Advice for when shooting in direct sunlight

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by Renol, May 10, 2010.

  1. Renol

    Renol TPF Noob!

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    Forgive me if this has been asked before. I couldn't find any threads that really addressed this concern of mine.

    I know that the best time for outdoor shooting is during the "magic hours" of dawn and dusk. However, more often than not I find myself shooting for one thing or another during the middle of the day when the sun is at its worst. I seem to have a lot of trouble getting my exposures right. More often than not they're either too bright or too dark. I understand a little about light metering and often try to meter off the bright sections or have tried using the "brother blue sky" method as mentioned in the book everyone recommends about exposure (Understanding Exposure?). Unfortunately I still find myself correcting my mistakes in post.

    Is there any advice or tricks I can learn to get better exposures? Also, when shooting in direct sunlight a certain amount of glare (not lens glare) and bright highlights is unavoidable. What are some good uses of this light? What I mean by that is are there times when it's ok to leave the spots where the light hits as bright provided the overall exposure is ok?

    For a little more information I was outdoors at a family gathering for mother's day and had trouble shooting people who were often lit half and half. I had nothing but trouble making sure I was getting a balanced histogram vs a U shape or blown highlights.

    Here's an example. In this case I spot metered off the shaded side of her face and even with -2/3 stop exposure I had some blown highlights and a few high spikes a little right of center on the histogram. As you can see the highlights on her face are pretty bright and a little blown in some areas and this is AFTER a little post processing. I've also included a link to the "before" photo for reference. I've tried matrix metering but at normal exposure the camera has a tendency to overexpose the majority of the image when there is a lot of sunlight on the subjects. With spot I tend to get slightly more reliable results but still have issues with getting decent exposures that aren't considerably under or over. Any advice would be appreciated.

    [​IMG]


    http://i71.photobucket.com/albums/i155/lone_wolf025/365 Scraps/IMG_1873-1.jpg (unedited version)

    Any suggestions on how to expose better in the future?
     
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Part of it, is knowing what will exceed your dynamic range. For example, if you see someone who is half lit by direct sunlight, with a dark shadow on the other side of them, you should know that there is no way you are going to expose for both parts...so you must choose.
    Sometimes it's an easy choice...say for example, if it's a choice between exposing for the subject or the background....but when the subject is both light & dark, it's a little harder to decide. Sometimes a compromise works, sometimes it doesn't.
    I would say that yes, it is OK to sometimes let part of the photo be blown out, if that's the exposure value that gets you want you want in the more important part of the photo. Remember, this is an art...there really isn't a right or wrong.

    Of course, there are ways to improve you photos...mainly by controlling light. For example, if there is bright sunlight, you can use a reflector to bounce some light back onto the shadow side of your subject. The closer the reflector, the brighter the reflected light will be. Maybe you don't have an assistant to always be holding a reflector, but you can use many things to reflect light. For example, if you can get your subject to stand near a building or anything that will reflect a nice amount of light, it can help to brighten their shadows. Heck, in a pinch, grab someone wearing a white shirt.

    Another thing you can do, is use flash to help fill in the shadows. Shooting with flash while in bright sunny conditions, can often require a lot of flash power. This is where a big expensive flash like the 580EX really helps. Flash exposure is also dictated by the distance to the subject, so if you reach the limit of your flash's power...it will limit the useful range you have to work with.

    Whether you're using reflected light or flash, the key is that you are adding light to the shadows on your subject, thus hopefully bringing all of them into your dynamic range.

    Oh ya, I almost forgot my favorite thing to do in bright sunny light...although it's not always practical....Diffusion. Do you know those 5-in-1 reflectors? Their base layer is a diffusion screen. If you hold it up between the sun and your subject, you have studio quality light. Of course, you need a big panel for bigger/wider shots.
     
  3. pbelarge

    pbelarge TPF Noob!

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    If the diversity of the lighting is such, that your camera cannot capture the range, there is another solution.

    If your camera can be set to exposure bracketing, that may work.
    Check out your camera manual and see if your camera has the potential for bracketing.


    The only issue with bracketing is the work to be performed after the photos are downloaded into your computer.
     
  4. ghache

    ghache TPF Noob!

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    for direct sunlight shooting, i try to use that sunlight as backlighing and always try tu put your subject in the shadow of a tree, a building, anything

    [​IMG]

    here i used the sunlight as a backlight.



    [​IMG]

    here i used this large tree shadow.
     
  5. Christie Photo

    Christie Photo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    First... stop it. Don't do it.

    Like ghache said, seek shade. Use open sky for your light source.

    Lighting ratio (highlight:shadow) is not the only concern. Quality of light is just as important. Direct sunlight, in addition to providing a high ratio, is too directional for portraits. While it is a good source of light for buildings and landscapes, it is not a good choice for portraiture. It's the same reason we use umbrellas or a softbox on studio lighting.

    -Pete
     
  6. christopher walrath

    christopher walrath No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    [​IMG]

    I gotta disagree. GO FOR IT! Push the envelope. See what you can do. Don't shrink away from an opportunity to challenge yourself. Listen to Mike. Know your gear. Know what range of zones you can capture and have great detail. You can make dramatic images with harsh light. Side light, back light, mess around with it. When others say, 'Oh, noon light. Can't shoot.' I say 'Shoot, noon light. I can.' I love it.
     
  7. Dallmeyer

    Dallmeyer TPF Noob!

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    That's why. Spot/Partial off the brightest aspects of the scene.
     
  8. ShutterShaman

    ShutterShaman TPF Noob!

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    Taking pictures in bright sun is the perfect time to get to know how to use your flash properly. I usually dial the ambient exposure way down and then fill my subject with flash. You can't beat the vibrant colors and dramatic opportunities for rim-lighting during a mid-day shoot. Don't think of bright sun as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to take some really stunning photographs.
     
  9. Renol

    Renol TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the tips everyone. In the case of the family gathering I'm just taking snapshots to help document the event. I do a few posed portraits now and then but usually I don't have the luxury of telling say my 90yr old grandmother to move her chair so I can get better lighting on her. Its more of a "make due with what you got". Were I doing a planned purpose shoot I would definitely look into some type of diffuser/reflector setup.

    Also to those who say don't shoot, that applies to planned shoots. Were I to wait until ideal lighting conditions, the party would be over and I would miss every photo opportunity. Usually I'm one of the few people with a camera at the "event" and the family is starting to "expect" that the "photographer" will take pictures for later. They like the pictures and poo poo when I cringe at a photo because it's only a so-so shot.
     
  10. Tee

    Tee Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Like others above mentioned, I challenged myself to shoot during high noon. I am by no means a pro but have learned more about the capabilities of my entry level camera than by sticking to the "safer" hours. I've experimented with ND and CPL filters and just picked up a reflector disc. For things I am shooting on my own and need to use a reflector disc, I put the camera on a tripod and use a remote shutter control. I picked up a remote for my Nikon for like $30 and it is quite handy.

    Two weeks ago, I took a class on outdoor portraiture and the class was held at noon. We learned about using shadows to our advantage and how to use fill flash and a reflector disc. I learned a lot in those three hours about to take advantage of the light.
     
  11. ghache

    ghache TPF Noob!

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    hahah, you are totally right.
     
  12. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    To make most images in direct sunlight you need a diffuser and strobed light.

    The diffuser is used to shade the subject and the strobed light is used to separate the subject from the background.

    I will often change the WB setting to 'Cloudy' to cool the background.
     

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