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Friday, July 4, 2014

Make The Sun Work For You

44mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/250th of a sec, full sunlight w/ added strobe

Summarizing today's post: Leveraging the sun in outdoor photography, off-camera lighting, & spending time with family.

Let's talk about leveraging light a little more. I have touched on this previously, now we are going to expand on it a bit.

Everyone is off to the beach this time of the year, vacationing with family or just making a day trip (if you are so blessed to live that close by!). I lived about an hour from the Outer Banks in North Carolina up until I was 19 years old, so I had the privilege of spending many a day on the beaches of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills. Even though I live much further away now, we still make it a point to go down there once a year around this time. It is a wonderful time together as family. Now...where there's family, there's pictures. That just goes without saying!

So I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little about taking photos in full sunlight. By far--in my opinion--the best outdoor photos will be in the shade, out of the harsh direct sun (see this post for the 'how to' on taking great photos outside while in shaded areas). However, I understand that there's not much shade on the shore at 12 today I'm going to give you some pointers on how to take some good pictures with the sun right above you.

There is a reason I introduced the idea of using multiple strobes (in my self-portrait, shown here) before talking about taking photos in full sun. The reason is that I want you to think of the sun as just another strobe...albeit a very powerful one! A strobe (flash) and the sun are both light sources. Now, we are going to make the sun work for us, and leverage its light. 

The idea is to balance the sun's light with your other light sources. 

First I am going to show you an example using the equipment I love to use, my Nikon DSLR camera along with one single off-camera strobe. Then I will touch on how you can achieve similar results if you are using a point-and-shoot camera or even a smartphone.

Look at the photograph above...this is a prime example of shooting in direct sunlight. 

We had just finished a nice lunch with the family last weekend to celebrate my wife's birthday (happy birthday my Pinky!) and decided to move outside to take few photos before leaving. I figured what an awesome opportunity to take some professional-looking family photographs. There was a problem shade nearby. The sun was almost right above us. Yuck. But I made the best of it.

Before everyone had made it outside the restaurant, I had scoped out a nice place on the front patio for us to stand. The patio had (very) transparent fiberglass sheeting covering a small seating area which diffused the sunlight just enough to tone down the direct rays of the sun. I took a couple of test shots for proper exposure. I maxed out my shutter speed to 1/250th of a second (to my camera's sync speed at the can only go just but so high/fast on shutter speed when using flash or weird things will happen). Then I had to close down my aperture to f/11. ISO set to 200. 

Now I was able to control the bright sun without washing out my frame. Now comes the addition of my strobe. Why even add flash you might say? Because without it, our faces would have had very dark shadows on them, due to the harsh sunlight. So to balance this contrast, I had to add some of my own light. And after shooting (and deleting) several frames, I found the sweet spot of setting my strobe to 1/2 power. That's a lot of power from a strobe that's only 6-7 feet from your subject, but that's what you have to do to compete with full-on sun.

Now how was this photo taken being I was in the picture? Funny you should ask. My mom took it! She gets tired of me taking the pictures all the time, so she asked me what to do with my big ole bulky camera, then I jumped in so I could get a photo with the birthday girl. My 6 year old son held the strobe over to Mom's left side and aimed it right at us while she snapped away. Not bad, huh? They did great :)

Here are some more shots I took after I wrestled my camera away from Mom.

Here's one of Pinky with my parents:

shot at 44mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/250th of a sec, full sunlight, strobe added at camera left at 1/2 power

One with Gavin jumping into the picture (he just has to be in the middle of everything!):
Full-on sunlight, with added strobe
And lastly, one of Little Bud himself just messing around:
Another illustration where I am mixing full sunlight with artificial light
We had such a good time that day, as you can probably tell by looking at the photographs. Precious memories. I am so glad I remembered to take my camera--happiness extended as a result.

Now I did promise to show you how to achieve similar results as these with a point-and-shoot camera or smartphone. So here it have two choices. The first option, you can cheat and turn on your on-camera flash (manually). This will at least put a little highlight on your subject's face to reduce contrast caused by the sun. Take a shot a see if the flash is too much. If so, try this...hold a very thin white napkin about an inch away from your flash. This will soften the light. Adjust as necessary. You may have to move closer to the person you are shooting.

The second option is a little more creative. If you have a friend with you (who you are not taking a photo of at the time), put them to work. Let's say you are at the beach this weekend and you want to take a picture of little Johnny building a sandcastle. The sun is overhead and to his right. Have your friend kneel down on his left side and hold a opened-up white towel (by the corners so it will hang straight down) just outside of the camera's view. Turn off your camera's flash and shoot away! The sun's light will reflect off the towel and the shadows on Johnny's face will be softened. Try it, you'll be surprised of the photographer in you.

Good stuff, go have fun.

Thanks for reading!


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