Photographing back lit birds is one of the most troubling challenges a newbie bird photographer can face. This is especially true here in the Pacific North West. This tip will help you improve your bird captures by learning about proper exposure of back lit subjects. Many aspiring bird photographers fail to recognize their subject is back lit.
The main reason for this is that your eyes automatically compensate for exposure however your camera does not. Your eyes and brain work together to allowing you to see in poor lighting conditions and intrepid weather. This skill or genetic trait is part of our long time survival skill that developed eons ago as man was primarily a hunter gatherer. Your camera however does not have this highly developed skill set etched into its DNA or firmware for that matter. In short we don’t see the same way our camera sees the subject under these lighting conditions. Ignoring this key concept will result in many great shots going down the drain as a result of being under exposed. The prudent bird photographer who learns how to see their subject as the camera sees will have a definite advantage.
Back lighting occurs when the sun is behind your subject making your subject darker than it looks to your eyes. The intrepid Photographer must compensate their exposure for these types of shooting circumstances which is usually anywhere between 2-3 F stops open.
Allowing more light into your exposure by opening f stops or slowing down shutter speeds will give you a better looking image. See the example on the right, notice how much of an improvement adjusting your exposure can make. You can also add more exposure through the use of your ISO settings as well. It’s really up to you to judge what’s the best method based upon your lighting situation and shooting priorities. Many of Digital SLR’s also have a quick adjustment for exposure where exposure adjustments can be made quickly and easily by either a touch of a button or by rotating a dial.