Shooting into direct sunset

Hi there! I was using my Nikon D5100 and my 300mm lens...daughter is a cheerleader and the sun was setting in our faces...I tried several settings suggested on the cheat cards, but each picture came out black. Help!


  • Did the whole picture come out black, or the daughter silhouetted black?

    If the whole picture was black, some error was likely made in metering, and you should go back and look at the EXIF info for the shots to see what it was. You can get that info either from the camera (look for the "overview" playback setting to get a histogram, a small image, and the most important settings all on one screen), or from a post processing program.

    If the subject was silhouetted black, that's normal unless you compensate in one of several ways.

    The most basic is to exposure compensate (about 2 stops is a good place to start) in the + direction. This will open up the face, but at the cost of the background, which will be overexposed.

    You can also leave the compensation alone and spot meter the face, which should give you similar results.

    If you are using P,S, A or M modes, you can also meter the whole scene and then pop up the flash for fill. This should open up the face without overexposing the sky so drastically. Other modes may or may not work the same, but in P,S,A and M, the default flash mode is for fill, and it does a pretty decent job.

    Remember if you're in M mode, you must turn off auto ISO in order to disobey the meter, otherwise it will just change the ISO and return you to the original meter reading.

    It can be pretty hard to get a good exposure with a heavily backlit subject, if you don't want the background blown out. Fill flash helps, and so might Auto D-lighting, which increases dynamic range a little bit. In post processing, if you have a program that opens up shadows, you can try exposing more for the sky, and brightening the dark face, but you can't do too too much of this without some odd lighting artifacts and a kind of grayish appearance. In moderation, though, it's a lifesaver. The Nikon View NX-2 program does this pretty well, in both shadow restoration and post-processing D-lighting. If you're using that program, I'd leave D-lighting off in the camera itself.

    I'd strongly advise shooting in Raw mode if you don't already, because any of a number of Raw reading programs can then modify many aspects of the picture in a non-destructive way, allowing you to make all sorts of changes and still retain your original. This includes exposure compensation after the fact. View NX-2 gives you two stops. Capture NX-D and some others give you up to 5, which is more than you'll want for anything but saving an otherwise useless documentary shot.
  • Thanks! Short answer is the whole picture came out black. So I'll read these steps carefully, try some of the advice, and let you know if I have more questions. Thanks again!
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