Shooting outdoors in the full sun!

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by sarah_r., Jul 20, 2008.

  1. This may seem really obvious to the all knowledgeable craftspeople who subscribe to this list, but I am hoping
    someone will read my question, remember when they had this problem too & answer me in a helpful way...
    So, now it is summer & i am shooting outdoor sessions. I have read countless articles about how mid day sun is
    too harsh, look for partial shade etc.
    So here's the thing - if you shoot in full sun, you get hards shadows. If you shoot in the shade, the photo is
    underexposed or you have to use a slow shutter speed that causes blur. If you use patchy shade, you get patches
    of sun on the subject's body.
    What am I missing here? I am driving myself INSANE trying to figure this out. I cant make my clients turn up at
    sunrise or sunset either, they all have young kids who need to be in bed!....
  2. Try using a reflector to help fill in the harsh shadows you get in bright overhead sunlight. You can fill with a flash, too, but that can look a little too artificial if you don't know how to balance color temps. If you use a reflector, you know the light balance will look right, since it's the same light that's coming in from overhead.

    You might look over some of these quick free tutorials. Obviously they're really a pitch for Photoflex products, but I think you'll find them helpful. There are at least two that show how effective a couple of reflectors can be when it comes to dealing with hard sun-related shadows. Your subjects may find themselves dealing with some very bright continual light in their faces, though, which can make them squint, and can make their pupils contract in a less-attractive way. One trick is get them posed, and have them sit with their eyes closed. Then, 1...2...3... "open your eyes!" and CLICK. You'll have to play with they idea.

    In open shade, fill flash is the magic bullet. Attached is a simple capture made on a bright day, but under a tree throwing solid shade. I metered for the sky in the background, and then adjusted my on-camera flash (in my case, a Nikon SB-800) to fill in. If you know what you're looking at, you can tell the subjects are lit with a flash - but it beats having them squinting in the sun, having big eye shadows, etc.
  3. Matt,

    On something like this photo, are you:

    manual or TTL
    using the diffusion dome
    what do you think of bouncing it into a reflector (besides throwing away a lot of light)
  4. bad forum formatting. It's supposed to be 3 items/questions.
  5. thanks Matt, that was a really helpful answer.
  6. Hi Howard:

    manual or TTL

    In this case, iTTL. Basically, the default way that both the camera and the strobe want to work. A quick check of the results while shooting, and I deliberately bumped up the flash compensation a stop, right on the camera. If I'd had the time, I might have used the strobe off-camera, controlled by the D200's pop-up flash. But this was very casual, and of course there were no surfaces behind the subjects to catch shadows, so it really didn't matter.

    using the diffusion dome

    Nope, straight shot right out of the strobe, no dome and no diffuser panel. The diffusing dome isn't really helpful outside... it works by throwing light all around, and in an enclosed space, that can make for a nice soft glow. But outside, you'd be throwing a lot of the strobe's light off into no-where-land, and none of that light would ever make it to the subject. Further, the only light that DOES make it to the subject is that which is coming directly from the dome to the subject. And the surface area of the dome (at least, the part of it that will cast any light on the subject) isn't any larger than the strobe's normal lens. Further still: when you pop off the diffusing dome (at least on those strobes that have a micro-switch that can "feel" the presence of the dome), the strobe's built-in zoom behavior will track your lens's focal length... and make the most of getting that light to the subject.

    what do you think of bouncing it into a reflector (besides throwing away a lot of light)

    I've got umbrella mounts for shoe-type strobes, and do indeed use the SB-800 and SB-600 in that fashion sometimes. But on a bright day, you need every bit of the output you can muster, and unless the reflector or umbrella is quite close to the subject, you won't really be softening the light all that much anyway.
  7. If you shoot in the shade, the photo is underexposed or you have to use a slow shutter speed that causes blur.
    In open shade, your exposure will vary somewhat, but should be somewhere around f/8 or so at a shutter speed that's the reciprocal of the film speed. So at ISO 100, that means 1/100 at f/8, which should be adequate to avoid blur. You can always open up bit on the lens to choose a faster shutter speed. Or use a faster ISO setting if shooting digital, or a faster film if shooting on film.
    For example, the above picture was taken in open shade at 1/250 s @ f/8, ISO 250. No sunlight was hitting my model, but to camera right, there was a wall that was in direct sunlight, acting like a huge softbox, or a warming reflector if you prefer. The wall was slightly off-white, a bit of a cream yellow color. I used a 180mm lens handheld, and I was sitting in a braced position to hold the camera steady. The picture is plenty sharp, showing no evidence of motion blur at full magnification.
  8. Thanks Matt!
  9. Also, if you HAVE to shoot in the sun, then you can sometimes use the sun as a hairlight, and for your main light, either use a reflector (natural, manmade, improvised or purchased from a photo store) or flash.
    Here the sun was my hairlight. For the main light, I used an off-camera flash to camera right. To answer Howard's questions before they're asked, the flash was in manual, triggered by a PocketWizard, with a homemade grid over the front. The grid was made of black plastic drinking straws. It directs the light into a narrow beam, just about wide enough to fill the subject's face.. Notice the face has a lot more light on it than the hands. Notice also that the shadow of the nose is fairly sharp, indicating it's not a very soft light, but when your model has soft skin, sometimes you can get away with hard light.
    A reflector probably could have been used in this same situation with good results. I was just experimenting with the off-camera flash and grid that I had with me.
  10. Shooting outdoors in the sun--you need fill flash or reflectors or create your own directional fill light. With all of these, you need to balance the light you are adding to the sunlight.

    If you are getting underexposed images in the shade, you are not figuring your exposure correctly.

    In patchy sunlight/shady, turn the subject around so the sun is on their back(s), then boost the shaded side with light.
  11. Most of my work is done outdoors so if I don't get an over cast day I will normally use a fill in flash. I try and schedule my
    shoots either by 10a.m. (the lastest) or around 6 p.m. for this time of the year.
  12. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    .> ``if you shoot in full sun, you get hard shadows`` Not if you fill in the shadows with a flash or reflector, as mentioned, also the position of the Sun relative to the Subject is important (as in the hair light example above). *** .> ``if you shoot in the shade, the photo is underexposed or you have to use a slow shutter speed that causes blur.`` No, not if the light meter reading is taken correctly. A good place to begin (using only your in camera flash meter) is to get in close to the subject and fill their face in the viewfinder of the camera (without casting a shadow on them) and use that exposure reading, for the whole scene. Also, you are only commenting on Shutter Speed: that is only ONE of the three elements of exposure. The other two being: Aperture; and Sensitivity (ISO), they too can be changed. Also if the blur is not subject blur, but camera blur, a tripod might assist. *** .> ``If you use patchy shade, you get patches of sun on the subject's body`` Which sometimes is useful to: warm the image; add to the composition; and to further emphasise / extract the subject from the surrounds, especially when a small DoF / OoF background might be unavailable, or in the example below, impossible to attain in the short timeframe available for the shot. WW
  13. get one of these in the size you need, from any good photo supply house. The diffuser softens the hard sun to create a softbox overhead. You can then use a second reflector to add light in their eyes. A Voice Activated Lightstand (a VAL, otherwise known as an assistant) to hold these things makes it much easier... t
  14. You need to separate QUALITY of light and QUANTITY of light. You can have a photo taken in direct sunlight that is
    underexposed, and you can take a photo in full shade that is overexposed. Amount of light and direction of light are
    totally unrelated.

    Your first concern should always be the direction of the light. Even on an overcast day, the light at high noon will be
    coming from top down, creating shadows under your subject's eyes and yielding no catchlights. Not typically a good
    look. Always look for those catchlights, as they are your first indication that there is light illuminating your subject's
    eyes. You can fix this issue by having your subject look toward the light; often that means only having to get the
    subject to look a few inches higher than normal. That's very easily accomplished by simply getting a few inches higher
    than your subject and having him/her look at you.

    As mentioned above, on those days where you're dealing with direct, beaming sun (no clouds to diffuse) the single best
    way to handle it is by placing it behind your subject and using it as backlight. If you are always careful to have an open
    patch of sky in front of your subjects, you really don't need an additional reflector. It's always simplest to know how to
    use the light you're dealt.

    I firmly detest fill flash outside, but that doesn't mean it isn't an option if you so desire. I just don't like the look at all
    (even when "well" done) so I always find a way to use either natural light or, if absolutely necessary, a reflector. The
    more you train your eye to use available light, the less you will worry about fill flash outdoors. (Those who rely on fill
    flash can feel free to gun at me with both barrels. ;) )

    - CJ
  15. At noon in open sun I position subjects so their back is to the sun or at least the side away from the camera. In shade there is still plenty of light during the day unless you are shooting in Alaska in the winter time. Worst case take a tripod to be able to use a slower shutter speed.

    With the old sunny 16 rule you could safely use ISO 100 at 1/100th and f16 on a sunny day. If you lose 2 stops by going into the shade you are still looking at ISO 200 at 1/200 at f8 and if you have blurry pictures at 1/200 your camera technique needs serious work.

    With shaded areas it is best to have the subject(s) near the edge of the shade and the sky becomes the light source regardless of the position of the sun. That is to say if a couple is under a tree and the sky is open to the east and the sun is in the west the light on the couple will be from the sky to the east of them so you would position/pose them accordingly.

    Avoid dappled shade at all costs. Move your subjects, pick a different location or time of day or get an assistant to position a scrim between them and the light coming through the branches.

    Your problems arise from a lack of photographic skill which is where the learning comes in. You may find it easy to learn by reading any of the many books on outdoor portraiture or may do better taking a class or attending a workshop. The mistake is failing to appreciate how much you do not know and that photographing people effectively is a learned skill that takes time, effort, and practice.
  16. Thanks Bruce. The practical side of your response was really helpful.
    It was just a shame when you had to start lecturing me about my lack of photographic skill, failing to appreciate how much I dont know, and suggesting I read a book or attend a workshop. This is the reason why I am always so nervous to post questions here. I am painfully aware of how much i still have to learn & where I am lacking, I have many many books that I am ploughing my way through and am always on the look out for workshops in my neighborhood that are at a time of day that I can leave my 3 young kids and attend them.
    I just think people should stop & think before lecturing others about how pathetic their knowledge & skills are - what good does it do when they know nothing about the person they are writing to?
  17. Hey Sarah, was looking for some of the same ideas as you not being a schooled photographer and read the comments from Bruce. Wow! I was just admiring a photographers work in my general home area and was told that I should go to school by his front office assistant as he wouldn't share what he paid a lot of money in going to school for. I never had any intention of asking him to share was simply admiring the artistic style most of which by the way was by his granddaughter as she had a creative side he didn't. My response was simple you don't learn artistic skill it's built in you either have it or you don't schooling helps with the technical side. These photographers are very insecure to hold tight and protect what they feel they own. I commend you on making yourself vulnerable I would do the same. Funny thing is that most of the people choosing to work with me are doing so because they're tired of the schooled version of photography that is the same from 3 generations ago.
    I'm doing a wedding shortly and have the same concerns as you. I read some of the tips found on this site and continue to do research and learn so keep your head up and don't be intimidated by the arrogant.
  18. thanks John, big smile :)
  19. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I think it is very important to understand that inadequacies and limitations of the written word work both ways. What I
    mean is: nuances that the writer intends often are not transmitted and nuances that the writer did not mean are often

    Moreover, each of us has ups and downs during the day and at times we feel more vulnerable or edgy than at other

    Taking all that into consideration I think it bodes well to firstly look at the many contributions on this forum and notice
    that in general, the vast majority have a proactive and positive feel, even if they are constructively critical: if we strip
    them down to bare facts, the overwhelming majority of comments, have a practical worth and useful application.

    Secondly, it is important to look at any particular Correspondent`s previous posts: Yes there are some arrogant
    people, but they tend to wain of the excitement and go elsewhere after a time.

    And there are some isolated heated moments, and that usually gets calmed or deleted.

    My point is, if you strip all the comments on this thread down to bare facts, whilst there might be a few sentences
    which one might like constructed differently: this thread generally contains very informative comments by all the
    contributors and overall the collective of comments are not in any way indicative of any one Photographer who is
    insecure or wishing to protect any theory or practice.

  20. I just didnt consider these comments to be helpful, kind or informative, thats all -

    "Your problems arise from a lack of photographic skill"
    "The mistake is failing to appreciate how much you do not know and that photographing people effectively is a learned skill that takes time, effort, and practice."

    I'm not losing any sleep over it, honest :)
  21. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    SR: That was already assumed by me and your position was quite clear to me.

    Mine was a general comment: it was initiated by the general thrust of JR comments, not your post.

    Cheers :)


Share This Page