Contre-jour, a French term with a literal meaning of “against the light”, refers to photographs that were taken with the camera directly pointing toward the source of light. Contre-jour is also a photography technique to create a silhouette of a subject that is surrounded by a soft and halo-esque light. This technique is known in Italy as chiaroscuro but is more widely known as backlighting.
Using the contre-jour technique in photography can add a dramatic effect to a picture. With this photography technique, the object’s borders are sharpened while it is illuminated from behind. Using this technique produces the contre-jour effect characterized by sharper contrast between dark and light, creation of silhouettes, and more emphasized lines and shapes.
Many photographers, especially newbies, are anxious with the idea of pointing their cameras directly towards the light. This is because there is a big possibility that the resulting photograph will pick up flare if one uses the contre-jour technique. Another is because it is not always easy to get the correct exposure for a photograph taken using the said technique.
How To Avoid Flares
When using the contre-jour technique in photography, perhaps the most significant consideration would be flares. Flares result to loss of definition and must be approached methodically. First, you must understand what causes flares so that you’ll have an idea on how to avoid them in your pictures. Flares are produced when intense light rays hit the front element of your lens. This causes excessive lens refraction, which consequently, leads to specula highlights, loss of definition, and image softening.
To avoid having flares when using the contre-jour photographing technique, remember that the more lens elements you use, they more vulnerable they will be to flare. Different lenses have individual characteristics and their susceptibility to flare also varies. For example, zoom lenses are more susceptible to flare than prime fixed focal length lenses. Lens coatings, on the other hand, also have an impact on flares but modern multi-coated lens are generally considered to reduce many potential flare problems.
In many situations, using a lens hood will greatly lessen the probability of flares because it keeps stray light from striking the lens’ front element. A lens hood of good quality can greatly improve the saturation of backlit subjects. When inspecting the image through your camera’s view finder, do it with the lens stopped down and see if there are any remaining areas of highlights or softness resulting from flare. To eliminate them, you may only have to do a slight repositioning of your camera.
Ensuring Correct Exposure
Overexposure is another common problem encountered by photographers using the contre-jour photography technique. Since the background, which is brightly lit can overly influence the camera’s meter, this has the potential of turning the subject very dark. To address this, use exposure compensation and to give extra exposure, between one and two stops, from the “normal” exposure function of your camera.
Since the matter of exposure for backlit subjects can get quite tricky, it would always be wise to practice various exposure metering patterns and overrides. Doing so will make you comfortable in approaching various contre-jour opportunities correctly as they present themselves.
When you look into the viewfinder as you align your shot, your subject should appear in the frame as darkly silhouetted while still showing recognizable detail. From the border or boundaries of your subject should appear brightly illuminated in the frame and you should adjust your shutter speed according to the amount of light. To make your photograph to have a crisp focus, adjust your aperture to a higher number to make it smaller, preferably at f/8 or above.
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