Dark foreground, light background

Started Feb 27, 2012 | Discussions
midimid Regular Member • Posts: 124
Dark foreground, light background

I was photographing my girlfriend this weekend at the Jefferson memorial, around 2pm. The sun was positioned brightly, above and behind us and I was trying to take a picture of her leaning against a column, facing out towards the Washington monument. We were trying to recreate a photo captured of her grandmother standing in the same spot some 20-30 years earlier. The older picture was clearly done at a different time of the day - closer to high-noon, or the morning and in the late summer.

The issue that she was cast in shadow AND wearing almost all black, while the landscape behind her was all very bright sun-lit blue water, sky, etc. Because of this, I would get one of two images - either her well-lit and the background whited-out, or her in complete darkness, and the background pretty.

I've read about creating two exposures and combining them, but I'm not 100% clear on how the camera is giving me one exposure vs. the other (nor do I carry a tripod with me). For instance, if I removed her from the scene entirely, the image would always come out excellent - both foreground and background in wonderful color.

I have a Nikon D5100 with an 18-135mm lens. I also tried with my 35mm. I tried tons of different settings, including the auto-contrasting and auto-braketing settings, but always got the same results.

I'd prefer to not post her picture here. I did an image search on google and this is the closest I could find to the composition we were doing, only zoomed a bit more in, where only a sliver of the left column was in view:

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Nikon D5100
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sterretje Contributing Member • Posts: 840
Re: Dark foreground, light background

The short answer for this scene is flash. Expose for the background, your girlfriend will be underexposed and the flash will brighten her up.

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WimS

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John Deerfield Veteran Member • Posts: 3,510
Re: Dark foreground, light background

The short answer for this scene is flash.

The long answer is to learn lighting.

Deleted1929 Forum Pro • Posts: 13,050
Adding fill light in post processing

As others have said you can't avoid the problem without fill flash or additional lighting or reflectors. However in the absence of these you can often brighten the darker areas using an editor like GIMP.

The process sounds complicated if you're new to this, but it's easy with very little practice.

  • Open the image in GIMP ( a good free editor ).

  • Duplicate the layer

  • Create a mask based on the inverse greyscale image of the layer

  • Select the image ( as the mask is selected after it's created )

  • Now adjust the curve of the image and you'll see the dark parts brighten

  • When you're happy merge down the layer and save the new image

And the result :

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StephenG

Port Royal Dad
Port Royal Dad Senior Member • Posts: 2,719
Opposite Scenario: Light Foreground - Dark Background

Study up on flash lighting and exposure. You can also do your shot without any Photoshop editing.

What you are describing is a scenario where you would use the camera’s meter and then expose for the ambient lighting in the background. Using the camera’s ISO, Shutter and Aperture, set an appropriate exposure. Then using a flash, such as a speedlight, you highlight the foreground subject.

But you have to be familiar with some lighting techniques, e.g. Shooting at or below the camera’s max sync speed, or deciding to shoot at high speed sync.

Here’s an example where the lighting is opposite of your scenario, Dark Background-Light Foreground. In this case, the background is dark (cast in deep shadow) and the foreground is lit by the ambient light.

Think two exposures: Background and Foreground .

I metered the exposure for the flag, then applied some off-camera lighting to the cross. Otherwise the cross was in the same shadow as the surrounding head stones. See to the right, my speedlight flashes.

And so just like with your dilemma, what to do with the shadowy areas????

Simply adding fill light to the shadow areas, you can begin to create your images with two exposures (without any photoshop editing

  • A background exposure set with the camera’s meter

  • A foreground exposure set with your flash

  • or vice-versa.

Regards, Mike

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Guidenet
Guidenet Forum Pro • Posts: 15,748
Re: Adding fill light in post processing

Or better yet, use Adobe Photoshop and use the Fill Light tool to increase fill lighting.

These Irish guys and their GIMP have to make it complicated.

Actually, given your situation, I'd have used fill flash up front.
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Guidenet
Guidenet Forum Pro • Posts: 15,748
Great Tutorial

Great Tutorial, Mike.
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vanilla4785 Regular Member • Posts: 126
Re: Dark foreground, light background

Another way is to shoot HDR. If your camera does not have this feature then you use bracketing to take the shots at different exposures. HDR tutorials on the web are quite useful if you want to learn. Unfortunately this method really requires a tripod because otherwise your photos won't be aligned properly. You can do it handheld but it takes allot more time in post aligning you pictures.

Deleted1929 Forum Pro • Posts: 13,050
Re: Adding fill light in post processing

These Irish guys and their GIMP have to make it complicated.

You're getting soft, Craig. It's not like I suggested using a hex editor.

If the OP lacks a good application they might consider something like Corel Aftershot Pro. There are lots of them out there and they mostly have downloadable demos - well worth the effort to find one the OP likes using.

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StephenG

AltLens Regular Member • Posts: 107
Re: Dark foreground, light background

The best answer is to use flash and ignore snarky responses. IM me if you need help using it.

gordonpritchard Veteran Member • Posts: 4,576
Re: Dark foreground, light background

I didn't spend much time on this because it's not your actual photo.

I made three versions of the photo - one the original, one for the shadow detail, and one for the background detail. Then I combined the best part of each into one photo.

best, gordo
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OP midimid Regular Member • Posts: 124
Re: Dark foreground, light background

All great responses...

I do have Lightroom and Photoshop. I felt that the outcome with fill light didn't work too great on its own because it washes out the colors of the image as a whole - i.e. the deep blues of the sky and water become a blah-gray. I suppose it would require carefully masking out my girlfriend, which I'll work on next just for fun.

Unfortunately, I don't have an external flash. I tried using the internal one with a few different settings, but the result looked unnatural. You can see a review of the settings here if you don't own a D5100:
http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/D5100/D5100FLASH.HTM

I also don't have a tripod. I like to keep my walking around as light as possible, so it'll be tough to find one that suits my ideal bag weight. That said, I tried some of the built-in HDR modes on the camera and they didn't help much at all.

So I think my objective in the future will be a tripod and two exposures. My question is how do I get the exposure of the background to be nice and crisp colors and then get the opposite one? I found it to be rather random as to which one the camera decided to over/under-expose.

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nelsonal Senior Member • Posts: 2,464
Re: Dark foreground, light background

Either use manual mode (copy the settings from either chimped shot) or spot meter on the foreground and background.

OP midimid Regular Member • Posts: 124
Re: Dark foreground, light background

Is there any way to do this with a single RAW?

So I import my favorite RAW into Photoshop, click auto, save as a JPG.
Import the same RAW, click default, save as a second JPG.

Import once more, click default, but use fill light to white out the background, but add light to the foreground and save as a third JPG.

When I pull this into HDR Pro in Photoshop, it warns me about reusing RAWs and the image is way overexposed.

Is there any way around this using a single RAW?

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sshoihet Senior Member • Posts: 2,631
Re: Dark foreground, light background

Sounds like you're using LR3, LR4 beta does a much better job at targeting adjustments to certain areas. Give the beta a try if you haven't already or the release should be out soon

midimid wrote:

All great responses...

I do have Lightroom and Photoshop. I felt that the outcome with fill light didn't work too great on its own because it washes out the colors of the image as a whole - i.e. the deep blues of the sky and water become a blah-gray. I suppose it would require carefully masking out my girlfriend, which I'll work on next just for fun.

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jenella
jenella Senior Member • Posts: 1,010
Bracketing D5100!!!

Look up "bracketing" on your D5100. Its got in camera HDR. I think you can manually do it with 5 exposures instead of the 2 offered. Read the manual about bracketing.
Here is a youtube of in camera HDR
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QcRXZ1nJ-w

here:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1034&message=38470792

You can download a free trial of "Photmatix" that will allow you to merge all you different exposures together..here... Its a really good program. I use HDR merge in PS CS5
http://www.hdrsoft.com/

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OP midimid Regular Member • Posts: 124
Re: Bracketing D5100!!!

Ah - I was trying the Auto Bracketing in the quick menu. Thanks.

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Port Royal Dad
Port Royal Dad Senior Member • Posts: 2,719
Thanks! OP, Look at Russell Brown for free Photoshop Tutorials.

Thanks!

I, at first, fell into the trap of trying to do so much lighting correction via Photoshop. And a lot of times simple corrections could be easily done. But then that opened up a whole other realm...learning all the tweaks and the in's-n-out's of photoshop: Layers, masks, extractions, levels, curves, etc, etc, etc.

I'm not knocking Photoshop and the HDR techniques, because those likewise have a lot of application. But it was just as easy, and a lot more fun to practice getting the correct shot via the camera. And it was when I got my first speedlight that I fell in love with the notion of what can be done with off-camera lighting. That single piece of gear opened up more creative possibilities. Then reading the limitless tutorials on lighting techniques, particularly those from Neil Van Niekerk.
http://neilvn.com/tangents/2010/11/04/flash-photography-essentials/

I've learned more from his tutorials than any other.

By the way, if the OP reads this, go to the Russell Brown Show website. Lot's and lots of free tutorials for download regarding a whole host of Photoshop tips. Categorized from Elements to CS5.

http://www.russellbrown.com/tips_tech.html

Regards, Mike

Guidenet wrote:

Great Tutorial, Mike.
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jenella
jenella Senior Member • Posts: 1,010
Re: Dark foreground, light background

i would go into the d5100 thread snd ask some questions..its a much more active forum specific to your camera!

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devilz666 New Member • Posts: 23
Re: Bracketing D5100!!!

I didn't wish to create a new thread for same topic so asking it here. I dont know if I am doing something wrong or what but I have followed instructions on the pdf manual (p88) to setup AE bracketing. But when all is done and I try to take a picture then my cam only clicks a single picture.

Is there any other setting that I need to be looking at before setting up the AE bracketing ? I am doing so in M, A, S or P mode only.

Any help will be appreciated, thanks!

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