The addition of backlighting to many close-up images can add that little bit of magic and lift the image.

A degree of light from behind a subject can make some flowers literally glow – especially those that are cup-like (anemones) or like tulips whose flowers are like goblets. Petals (and most leaves) tend to be translucent and the detail they carry – a network of veins – is revealed when light shine.

Baker's Tulip (Tulipa bakeri syn T. saxatilis) an endmic tulip that flowers in thousands on the Omalos plateau: Crete. The glow of backlight came during a break in storm clouds and a 15mm diagonal fisheye lens created added drama. The sky has been darkened with the Lightroom Graduated filter.

Baker’s Tulip (Tulipa bakeri syn T. saxatilis) an endmic tulip that flowers in thousands on the Omalos plateau: Crete. The glow of backlight came during a break in storm clouds and a 15mm diagonal fisheye lens created added drama. The sky has been darkened with the Lightroom Graduated filter.

With insects, a degree of backlighting will often contribute to the overall impression of sharpness by emphasising hairs on legs and providing a degree of translucency to butterfly and other insect wings. There is also the possibility of creating silhouettes as with the preying mantis resting on a leaf of maize.

Praying_Mantis (Mantis religiosa) shown with wide-angle lens in garden at Podere Montecucco

Preying mantis (Mantis religiosa) shown with wide-angle lens in garden at Podere Montecucco our home and studio.

One of the easiest ways to introduce backlighting is to have the sun behind the object, but just out of the frame to avoid flare or reflections from internal lens surface. It is a question of experimenting – moving camera position to see where this is achieved.

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A nymph of the Egyptian grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium) with rim-light effect created by backlighting from the sun picking out the fine hairs and making for far less flat image.

Backlit images with flowers:

There is a need to recreate the ‘glow’ you saw when making the exposure. Your camera meter may or may not preserve this because metering systems tend to treat everything as neutral for exposure purposes. Some multi-segment meters that take exposure from various parts of the sensor can cope with this automatically. However, if you make a test exposure and the subject looks in the least dull then an exposure increase of about ⅔ stop should work – you can check the histogram on the LCD to make sure that nothing is over-exposed.

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This single flower of a crown anemone (Anemone coronaria) required careful manoeuvering with a wide angle lens on the camera to keep the sun out of the frame – the correct lens hood is a big help in this.

Occasionally, in a hot summer we see two-tailed pasha butterflies  in our wild garden. Here is one sheltering beneath vine leaves after feeding on juice from over-ripe grapes. Purely by chance, a slight change in position of the camera  allowed backlighting on the vine leaf, showing the veins and  making a brighter image. A diffused flash provided a degree of frontal lighting to lift the shadows.

Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius) sheltering amongst vines - the backlit leaf generally lifts the picture

Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius) sheltering amongst vines – the backlit leaf generally lifts the picture

 Black backgrounds:

These move  in and out of fashion as far as photographic styles are concerned. An element of backlighting works extremely well with such images. In the case of the orchid flower below the camera was set at its maximum synchronisation speed (1/250th sec) and an aperture of f/16 so that ambient light did not affect the image and a black background (slightly darkened in Lightroom) was easily obtained.

This Phalaenopsis hybrid was photographed using a flash set on manual but triggered from the main DTTL flash (a Nikon R1C1 macroflash) - it was behind and to the side of the plant

This Phalaenopsis hybrid was photographed using a flash set on manual but triggered from the main DTTL flash (a Nikon R1C1 macroflash) – it was behind and to the side of the plant

White backgrounds

These can be created by using flash behind a translucent white sheet of acrylic (perspex) and are central to the images created for the MYN project. By balancing frontal lighting  and backlighting a degree of translucency is created that greatly enhances the images.

Lady's slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) . Photographed in the Camosciara Mts nr Pescasseroli, Abruzzo, Italy

Active insects:

These are a challenge at the best of times but when you wish to photograph them against a back-lit acrylic/perspex panel you need to be sure in your technique and very patient. This scarce swallowtail was photographed in the early morning basking in the sunlight.

Scarce swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirus) taken against a backlit panel reveals the translucent nature of the wings making them 'glow' and the vein structure is clearly revealed

 

Dark-field illumination:

I have always had a great personal liking of dark-field illumination when using a microscope or when dealing with larger than life macro photography. It is not difficult to create a simple system that gives you this using modern LED lighting – there will be a separate post in the macro lighting series dealing in more detail with this and also with other uses of LEDs.  I have been using these for about four years now with particular success in microscopy and high magnification macro work more suited to the studio.

A dramatic form of backlighting - dark field illumination is often used in microscopy as with these two insects in amber.

A dramatic form of backlighting – dark field illumination is often used in microscopy as with these two insects in amber.

Post-processing:

When doing the post-processing work on all my images (not only the backlit ones) I depend on Adobe Lightroom which is now my one-stop shop for the bulk of my workflow and the same goes for many nature photographers whom I know.

With images where there is backlighting there will inevitably be a challenge to embrace the dynamic range of the camera and this is where I make use of the The Graduated Filter Tool (M) in the toolbar just under the histogram. Lightroom do not make a great fuss of this and yet, for me, the way this works coupled with speed and ease the ease of use is a godsend.

 

©  Paul Harcourt Davies – neither images(s) nor text may be used in whole (or in part) without the express permission of the author.

© Paul Harcourt Davies 2014

NB No part of this blog may be used in any way without the express permission of the author concerned: all commercial use of images must be accompanied by a fee (rates on request)

Shortly after I put my experiences with the Pansonic GH4 4K post focus mode on the Learn Macro site I had a very helpful email from Catherine at Helicon Focus. The more recent versions of Helicon Focus cope directly with MP4 video snippets which you can send directly from Lightroom thanks to a plug in. Last year I had a hard drive in my iMac fail and re-installed most of what I had lost but omitted to upgrade the version of Helicon Focus… I can also speed things up by ‘trimming’ clips in QuickTime™

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The depth of detail in this image of an Oleander hawk caterpillar (Daphnis nerii) is something I cannot achieve in any other way… it employs macro lenses used at optimal apertures, diffraction minimised by not closing down to small apertures and a soft background blur associated with a wide aperture.

The program cleverly extracts the individual frames and they appear in the right hand panel in Helicon Focus. There will often be far more of them than you need – at both the beginning and end there might be extraneous frames:

  1. where recording begins before the first frame of the stacking sequence
  2. at the end where it extends focus to the background.

It is also better to remove these because you tend to get artefacts in the image which take time to clean up in Photoshop and I also like the soft Bokeh achieved by working at f/4 – 5.6 in the original frames and do not need the sharp background images.

NB I find this happens to a much greater extent when using a cable release  than when using ‘touch focus’ from the LCD of the Panasonic GH4 or via the App for my iPad Air. In the latter case the camera focuses first on the closest detail and then the sequence begins: with the cable release there is a tendency to start recording whilst focus is being found. Read More