Shooting against the light

At the Harbor Festival in Limhamn, Malmö, Sweden 2014

As photographers we're often told to make sure we don't shoot into the sun, because then you risk getting all kinds of issues with too high contrast ranges between the bright and the dark parts of the image; and if we do have the sun in the frame we risk getting flares big enough to make J.J. Abrams wince...

Sometimes though it makes for a very interesting effect, creating strong silhouettes and backlighting our subjects.

The image of the man with the water-jet thingy is an example of mine that turned out pretty good in this regard. This was not a conscious effort on my behalf to shoot silhouettes, but a product of the location where this performance took place. I couldn't shoot this any other way but against the light, and the combined glare of the sun and the reflection of that in the ocean made for a lot of light pouring into the camera. I didn't mind because it looked cool when I did a quick glance on the LCD, so I went for it.

Then I read the "Into the light" article by Lee Frost in the September '14 issue of Black+White Photography about this phenomenon (naming it contre-jour, from the French for "against the daylight")) and how it is a perfectly "legitimate" form of photography, used to great effect in dramatic landscapes, silhouette photography and other such situations. Turns out my accidental foray into this sort of photography was an example of that.

At the train station, Lund, Sweden 2014

At the train station, Lund, Sweden 2014

Then I began to look through my files for other examples of contre-jour photography, and discovered it's a technique I've used several times without even thinking about it, or giving it a name. The girl's backlit hair in this image from the Lund train station is an example of the effect, giving her a halo, while the bench they sit on is fairly dark and contrasty. The silhouette effect here is nowhere near as strong as in the waterjet photo, but it still has hints of the same thing.

It's definitely a technique I will use in the future...and now I can call it by its fancy name too...although I probably won't. :-)