Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Using midday sunlight

We went to Knott's Berry Farm and the midday sun was shining harshly.  Most photographers dislike such lighting conditions for good reason.  When the sun is shining directly on your subject as toplight or frontlight, colors are washed out, subjects have harsh, unflattering shadows on their faces and are often squinting, and the contrast becomes too high.  However, sometimes such lighting conditions can be turned to your advantage.

Technique 1: use the sun as rim light.
This technique can work if the sun is even slightly at an angle. For example, the picture below was taken at 2pm.  Spend noontime having lunch instead :)
0. (optional) Switch to RAW. This technique results in high contrast images.  For almost all cameras, RAW will give you more room for adjustment in postprocessing.
1. Find a sunlit area that is near a shaded area.
2. Position your subject in the sunlit area.
3. Use the sun as rim light by turning your subject away from the sun.  Position yourself toward where the subject's shadow is pointed (or off to the side, if you prefer a sidelight as opposed to backlight).
4. Create subject background separation by using the shaded area as a background.  This step is the key to making the best use of this technique.
5. Add fill with a reflector or flash if necessary.  Don't use too much flash.

Sample with sun as rim light (on-camera flash as fill, i-TTL BL at 0 FEC):

Sample with sun as side light:

This is what happens when you miss Step 4: Notice that in the subject's right arm, the rim light blends with the sunlit background.

Technique 2: Soft light from bounced sunlight
This is a bit different from just placing the subject in the shade (which results in safe but flat, even light all over the subject).  Here, you're taking advantage of the strong sunlight, which is bright enough to bounce off from the concrete to softly illuminate the subject.
1. Find a sunlit area that is near a shaded area.
2. Position the subject in the shaded area but close to the sunlit area.
3. Have the subject face the sunlit area.  The subject will be illuminated by the light bouncing in from the sunlit area such as the sunlit concrete.
4. Add fill if necessary.

Sample (I added fill from the on-camera flash bounced into carousel's ceiling on camera right i-TTL BL, 0 FEC):

One more thing I got reminded of this weekend is that for family photography, lighting is not a substitute for capturing the moment, which is still the key.  Safe, boring light (on-camera flash bounced from the wall on camera left) and dull composition but priceless expression: