Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Transmitted light photography

One of the best ways to achieve great color saturation, show internal structure and get a distinctive look in a photograph is to take advantage of transmitted light. This is light that passes through a translucent subject rather than light reflected from the object. This is accomplished by using back-lighting: the light source is behind the subject. Framing tightly to exclude edges eliminates the flare, diffraction and over-exposed background seen in most back-lit photos. Think of shooting stained glass on a sunny day from inside a dark building as opposed to the same stained glass shot at night using flash. The colors have a rich glow and depth not seen in a reflected-light image of the same subject.



An added bonus, especially for nature photographers, is the visibility of the internal structure of the subject. All of the veins of a leaf and the varying thickness of flower petals become apparent when the image is made with light passing through the subject. The result can be very interesting photographs indeed. Even quite ordinary subjects such as the pages of a book can become more interesting by using this technique.

Green leaves, brightly colored autumn leaves, glass panes and bottles, paper and clothing can all be photographed with transmitted light to bring out internal structure and rich colors. Any subject that is at least slightly translucent and large enough to fill the frame is fair game. The less translucent the subject, the brighter the back-lighting must be(or the dimmer the ambient light) to overpower the light reflected from the side facing the camera. This technique should be part of every creative photographer’s arsenal.


Finding subjects is easy. Look towards the light source. During mid-day, this might mean getting low to the ground and looking up. At dawn or dusk the solution is to look towards the rising or setting sun. Indoors, try placing the subject between the camera and the light source or placing the flash behind the subject facing toward the camera.

Exposure is a straight forward affair. If the subject fills the frame any automatic setting should give a correct exposure. If the subject occupies a smaller are of the frame, exposure compensation might be needed to correctly expose the subject while allowing the background to be over-exposed(as in more traditional back-lighting). Experiment with exposure whenever possible to get the most pleasing results.

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