Splitting Exposure


New member
Genreally speaking if your under a contrast situation where your ratio is 4:1 or higher and you want an exposure that is acceptable is it best to split? This is assuming you don't have other light sources to lower the ratio.

I came across a situation where I was shooting outdoors (color neg.) and I used the sun as a backlight but never took into consideration that my subject would be shaded in the front becuase of the sun, and wound up overexposing. Though if I took a reading of the sun it would underexpose the front of my actor. Would splitting the exposure in the future avoid this problem?

Thank You
You expose for the look you want, but yes, you generally split the exposure outdoors when shooting in high backlight.

You need to look at the frame and determine what percentage is sunlit and what is in the shade and then bias the exposure one direction or the other.

If the scene is frontlit and the sun is low, like at sunset, you may just expose for the sun.

If the scene is frontlit but the sun is very high in the frame, or slightly backlit but the sun is high -- basically "toppy" light, then I usually overexpose the sunlight by one stop. This opens up the shadows a little.

If the sun is definitely backlit, then I meter the shadow side of the face and underexpose it to look "shaded" -- maybe by a stop and a half. As the backlit sun gets lower, I might only underexpose the face by one stop since the sunlit area is now only a brighting fringe or halo.


New member
Thank You For THe Help It Makes More Sense Now. On location nothing is a perfect 18% middle grey so I can see that when the sun is behind a person is shadowed and the background is bright. Or if the sun is above there is less of a shadow casted, and mostly the illumination front, behind and side to side is similiar.

Though just to make sure. I did a little test with my meter and found that when backlight I had a 4 stop ratio. I know 16mm color neg. has 4 stops of lat. but just to make sure if you underexpose the face by 1 1/2 stop now your background is overexposed by about 2 1/2 stops, will that look real bad? As in bad I mean loss of detail (overly bright) and more importantly distract the audience. I know its tough to answer through a forum. But any help is great.

A four-stop difference between the sun and shadows is well within the dynamic range of film, so if your shadows are two-stops under and your sunny highlights are two over, you will have detail in both ends and the ability to correct the image in post one direction or the other.

Just that a face that is two stops under will definitely feel a little dark-ish, so it just depends on the mood you want to create.