Cloudy forest question

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by blueofspirit, Mar 8, 2010.

  1. blueofspirit

    blueofspirit TPF Noob!

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    I've been walking around some landscapes and one type of photo I have a lot of trouble with is forest scenes in cloudy weather. I've tried the technique in understanding exposure but it seems impossible to get a photo that has both the trees in an adequate exposure and get the contours of the clouds in the same photo. Is there a way of doing this that I'm not aware of?

    Also, when I try to take portraits under such conditions the face seems to be always under exposed - the camera seems to be sampling off the trees. Any tips besides adjusting the exposure on full manual (which I do to various degrees of success)?
     
  2. Big Mike

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

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    This might be an issue of exposure latitude. Most cameras don't have the 'dynamic range' to capture detail in both bright and dark areas when there is a big difference between them. For example, if you expose for the bright clouds, the trees would be much too dark. But if you expose for the trees, the clouds are too bright and lose their detail.

    The basic technique is to choose what is most important and expose for that.
    There are some methods for dealing with this. One would be to use a split or graduated filter. Another would be to take several photos at different exposures and merge them with software (look up H.D.R.).

    You can control where the camera reads. Either with the metering mode or by locking the exposure while metering off of something (subject's face for example). You could also use Manual mode and ignore the camera's meter all together....just figure out what works and keep it there.
     
  3. Soocom1

    Soocom1 TPF Noob!

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    Back in the day, it was controlled using various filters, shutter speeds and f-stops in a unique combination. The real trick is understanding how to balance all of them out, and get the effect your looking for. Usually it was either dodged or burned when you exposed the paper, along with some fancy foot work. But those days are now mostly behind us. So the question is, how do you do it now. As Mike pointed out, HDR is your best bet, but the real problem is the fact that fog and mist move, and move quickly. So having exact positioning for a good HDR is quite tricky with multiple exposures. On the higher end Canons there is the "FEL" button, or more accurately the Flash Exposure Lock. In essence it’s a way to have the camera balance out the image. On the Nikons I believe the AE/AF-L buttons do the trick. Other makes I don’t know. How it works is simply reading the exposure of the brightest point in the shot, registering the exposure, then do this again in the dark areas, and mid tones. On the Canon, (at least with the 1Ds) I can do this 8 times for one shot. The extreme variation causes the camera to balance out the image. Usually with Ok to good results. Then use Photoshop or other program to get the final product. if you have a point and shoot, then you will need to play with it a bit more, and try to find the best mid tone area and set the shutter priority to shoot whatever you read in between the extremes.
     
  4. blueofspirit

    blueofspirit TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the advice. I use a Canon 450D - does the exposure bracketing button help? That effective takes 3 photos sequentially? I could then merge the three using PS?

    Also, for full body portraits, what's the best metering mode to use? I usually use partial metering for most of my shots..
     
  5. Big Mike

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

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    Yes, that's the general idea.
    Most people aren't the same shape as the frame (2:3), so a full body portrait will likely have a fair bit of background/foreground in it. If those areas are tonally different from your subject, then you may want to keep the camera from reading them when metering. One method would be to get close to your subject, maybe fill the frame with their face, and take your meter reading there. Then either lock the exposure or use Manual mode so that you are shooting with the same settings when you back up.
    An even better method would be to use a grey card, fill the frame with that and use it to set your exposure.
    Either way, the important part is that you are metering off of something specif so that the camera's meter isn't fooled by the background etc.
     
  6. PJL

    PJL TPF Noob!

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    You could also try a graduated neutral density filter.
     
  7. JG_Coleman

    JG_Coleman No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Using a graduated neutral density filter is usually my method of choice when trying to balance photographs that include both the forest floor and the sky coming through the canopy. Although it's far from perfect, I feel that this provides the best compensation overall for the wide dynamic range of such shots.

    Polarizers are an option of course, and I occasionally give them a shot in certain situations. Despite darkening the sky and deepening its saturation, though, it is only under rare circumstances that this effect proves potent enough to counteract the disparity between the dark forest floor and bright sky.

    HDR seems to be the obvious go-to technique, but in my experience, it too is only useful under very specific conditions... even less often than the polarizer. If there is even the slightest breeze coming through the forest, then I generally don't even bother bracketing my exposures... I already know that an HDR result will be sub-standard. The problem is that I almost always use very small apertures for my landscape photography -between f/18 and f/32- and this can make for some rather slow shutter speeds. If the trees in my shot are bouncing around ever so slightly in the breeze, then three merged exposures of the same scene will nonetheless produce a canopy that lacks sharpness and exhibits ugly ghosting artifacts in the branches.

    Ultimately, the graduated neutral density filter remains my most reliable option under most conditions when taking shots from the forest floor that include bright sky. The downside? The grad ND will darken everything that it covers. Although it will produce less blown-out skies and offers a wide range of positioning options, it does this at the cost of darkening trees and leaves in a slightly unnatural-looking way. With a bit of finesse in post-processing, though, some this can be remedied to produce an excellent photograph nonetheless.

    Shots from the forest floor are tough, in general. The best aren't necessarily produced exclusively by exceptional technique alone. Rather, they are the result of rare alignments of ideal conditions which a savvy photographer stumbles upon from time to time. In all other situations, one can only use experimentation and experience to decide which option -grad ND, polarizer, or HDR- will offer the best compromise and produce the best photograph. "Compromise" is the key word here, though...
     
  8. Big Mike

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

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    Great first post, welcome aboard.
     

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