Through the Lens: Back-lit Baboons

17th August 2017

On a recent safari, my guests specifically asked if we could explore back-lighting and how to create interesting and dramatic shots with this technique. Fortunately, this is a concept that I love to explore, and we also had several opportunities to make it work.

The best of these was with a troop of baboons which were playing and resting on the edge of a gully in the early morning. The light was directly against us, and trees behind the baboons were stopping the light from hitting everything except the edge of the gully. This meant that the baboons were lit by a shaft of light but the background behind them, and the foreground of the gully was very dark.

Even with these perfect conditions, it is still important to set up the camera correctly. If left un-guided, the camera's meter will "see" the very dark scene (lots of black areas) and will attempt to brighten them up (to middle grey - halfway between white and black).

Underexposing heavily - by 2 stops in this case - ensured that the camera maintained 'black' in the areas that were very dark, and gave a beautiful rim-light around the baboon's fluffy silhouette.

The original shot of a heavily back-lit baboon in South Luangwa National Park.
This is the RAW image, straight out of the camera, to show that no extra editing has been done.

Over the course of the next 10 minutes - while the effect lasted - we shot several different scenarios. Here are a few of them:

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