Ian Kuhn Photography | Summer Solstice

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Summer Solstice

June 20, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

As you'll recall I did a blog about Moon/Nightscape photography just as we were coming up to the Winter Solstice (click here for link).  This time I figured I would talk about taking photos during the harshest light of the day. 

Typically the hours of 10-2 are the worst times of day to take photos.  There is very little to no shadow, which causes many photos to come out looking flat.  I know this may be confusing as I have said previously that sometimes working during an overcast day is ideal.  This is not a contradiction, and I will explain why not in an article for another day.

With very few shadows during the harshest light of day pictures will come out looking flat with very little depth.  Portraits can come out especially bland as there is no shadow on the face to denote character, and usually harsh light will cause your victim subject to squint.

If you have to shoot during these hours for whatever reason there are certain things that you can do to minimize the harshness.

Most reflector disc sets will come with a black "reflector" that you can use to shade your subject if possible, (i.e. flowers or people) which will absorb some of the light.

Another option, which can be good for those touristy snapshots is to use your flash.  I know that seems counterintuitive when there's too much light, but this is for those times where the direct overhead sunlight is causing deep shadows from something, (i.e. awning, baseball cap, etc.).  If you're only using the onboard flash that comes from the camera, there may be an option called "Fill Flash."  I know I had that option on my old Nikon Coolpix Point & Shoot, and I have seen it on other cameras.  If you don't have an option that explicitly says "Fill Flash," use whatever flash you have available to lighten some of the deeper shadows caused by overhead lighting being blocked.  If you have an off camera flash you can usually set the flash to about 1/4 power and that will provide enough light to provide a fill flash without washing out your subject.

As we are talking about harsh light now would be a good time to mention highlights on your camera, often referred to as "The Blinkies."  There is a setting on most cameras that will allow you to check your photos for contrast.  If your sensor is receiving too much light it will wash out the photo.  The same effect as when film was overexposed.  Any spot that is overexposed will start to blink when you have the highlights setting turned on.   This is an indication that you have lost detail.

This is where a little bit of training, and a lot of common sense go along way.  Most pictures will have some part of the picture that blink.  These are your whitest whites.  For example, if you take a photo of a person out in the sun, you might see part of their eyes begin to blink.  This may even occur under studio lighting where the studio lighting is being reflected.  A little bit of "the blinkies" in this case is okay.  If you are taking a landscape photograph and the entire sky starts to blink, that's when you know that you definitely have to adjust your exposure and tone it down a notch.

Typically during the day, especially for a landscape photograph, photographers will follow what's known as the "Sunny 16" rule.  The general rule is that at f/16 (a fairly small aperture setting) with ISO 200 film (or the equivalent on a digital camera), the shutter speed should be set to 1/200, or as close as you can get (typically 1/250 on typical film cameras).  This setting (in theory) should provide a properly exposed photograph without your highlights being too light, or your shadows too dark.  Photographers will then adjust their needs accordingly to maintain that balance. 

Always remember the "Photographer's Triangle" of Aperture, Speed, and ISO.  Any time you change one of these setting it affects the other two.  If we are doing a portrait and want to change our f-number from f/16 to f/4, a difference of three stops overall (f/16 -> f/8 -> f/5.6 -> f/4), we would need to compensate by either using lower ISO film, or it's equivalent, or changing the shutter speed.   If you remember the smaller the f-number the wider the aperture, the more light is being let in.  So, at f/4 we would let in three times as much light at 1/250 of a second as we would at f/16.  If we don't increase our shutter speed our photo is going to be extremely bright and probably completely overexposed.   If we increase our shutter speed.  If we double it to 1/500 it might still be too bright, but if we go as high as 1/1000 it might be slightly underexposed.  The nice thing about today's DSLRs is that they often have 1/2 and 1/3 stop increments so you can fine tune your exposure.  I know my Nikon and most Canon's will have a meter built in that can be viewed in either Live View mode or through the eyepiece.

Another step that can be taken to bring down the brightness is to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter.  These come in a variety of shades and will usually be marked as (-1, -3, etc.) which will indicate how you will need to adjust your compensation to get a properly exposed photo.  ND filters are especially helpful when you need to photograph something using a slow shutterspeed but in a bright environment such as a waterfall.

I think that's all I'm going to hit you with this week.  I apologize for the lengthy article, but I figure I've been skimping out the last few weeks while I changed over the website and blog so it evens out.


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