Your exposure compensation button is your best friend here. There's always a bit of trial
and error, but modern digital cameras have two massive advantages over film cameras in this respect; you can try and try again 'til you get it right for free! Take lots of versions at a number of bracketed exposures and pick the best one when you get home! And if you've got a camera with an electronic viewfinder that lets you preview your shot before you take it, you'll be able to get much closer to your desired effect first go! Even if your camera doesn't have an electronic viewfinder, most have an LCD screen on the back that can give you a preview in 'live view'. The only problem here is that seeing the screen on the back of the camera when you've got it pointed straight into the sun isn't always easy…

As far as lens flare goes, it can be a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand I think we all know that lens manufacturers spend a lot of time and effort minimising the amount of flare a lens produces with high quality optics and multiple antiglare coatings. And people spend eye-watering amounts of money purchasing lenses that minimise lens flare compared to less expensive ones. But we also live in a world of Instagram, and Lomo cameras; cameras with very 'lo-fi' technologies, and plastic lenses, where we're looking for emotion and atmosphere as well as technical excellence or razor sharp images. Sometimes a great spangle of purple and green hexagons shooting diagonally across your image is exactly what you're looking for! I for one love trying to inject some feeling and mood into my photos as well as making sure
they're perfectly in focus and composed well.

So give it a try - the technology couldn't make it any easier, you'll become a member of that elite group of 'rule-breakers' (OK, I'm just a rebel at heart), and you'll get results that get a genuine "WOW" from your friends…

PS - I should probably note that you should never look directly into the sun through a 400mm f/2.8 lens…

Park Cameras

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this article interesting and inspiring. The author obviously has a passion for his subject which I found informative and infectious. I may even have a go at contre jour photography myself now.

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