When I was 20 years old, I was fortunate enough to participate in a sports-photography workshop at the United States Olympic Festival. Sponsored by some of the biggest names in sports photography, it afforded participants the opportunity to work alongside some of the most respected names in the industry. And although I don't shoot sports any more, I'll never forget one lesson I learned that week. It was probably the simplest thing I learned, and it applies to all sorts of photographic situations. Though the Sports Illustrated photographer said it more eloquently than this, I think I can condense the lesson even further: If it's boring, backlight it. The photographer was Patrick Murphy-Racey, and we were photographing Field Hockey. He wasn't implying that the event we were photographing was boring, but he was talking about the light we were shooting under-a plain-old flat sunny day. As he saw me standing there with my loaner 600mm lens with the sun at my back, Patrick asked why I'd picked this spot. I explained to him that my instinct was to stand with the lens over my shoulder, providing nice even illumination across the field, making sure I'd harness the power of all that sunlight to get fast shutter speeds to stop the action. While he said it nicely, he then informed me that I was wrong-dumb even.
I had picked the exact opposite vantage point then what I should have. Patrick hustled me over to the other side so that we were shooting back into the sun. Using manual exposures to keep our cameras from being fooled by the backlighting situation, he explained to me that shooting into the sun would not only make the light more interesting, but it would create depth in the image, adding texture and an all important rim light (or kicker) to the subjects, and setting them off nicely from the background of the scene.
I took his advice to heart and started photographing all sorts of events with my subject between the sun and myself, and sure enough it worked. My pictures weren't so flat and boring anymore, and the beautiful backlit illumination adds interest to literally any old scene. If the subject you're shooting is already interesting-like Olympic Field Hockey trials-this backlighting will take your pictures to a whole new level. Just remember these five words: If it's boring, backlight it. You'll be amazed at the results.