How do you avoid a dim portrait with a bright background and no external flash?

  • I took a picture once in a beautiful location with an awesome background, and a cool location to get the shot. The problem is, the location of the subject had substantially less light then the background, giving a silhouette effect. Without using an external flash, and on a low budget, what could I do to improve this picture?

    Specifically, I shooting with a DSLR, outdoors. The DSLR has a small pop-up flash. The nearest good light source was maybe 5-10 feet away.

    Thanks guys!

    How do I avoid a dark subject when there's bright sunlight from windows?

    by Franci

    I recently shot some photos at a friend's wedding. The location was lovely with lots of light — sometimes too much. The sunlight from the windows and skylights seemed to overpower the shot and the subject/people were very dark. What are some ways to avoid this without using fancy equipment? (I'm just starting out, I'm not a wedding photographer or anything!)

    Here is one example I took — and this is after I've lightened it somewhat with Picasa:


    I'm using a Nikon D5000 with a standard 18-55mm lens.

    I think the other question I linked probably covers what you need to know to get started and should help you out. If it doesn't, please let us know either here, in that question, or in new followup questions.

    In any case, welcome to Stack Exchange, and +1 for taking the time to write a clear subject, a well-phrased question that's both concise and contains useful background (including a link to a sample), and choosing correct and helpful tags.

    With that camera ( I use a d5100) I would have used a different lens... say the 70 to 200.. pulled in tighter.. you don't need the light in the upper right corner or the air con in the ceiling. and as suggested, another light source on the subject, and as someone suggested, spot metering. This one is a common problem.....Saw a pic a photog did of a model I had shot with....she was in the shade, lake and sky in background which over powered her... she must have thought it was good..... I would have trashed it..t was a great example of how NOT to take a picture. So all a matter of taste... and e

  • Matt Grum

    Matt Grum Correct answer

    10 years ago

    Metering from the background as rfusca suggests may not give you the results you desire - the background will likely be very overexposed spoiling the beautiful location.

    One solution to that problem is to shoot two exposures and merge them. One exposure is optimal for your subject and one optimal for the background. If your subject remains relatively still merging them is not too difficult and there is a wide variety of software available to do this. Google "HDR" if unsure! One problem with this method is that if the background is significantly brighter than the subject then the shot exposed for the subject may have lens flare or other defects due to the strong backlight.

    However it's better to do it in one go if you can so I would say if you have no external flash then use the internal one! It may produce harsher shadows due to the position. The best way to avoid this is to diffuse (spread out) the light, using a sheet of paper, white t-shirt, whatever is at hand.

    edit: che's suggestion of a reflector is a good option for the case when the sun is in the wrong direction, it's worth noting that it wont work if you're in a large shadow area, you need a line of sight to the sun.

    That's why I voted for both;-)

    You may also want to dial down the flash brightness, so that it just fills things in a little, which will make the strange lighting angle less noticeable. I've also done such random tricks as placing a small piece of paper (or a business card, or similar) in front of the flash to direct it up, and then another sheet of paper (or even an open book) to direct it back towards the subject. Example (no background recorded, but hopefully you see the quality of the light being improved): -- me taking it:

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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