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Adobe Premiere Pro: How to Fix Back Lighted Videos

Adobe Premiere Pro: How to Fix Back Lighted Videos

Jan Ozer

Problems often arise when you shoot video with a bright light in the background, which is often called a backlight. When in automatic exposure mode, the camcorder assumes that the bright light is too bright, and darkens the entire video to compensate. When your subject is in the foreground, this often results in your subject being too dark. Clearly, the best way to deal with backlighting is to avoid it, which you can do by repositioning the light, repositioning the camera or by using a backlight adjustment on your camcorder. Sometimes in the jumble of a shoot, you forget to do any of these, and often an overly bright LCD screen on your camcorder hides the fact that you may have a problem. After you’ve captured the video, if you apply a standard brightness and contrast filter, you’ll adjust the values over the entire image when the desired effect is to brighten only the darker regions. Fortunately, Premiere Pro (and Elements for that matter) has a filter called Shadow/Highlight (in the Adjust group) that does just that. Overall, it’s pretty simple to use, but their are some caveats.

First, even on a dual 3.6 GHz Xeon Dell Precision workstation 670, experimenting with the filter was very slow with my 45 minute project. So isolate a short segment on the timeline and experiment with that before starting to work on the entire project.

Second, though the filter has an automatic mode, you may have to tinker to achieve the optimal (or even an acceptable result). For example, when I went 100% automatic (Auto Amount) over the duration of my video, the filter boosted light too strongly on some lighter regions of the clip, producing a noisy effect very similar to what you see when you boost gain too much on your camcorder.

Note that this noise wasn’t clearly evident until I played a test DVD on my television set. The noise wasn’t terribly apparent on my computer monitor, or even an NTSC monitor connected to my editing station. So if you use this filter, I recommend producing several short files using different settings, burning them to a DVD and watching them on your big screen TV before making your final selection.

What if you don’t have Premiere Pro?

Understand that effects like these divide the video into three regions based upon brightness, shadows (darkest), midtones and highlights (the brightest). The key to Premiere Pro’s Shadow/Highlight filter is the ability to boost brightness in the shadows while maintaining the brightness in the other regions.

Most other editors offer similar functionality, like Final Cut Pro’s Color Corrector effect, which offers separate brightness controls for shadows, mids and highlights. Find the effect with the required controls, and boost only the shadows, and you’ve likely fixed your back lighted videos.

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