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I want to shoot a subject standing under a shower, with water misting off as it strikes the skin, showing only the silhouette of the bust, with a soft, textured backlight coming from a frosted glass window in the bathroom that is behind the subject in the shot.

My problem is that I can't capture the actual mist itself, which I wanted to. Even in exposures of a few seconds, the mist simply fades into a haze, basically averaging itself out.

Using a keylight in front of the subject causes a reflection in the tiles behind and lights up the subject, using a light directly perpendicular, from the side does not illuminate the mist itself, seemingly because the mist is too small to allow transmission.

On Camera Flash is similarly out of the question because it is lighting up too much of the silhouette and causing reflections. I have a Canon 1200D and the 18-55mm kit lens and 55-210 zoom. How do I capture the subject with the mist?

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    What chance is there of getting a flash & softbox outside the window? If that’s your sole illumination source, you need it brighter. (On phone, can make this an answer later, if needed) – Tetsujin Aug 16 '18 at 15:21
  • @Tetsujin Well, the window is non-removable, so no chance of that. My thoughts so far are that I need a way to light from an angle such that the light is not reflected in the tiles, which I will try in the morning again. Perhaps I need to reframe the photo, but I am loathe to do that. – salmonlawyer Aug 16 '18 at 15:32
  • @Tetsujin do feel free to add an answer, it may help others. – salmonlawyer Aug 16 '18 at 15:39
  • Why can't you use a faster shutter speed? Also consider taking a separate 'mist shot' and combining with a shot for the rest of the scene. – BobT Aug 16 '18 at 17:54
  • @BobT At a faster shutter speed I can't see the mist at all either, the droplets are small objects and thus point sources, think of them as stars in astrophotography; they do not emit much light, so they have to be exposed for longer. As to doing composites, I'm not very good at those. And I would prefer to get it in-camera. – salmonlawyer Aug 16 '18 at 17:58
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You have set up a non-sequitur, visually.
This is a teaching moment. You're going to learn a lot with this exercise. This is portfolio material to be sure. It's definitely a "How to do it" tutorial.

Here's what you're up against:

As you have correctly concluded, a silhouette is back lit. Transparent liquids will show as "dark-line" when back lit. That is dark against a white background.

Frozen, the image of the droplets will be high contrast. A time exposure will allow the light background image to "drown-out" the dark droplets against the light. The result will be seen as an average "grey" for the moving dark droplets against the nearly-white background, if at all. The fix is to use a faster exposure to hold the dark-edged droplets in the mist to resolve themselves retaining contrast.

However…

Front-lit transparent liquids show as "white-line" when photographed. That is white against a dark background.

Combining the dark-line back-lit image with a white-line front (or oblique) lighting begins to cancel-out the effect between the two "contrasting" lighting techniques. In effect, you are trying to show white-on-white and thus balancing the effect of one will negate the other. The long exposure will diminish the silhouette effect of the mist.

Conclusion: You have a VERY delicate (light) balancing situation.

Comment: Be kind to your model and use a mannequin to set up the lights or she will look like a prune when you're ready to take the shot.

Tip: The reflection from the shiny tiles behind the lights can be killed with a drop-cloth or curtain to catch the spill and absorb it. The light you're using for the silhouette placed in front of the glossy tiles will still be effective for providing the background illumination for the silhouette effect desired.

  • Like I've mentioned in one of my comments, this is purely experimentation. I have no model, but an object I will place under the shower while I take the shot. – salmonlawyer Aug 17 '18 at 15:51
  • @salmonlawyer Ignore that detail. It's my idea of comic relief. – Stan Aug 17 '18 at 15:53
  • I want to clarify that the entire frame isn't backlit. The window is to a side, and the black reflective tiles are in the background of the mist, in the manner in which the shot is in my head right now. – salmonlawyer Aug 17 '18 at 16:06
  • @salmonlawyer Whatever. Come back when/after you make a diagram, get the equipment, set it up, and post your test shots so we can give relevant answers. Enjoy your long weekend in the meantime. – Stan Aug 17 '18 at 16:19
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I finally managed to get a result that I was happy with. The biggest factor was the sunlight from the window; it's been cloudy for weeks but today it was noticeably brighter so I made an attempt and was happy with the result, it also helped that I scrubbed that window clean before the shot. My earlier attempts also failed because I tried framing against only the window and not the tiles. This time, the mist can be seen against the black background. This is not the final image, but I have at least gotten very close to the image in my head.

Note that all the grain is due to pushing the ISO to 3200 on the 1200D, which does not have good low light performance. I can see the mist droplets in the editor when zoomed in, but they are extremely grainy.

An attempt made after adjusting the framing

Execution: I used the Canon EOS 1200D with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. AF and IS were turned off and I mounted the camera to a tripod. I used the Magic Lantern firmware hack for the focus peaking and LV brightening, focusing initially on a tap that is now cropped out. I used a wired trigger and set the camera to the Self-Timer: Continuous drive mode which takes 2 shots after 10 secs, giving me time to place myself in the frame before triggering the timer. The shutter was set to 1/500, ISO to 3200, aperture f/3.5 and the lens was set to 20mm. The resulting image was imported to lightroom, and I increased exposure, contrast, shadows and blacks, and then set Treatment to B&W; some Luminance Noise Reduction was applied and the image was cropped and exported.

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