Thursday, March 20, 2008

From My Portfolio

The image above is one of my favorites captured during last weekend's shooting assignment at the Denver's St. Patrick's Day Parade. Bill "Stretch" Coleman hired me to photograph his team of giant puppets and stilt walkers while they performed during the parade. I think what draws me to this photo is the wonderful emotional interaction between Bill and the little boy from the crowd. The bright colors of Bill's costume and his pink duster really pop against the cool blue sky.

The photo is also a good example of how affective fill flash can be while shooting in direct sunlight. It may seem odd, but shooting in sunlight can be one of the more challenging situations a photographer can face. Direct sunlight can cause high contrast, blown out highlights, lens flare and colors that look overly saturated. If you are trying to shoot portraits of people, the light from the sun will cause them to squint their eyes and will can cast terrible shadows under the eyes and nose making them look like ghouls. And if they are wearing hats, their entire faces could be cast in shadow making it difficult to see them clearly. Just a touch of fill flash will brighten up a subject's face while shooting outdoors.

Use these tips from the Digital Photography School when shooting in direct sunlight:

1. Move into the shade
Move subjects (and yourself) into the shade. This is particularly relevant with portraits where your subject is highly portable. Sometimes the simplest solutions are best.

I used this technique myself when I asked Bill and his team to move into a shadow cast by a building to take a wide angle shot. Bill seemed perplexed by my request, but he trusted by instincts as a photographer to know what type of lighting situation would be best to get the best image. Fill flash can also be added to the photo later in Photoshop, although I would also recommend trying to get the image you want in camera first instead of relying on Photoshop later.

2. Make your own shade
If your subject is not movable (for example if you’re shooting macro work with a flower) create your own shade. Use your own shadow, the shadow of someone else or bring an object with you (like an umbrella, a reflector or large sheet of card) to block out the sun.

3. Use Fill in Flash
Most of us were trained to put the sun behind you when taking a photograph so that your subject will be well lit. Shooting into the sun may lead to lens flare or a dark subject - but at times it can improve it drastically - particularly if you use a flash to fill in the shadows that are created by doing so (learn more about using fill flash).

4. Use a Reflector
Another way to fill in the shadows caused by direct sunlight is to use a reflector. These bounce light up into the face of your subject and are great because they allow you to shoot into the sun - as with when you’re using fill in flash.

5. Change Your Perspective
Sometimes moving your subject isn’t possible - but moving around it can give a different impact. This might be moving to the other side of the object, shooting from directly above or even getting down low and shooting up. Doing so will change the angle of the sun hitting both your subject and the camera and give your image a completely different feel.

6. Use a Lens Hood
Suffering from lens flare? If your lens came with a lens hood - get it out and use it. If you don’t have one - it’s not difficult to construct one out of card - or to even use your hand to shield your lens from the sun. Just make sure that your shot is free of your hand or the DIY hood that you’re using (learn more about eliminating lens flare).

7. Filters
Sometimes a filter can be handy when shooting in bright sunlight. I try to take a Polarizing filter or Neutral Density (ND) filter with me at all times. The polarizing filter will help cut down on reflections and both will cut down the light getting into your camera to let you use slower shutter speeds and smaller apertures if you’re looking for more control over these elements of exposure. Polarizing filters have the added bonus of giving you some control over some colors - particularly when you’ve got a blue sky in your shot (learn more about using filters).

8. Play with White Balance Settings
Many digital cameras come with the ability to choose different white balance settings. While you can make adjustments later on post processing (particularly when shooting in RAW) choosing the right setting at the time of shooting can be worth experimenting with. I personally shoot in RAW and do this later on my computer - but have friends who prefer to do it in camera.

9. Metering
Direct sunlight makes correct metering tricky. In these conditions I generally choose the spot metering mode on my DSLR and choose the main subject of the scene that I’m photographing (the focal point) to meter off. Alternatively pick a mid-tone area to meter off if you want everything to be exposed relatively well. Check your shots immediately to see if you need to adjust your technique (your histogram can be handy here) and if you have the luxury of time - take multiple shots metering off different parts of the scene so that you can choose the best one later.

10. Pick The Time of Day to Shoot
For many of us, we won’t have the luxury of sitting all day long waiting for the perfect light - but if you do, the time of day can dramatically impact your shot. Dawn and dusk are particularly good times to shoot as the direction and color of the light is often more useable than the direct overhead light of noon.

11. Shoot Silhouettes
‘If you can’t beat em join em’ is a saying that could come into play here. If the bright light of the sun is causing you a headache - why not use it to your advantage and make your subject into a Silhouette against a bright background.


Lee said...

Great tips, every last one of them. Getting decent color in sunlight is something that I constantly struggle with. If I have options, I try to shoot in early morning or late afternoon, but you don't always have the luxury to choose.

I love the picture as well. The rich colors and the composition are fantastic.

Sheba Wheeler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheba Wheeler said...

Hey there Lee. Digital Photography School is a great place to learn and grow in the craft. Everyone one there is helpful and filled with knowledge. I was checking out your site a few days ago. Great idea you have about doing a calendar! Your photos are gorgeous, and it got me to thinking maybe I could do the same too!

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