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Chase the shadows away
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Chase the shadows away

Tame unruly backlight

One of the most common problems that snapshooters (and, occasionally, forgetful advanced photographers) have is when the people in their pictures are in deep shadow—unwanted silhouettes. This usually occurs indoors where there’s light streaming through a window that’s in the shot.

The light misleads the camera’s light meter into exposing for the window light, and the window light is so bright it turns the camera’s auto flash off when it’s needed. The fix, fortunately, is simple.

First, be aware there’s a window in the scene. Even if it’s just out of the picture, the light can affect the exposure, depending on how your camera is set up.

The easiest way to compensate for shadowy exposure is to override your camera’s default auto flash mode. Simply change it to Flash On. This option is available on every digital and most film cameras—including the one you already have.

Dark ages: Just a little bit of window light was enough to mislead my camera into an exposure that’s a bit too dark.

Enlightenment: This time I was aware of the window, and switched the flash on my Casio Exilim EX-Z77 from Auto to On. Photos by Mason Resnick (2).

Get fancy

While an on-camera flash will eliminate unwanted silhouettes, it creates harsh straight-on lighting that can be unflattering. If you have a DSLR, Here are two more ways to remove undesirable shadows.

Meter better: Use a camera with a spot or center-weighted meter. In spot or center-weighted meter mode, meter either your subject or a similarly lit area of the room, making sure no window light is in the picture. Lock exposure, re-compose, focus and shoot. Since the shutter speed may be too slow for hand-holding, use a tripod. Photo © Jeff McSweeny/

Off-camera flash: To soften shadows, use an off-camera flash bounced off an umbrella, as was done here. The resulting large, diffused light source, placed above and to the right of the camera, wraps light around the subject’s face, resulting in pleasing shadows. Photo © Jim Jurica/



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