Friday 16 May 2014

Photography tips (#5)

This is the last of five tips that I have previously posted in Google+ and Facebook.
My tips are also here: )

Shooting during harsh light conditions (outside of the golden hour)

As most people know by now, the most beautiful photos are usually created during the "golden hour" (the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset). Unfortunately, the time when we are at a specific location isn't always under our control. Photos taken during harsh lighting conditions often have dark shadows with little detail and/or washed out white patches.

To get good photos and make the best of your unfortunate situation, you could use a combination of the following ten tips:

1. Shoot silhouettes
Move to the shadow side of your subject and shoot it’s silhouette. Having the sun hiding behind your subject could create interesting photos. If the camera is not in the shade, shade the sun from it with your hand or something suitable to prevent ghost images which are created when the sun enters the lens directly at a low angle.

2. Shoot shadows 
In stead of shooting your subject, shoot only it’s shadow or the subject with it’s shadow, but with the shadow forming the main focus of the photo. An interesting surface for the shadow would be a bonus. Expose for the shadow's background and not the shadow itself.
Shadow at Deadvlei, Namibia, shot in harsh lighting conditions
3. Cloud cover
If there are clouds in the sky, set up your camera and wait for a cloud to cover the sun. The result will be a much more evenly and softer lighted subject. You often will have only a minute or two to get the shot, so plan your composition beforehand.
The above photo was shot around mid day with cloud cover
4. Filtered shade
Look for filtered shade where the harsh light is partially shaded by a tree. This creates interesting spots on suitable subjects. Be warned that the spots will probably be completely burned out with no detail. By exposing for the subject, you could probably get a completely white background as with the photo on the left.
The above photo was shot around mid day under a tree
5. Post processing
If you shoot RAW in place of jpeg, you could play with different white balance settings to emulate the golden hour. Just declare it when you have significantly changed the photo to something different from what you have shot. Also convert your photo to black and white to see how it looks – high contrast scenes often look better in black and white.

6. Use fill flash
Fill flash could reduce the harsh shadows of midday for nearby subjects. Most modern on-camera and off-camera flashes automatically adjust the flash for this mode, but sometimes a setting on your camera has to be changed. Please consult your camera and flash manuals. There are many excellent tutorials for this technique on the internet – just search. Here is one of them:

7. Collapsible shade
If the subject is small enough (as in a person or for a macro shot), use a collapsible shade above your subject to diffuse the harsh light. These shades are affordable and fold into a small, lightweight package which could be fastened to a camera backpack. You will probably need someone else to hold it for you in position.

8. Interesting subjects override bad light
If you shoot a subject which is funny, interesting or unique, people often won’t even notice the photo’s shortcomings.

9. Exposure bracketing and HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing
With exposure bracketing, the camera is set to to take one picture at a given exposure, then one or more brighter, and then one or more darker. The different photos are then combined into one photo using suitable software e.g. Photomatix. The result is a photo where you have detail in the whole dynamic range from dark to bright. This only works well for static subjects. There are many excellent tutorials for this technique on the internet – just search. Here is one of them:

10. If all of the above fail
Take the time off to have a big lunch, download the photos from your camera, charge your batteries and do your photo processing and social networking so that you are free for the golden hour and early evening shoot!
Relaxing at Halali in Etosha National Park in Namibia waiting for the golden hour