What is Negative Exposure Photography?
You would have probably seen a photograph where the background is almost black and it feels like the subject is lit. No doubts, the technique used is negative exposure photography. Before going to the details, I’m a fan of negative exposure photography and the outcome is something unique on the photographs. Using negative exposure photography, you can make the background fully black or partially black; but it is not easy as it sounds since this can’t be achieved just by setting in your camera. We need support from the subject and environment also to take a perfect negative exposed photograph.
Exposure compensation is a feature in the camera which actually does adjusts the exposure. You can increase or decrease the exposure in steps of 1/3 or more depending on the camera functional ability. For negative exposure photography what you would be using is the negative exposure compensation. But, the real catch here is you should know when to apply it.
Selecting the right moment
In Negative exposure photography, more than half the job is in selecting the right moment. The right moment for negative exposure photography is – (1) the subject should be exposed well (2) the background should be contrasting and (3) distance from the subject to the background should be good enough for the bokeh effect. Example is a white bird perch with a green background and the sun is on the bird. So what happens is, when you under expose, the subject comes to the right exposure and the background which is already in contrast would completely become dark (black). Also, light after rains is a perfect moment for taking some gorgeous pictures.
At this moment, Kingfisher was on a perch at lake side under a tree canopy and the sun rays were hitting her from one side giving me the right opportunity to take a shot using negative exposure compensation. Since the sun was harsh, I was able to take the shot at -3 EV making the background totally black.
A very powerful technique where-in you can take a shot at 3 different exposure – the exposure you have set (measured exposure), another under exposed (negative compensation) and another over exposed (positive compensation). But, be clear to know that 3 shots would be taken. This is used in situations where your moment is so precious and it is fast. You can use this technique here also. What I used to do is – what I feel as a right exposure for negative exposure for that particular shot, I set one step negative to that and put in bracketing and now I get the shot at the exposure what I felt is right and two more shots with negative compensation.
Note: You can also use a bit of Vignetting to add to the effect.
How much do I negatively expose?
This is where your creativity comes in. You have to decide based on what you see and how you want to project the moment. The below babblers I have chosen to keep the background partially dull and not fully black since I felt the jungle backdrop would highlight the moment. So, it’s upto you, enjoy using this technique and play around.
Photography is an art and negative exposure photography is one of those tools which can trigger your creativity. Just remove the negative exposure from all the pictures from this article, all you see is birds perch, two birds on a perch, duck on a lake, a flying bird…. all these are not so wow moments and so common; Hence, the real Wow factor in all these pictures is the use of the negative exposure compensation called the ‘Negative Exposure Photography’.
Feel free to share your comments or clarifications.
About the Author:
Alvis Lazarus is a Wildlife Photographer from Nazareth. Top Shot Winner 2017 (National Geographic) and Your Photo Winner 2017 (BBC Wildlife). Alvis’s work is published in Nat Geo, BBC Wildlife and Conde Nast Traveller Magazines. See his work here: Instagram | Facebook | Website