Outdoor Portrait Techniques With Rich Blue Skies: GND, Polarizer, or Overpowering the Sun?

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by jessica_smith|9, May 27, 2008.

  1. I did a forum search for this but didn't find clear answers for portrait
    photography. I realize that GND are problematic to use for portraits, but I love
    the look of a rich blue sky that the GND gives as well as the bigger aperture.
    But, there seems to be obvious problems with using a GND and the subject caught
    in the density. Also, I how would you expose properly for skin tones and a
    balance of skin tones with a GND? Can the GND be overcome with flash? Or is the
    thing I want a polarizer filter? Or, should I invest in a portable power and lug
    a strobe and umbrella around?

    Any thoughts would be helpful.
  2. Do you use Adobe Camera Raw 4.x/Photoshop CS3? If so, one option is to reduce the blue luminance slider under the "HSL/Grayscale" tab in ACR.
  3. I do that whenever possible (especially whenever pixels are still there) but in one recent case, the sky was over exposed to correctly expose the skin tones. I even used flash to assist, but a storm was rolling in and the sky was a muddled grey.
  4. Have you tried changing the reference angle of the sun to the lens and subject? In addition to this, try different combinations of focal length, distance from the subject combined with ISO, shutter and aperture adjusts. Believe me there is a sweet spot in all this. I found that out couple a days ago after struggling with the same issue as yours. It will require experimenting with your particular scene. I've been utilizing more exposure options that give finer adjusts from keeping the sky blowing out using natural light. Maybe have the sun at your back with your subject turned at a 45 angle to the sun. I've gotten almost the same results doing this as if I'ld used a filter. The high contrast style rendering of your gallery pics tells me you prefer to underexpose or maybe edit them that way in post, so I don't understand why you don't do that in this situation. I've never used filters but I've pondered on whether to buy an ND and/or polarizer filter because I find the camera's sensitivity to high contrast scenes is inconsistent and unpredictable. But in my experimenting with the above parameters I recently surprised myself with some shots I thought were going to come out too underexposed but wound up with more detail than I anticipated just shooting jpegs. I know I need to shoot RAW but I've got CS2 on order because 4 other converters keep crashing on me so it forced me to conduct this exposure experiment. My histograms in scenes like yours would either blow out the sky or shove the rest of the body of the histogram closer to black by underexposing with just one adjust to shutter or aperture. Then I noticed if I widened the focal length like from 55mm to 40mm and got closer I could drop the shutter speed down one third step and the sky held up. Or if I widened the aperture like say from f/8 to f/7.1 and increased the ISO from 200 to 400 I could increase the shutter speed and that nudged the histogram highlites back some without affecting the shadows. As you can see this can get tedious but you're shooting a setup scene so you've got time to experiment as I did. The following two pics were taken about an hour apart with the sun quickly lowering in the sky. Both were blowing out the sky and other highlite detail as in the windows and chimeny stacks in the building and the golden lit stone on the bridge. I kept looking at my jpeg histograms and adjusting distance from subject, focal length, ISO, shutter to arrive at the final unedited shots. On the LCD all shadow detail turned to black but the histogram said there was plenty of data there to work with. Shooting manual seems to be an art unto itself in getting the right exposure. It's freakin' a lot of work in trial and error that's for sure. Program mode sucks at least on the Pentax K100D.
  5. And here's the second one. Check the EXIF to see the exposure variances between the two which was necessary to get the entire dynamic range.
  6. Thank you very much for your thoughtful post Tim! I have read over it carefully and taking your points into consideration.
  7. I think by "rich blue skys" you mean not over exposed when to large an exposure range, hence the consideration of a gnd. How about for smaller exposure range, take one shot in raw and in p/s, double process one for sky, one for subject, then composite the two resulting images. Or, placing camera on tripod, in RAW take one shot exposed for sky and one for subject and composite in photoshop? No filters to buy or set up. This can be a life saver on shots with uneven horizon where a gnd wouldnt be practical, like the above smoke stacks. Also, something that is light and compact to bring up the subject would be a collapsing reflector. They come in various colors and can add fill, warmth to skin tones, pop or can be used over the subject as a diffuser to put the subject in portable, soft shade. Those swimsuit models arent sitting in full afternoon sun on the beach. You just cant see the scrim over their head. The 42" 5 in 1 is nearly weightless and fits in the back of my vest.
  8. Hi Bob, you're right! I'm exposing for the skin which under certain conditions, overexposes the sky. I will consider your post method. I was hoping to find a solution in camera as I realize this must be possible and I wondered what people did in the film days?

    I have a reflector that works beautifully, but I don't always have an extra pair of hands to use it. I've considered a reflector stand, but I hear those are impractical at times and difficult to use.
  9. You may want to consider the polarizer. They don't always work, like when shooting toward or away from the sun or when there is much moisture in the atmosphere, but when all the conditions are right, a polarizer can deepen and darken a blue sky by a couple stops compared to your subject.

    I've tried using flash (low powered shoe mount) to overcome the sunlight, but they are simply too low powered to do much, even four of them, I had to work in very very close to the subject. The exception is my D70 which can flash sync at any shutter speed. I was able to trim the ambient light enough when using 1/1000 - 1/2000 sec. with a wider aperture and Sb-28s.

    If you don't have a Nikon D1, D70, D50, or D40 (which sync at any speed when using non-dedicated flash heads) you'll want some real high powered lights to overcome the sun at 1/250 sec.

    Oh and yes, reflector stands almost always tip over in even the slightest gust of wind. Bring an assistant or stake it down with some twine.
  10. Use flash, expose for the ambient light (which will darken your sky) and let the flash take care of the person. It will give you a more evenly exposed shot and you can always exagerate a bit for a more dramatic effect of both the sky and the person.
  11. Sync speed doesn't really matter for this. Just stop down your aperture for the ambient light as it will darken your sky (less light through the lens). Once you get the exposure that you want, lets say the sky in this case, use the flash on your subject. You will have to bump up the flash's power a couple of stops or place it closer to your subject to get the right exposure on the person and if you can use it off-camera even better. Good luck.

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