Photography Tip #12:
Waiting For the Right Light...Working With the Sun
Waiting For the Right Light...Working With the Sun
Light... is, of course, the most important element in both the art and technique aspects of photography. But with light comes shadow and many a photographer and photo enthusiast alike spend a great deal of energy trying to reduce or even eliminate shadows.
SCENARIOS - Working on bright vs overcast days:
● The novice waits for a bright, sunny day to do portrait work.
● The professional doesn't avoid bright days for portrait work, but
understands the challenges and works around them.
● The professional loves bright sunny days to shoot landscape work.
Bright sunny days can lead to amazing results; they can also be a pain in the neck!
First of all, here are some advantages of photographing on bright, sunny days.
Increased luminosity also increases color depth (saturation), edge definition (clarity) and light-to-shadow radio (contrast).
Increased light also allows the camera to produce the same images at a lower ISO sensitivity, which relates to higher picture resolution (ie. a 12 megapixel camera is using all 12 million pixels at the lowest ISO on a bright day. So, yes, working outside on bright, sunny days will produce high quality images with rich color saturation, from a technical standpoint.
Bright days provide the oppotunity for better balanced exposure.
Bright daylight allows the advanced photographer to use very fast shutter speeds which is required when photographing fast moving objects.
Ample sunlight allows the advanced photographer to use high f-stops (small apertures), which provides for longer depth of field, which is ideal for wide landscape shots.
To sum-up the above, It's obvious that if you work in low levels of light you will have darker (underexposed) images unless you compensate in some way for the lower light. But what may not be obvious to the photographer-in-training is that your darkly lit subject matter will ALSO result, if captured without flash or added light, in lower quality images with low contrast and dull color. As well, the resolution will be lower, because a higher ISO light sensitivity will likely be needed on to compensate for the lack of ample light. Unfortunately, high ISO settings are "noisy" and result in lower resolution.
Therefore, there is some merit to this "sunny day photography" idea.
Disadvantages of Photographing on Bright, Sunny Days:
If you're composing people PORTRAITS on a sunny day, your sunny day experience may frought with pitfalls. The big disadvantage is unwanted shadow and overly contrasted faces.
If the sun is directly overhead, it will cast deep shadows from the forehead, causing the subject to look quite unflattering. Any tree branches, leaves, wires, etc. overhead, or even a hat will also cast shadows that are hard to eliminate. As you learned in Photography Tip #2, forcing the flash can help reduce these shadows by filling them in. But, be careful with its use! Using a forced fill flash can be a great idea, but it may also tend to flatten facial features if the camera is too close to the subject.
Look at the visual examples below to understand these relationships.
Another technique you may try using while working with your human portrait subject on s sunny day is to use a portable reflector. These days, portable reflectors (also called illuminators) are lightweight, foldable or collapsible and made from special reflective material. This important piece of photo gear is made specifically for outdoor shooting when the photo artist needs to throw more light onto an otherwise shaded spot or to help fill shadows in a way that is more natural and more model-friendly than a fill-flash could ever be.
These reflectors are two-sided, with the popular options being metallic silver or gold on one side and irridescent white on the other. The metallic sides reflect a sharper and more focused light, while the white side tends to diffuse the light more. Gold can be used to either mimic or emphasize the warm tones of a late afternoon sun, while the silver is more appropriate for mid-day shooting.
The images below portray a reflector in use (left) and the attractive, even light in a portrait as a result of using such a device.
Tip 12a - Use a Collapsible Photo Reflector...
if You're Really Serious About Outdoor Portraiture!
As shown above, most pro's use reflectors when doing outdoor portrait photosessions - and for good reason. Their models, their clients and their professional standards demand it. You can also take portraits like a pro and the price for these magical light manipulators is surprisingly low! (You can snap-up a multi-sided reflector for under $30.)
Tip 12b - Take Advantage of Angled Sunlight
Remember your angles from geometry class? One helper our teachers used as a reminder was that an acute angle was "cute", becuase it was less than 90 degrees. Well, guess what? In this tip, we're talking about angles that are in excess of 90 degrees on the left and over 180 on the right.
Here's how it works. Most people tend to squint when they are facing the sun - the main light source on a sunny day. If the sun is too direct the subject may begin to squint, which obviously ruins the portrait. Even the uninitiated have heard that you should NEVER shoot INTO the sun unless you are shooting asunrise or sunset. So, obviously if the sun is shining, it should be to the photographer's back.
But wait...not so fast! If you are photographing a portrait, having the sun directly to your back will result in an awful squint and strange expression that occurs when your subject is directly facing the sun. Instead of positioning yourself or your subject so that the sun is behind the camera (180 degree angle from the subject), aim for a bit of an offset, so that the sun is at a 225 or 135 degree angle from the subject. This will have the benefit of avoiding the squint and provide a bit of depth on the face.
Use Sunny Days to Photograph Landscape and Architectural Photos
Wow! What a difference ample light can make when it comes to landscape, skyline and architectural images! If you have time to wait until the sun cooperates, it may be well worth your while holding-off on using the camera. Look at the difference in color saturation, contrast, clarity and resolution when we compare the same settings composed on overcast (left) vs. sunny (right) days. IF you're looking for the "pop" or "wow" factor, it would be a good idea to wait for the sun.
Another hint in this regard is to reposition yourself or wait until the sun swings around, so that it is to your back. (Shooting into the sun will bleach the sky and make the subject matter appear dull and unremarkable.)
REMINDER!! If you want to take advantage of the deep blue colors of water on a sunny day, reposition yourself or wait until the sun does, so that the sun is behind you. The deeper part of the sky will be directly in front of you and the water will pick-up the color. (If you shoot a water scene - say a seashore for instance - and both the sun and water are in front of you, the water will likely look drab and grey. Wait until it's behind you.)
BOTTOM LINE ABOUT PRESSING THE SHUTTER ON BRIGHT, SUNNY DAYS...
If you are photographing landscapes, nature and/or other non-human subject matter, a bright sunny day is the way to go for rich colours, contrast that pops and overall sharpness! If there is a significant water element in your frame (ie. ocean, lake, river, pond, pool...) the clear blue sky will enhance the overall appearance, making the water look more attractive rather than the lifeless grey tone that it reflects on a cloudy day.
If you are composing portraits with a human subject, a sunny day may work well, but you have to put more work into it and be prepared to overcome some challenges. You may need to use a fill flash from a bit of a distance or a reflecting umbrella or a collapsable fabric reflector to tame the shadows. You also need to be more aware of your and your subject's position relative to the sun to avoid squinting and/or deep shadows.
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