Skip to content

Backlit Jay

  • by
  • Wildlife
  • 3 min read

Some of you have mentioned how much you enjoy the bird photographs I post on my blog from time to time so I thought I would post another one today. I captured this Western Scrub Jay at the Pedernales Falls SP bird blind. This bird blind is not the usual bird blind that I normally use.  The reason I rarely use this one is because it faces the sun so the birds are backlit. Backlit subjects are hard to photograph. I was attracted to this photograph by the blue reflection from the backlit Jay on the tree stump. The bird feathers are so blue and the light from the sun was so intense that the reflection was quite dramatic.

I thought it would be useful to provide some tips on how to properly photograph backlit subjects.  Some of the things I have learned from photographing these subjects are as follows:

  1. Position of the Sun. It is essential to choose where in your frame you want to place the sun. Basically,there are three options: The sun behind the subject, outside the frame or in the actual shot. The last option is the most difficult, since it gets considerably harder to compose the shot.
  2. Camera Settings. Aperture is the number one consideration when backlighting your subject. Larger apertures may provide you with some attractive “Lens Flares”. Smaller apertures will provide you with nice starburst effects.  Larger apertures may also provide you with a softer depth of field. Be careful when looking into the viewfinder if you are shooting directly into the sun.  I recently made that mistake and was blinded for a few minutes. Also, some new cameras have a “backlight setting”. Check you manual to see if this is included in your model. If not, set the exposure value to +1 to +2 to keep the camera from underexposing your image.
  3. Reflective Lighting. A reflector panel placed near your subject can bounce some light into the shadow areas to brighten things up. You can purchase one at your favorite camera store or make one on your own using aluminum foil or any type of reflective material.
  4. Fill Lighting. For even more control, consider using flash to fill the shadows with light. If you have the ability to control your camera’s flash output, dial it down a stop or two to reduce its intensity. Too much flash on a backlit subject makes the artificial light glaringly obvious.
  5. Bracketing. When in doubt, bracket your shots. This will at least give you some options when it comes to post-processing.
Western Scrub Jay
Western Scrub Jay

This image was taken with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III using my Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sports Lens set on 360 mm. The camera was set on Aperture priority mode with the aperture set at f/8, shutter speed at 1/400th of a second and the ISO set at 1600. This was a single image processed in Lightroom.

You can view my Birds of Texas collection by clicking here. Please use the section below to post your comments, questions, or suggestions.

T Kahler Signature
© 2015 T. Kahler Photography

Please share your thoughts or comments:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.