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Shooting outdoors in the full sun!

Sarah R. , Jul 20, 2008; 03:58 p.m.

This may seem really obvious to the all knowledgeable craftspeople who subscribe to this list, but I am hoping someone will read my question, remember when they had this problem too & answer me in a helpful way... So, now it is summer & i am shooting outdoor sessions. I have read countless articles about how mid day sun is too harsh, look for partial shade etc. So here's the thing - if you shoot in full sun, you get hards shadows. If you shoot in the shade, the photo is underexposed or you have to use a slow shutter speed that causes blur. If you use patchy shade, you get patches of sun on the subject's body. What am I missing here? I am driving myself INSANE trying to figure this out. I cant make my clients turn up at sunrise or sunset either, they all have young kids who need to be in bed!....


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Matt Laur , Jul 20, 2008; 04:17 p.m.

Try using a reflector to help fill in the harsh shadows you get in bright overhead sunlight. You can fill with a flash, too, but that can look a little too artificial if you don't know how to balance color temps. If you use a reflector, you know the light balance will look right, since it's the same light that's coming in from overhead.

You might look over some of these quick free tutorials. Obviously they're really a pitch for Photoflex products, but I think you'll find them helpful. There are at least two that show how effective a couple of reflectors can be when it comes to dealing with hard sun-related shadows. Your subjects may find themselves dealing with some very bright continual light in their faces, though, which can make them squint, and can make their pupils contract in a less-attractive way. One trick is get them posed, and have them sit with their eyes closed. Then, 1...2...3... "open your eyes!" and CLICK. You'll have to play with they idea.

In open shade, fill flash is the magic bullet. Attached is a simple capture made on a bright day, but under a tree throwing solid shade. I metered for the sky in the background, and then adjusted my on-camera flash (in my case, a Nikon SB-800) to fill in. If you know what you're looking at, you can tell the subjects are lit with a flash - but it beats having them squinting in the sun, having big eye shadows, etc.

Fill flash in open shade on a sunny day.

Howard M , Jul 20, 2008; 04:23 p.m.


On something like this photo, are you:

manual or TTL using the diffusion dome what do you think of bouncing it into a reflector (besides throwing away a lot of light)

Howard M , Jul 20, 2008; 04:24 p.m.

bad forum formatting. It's supposed to be 3 items/questions.

Sarah R. , Jul 20, 2008; 04:28 p.m.

thanks Matt, that was a really helpful answer.

Matt Laur , Jul 20, 2008; 05:28 p.m.

Hi Howard:

manual or TTL

In this case, iTTL. Basically, the default way that both the camera and the strobe want to work. A quick check of the results while shooting, and I deliberately bumped up the flash compensation a stop, right on the camera. If I'd had the time, I might have used the strobe off-camera, controlled by the D200's pop-up flash. But this was very casual, and of course there were no surfaces behind the subjects to catch shadows, so it really didn't matter.

using the diffusion dome

Nope, straight shot right out of the strobe, no dome and no diffuser panel. The diffusing dome isn't really helpful outside... it works by throwing light all around, and in an enclosed space, that can make for a nice soft glow. But outside, you'd be throwing a lot of the strobe's light off into no-where-land, and none of that light would ever make it to the subject. Further, the only light that DOES make it to the subject is that which is coming directly from the dome to the subject. And the surface area of the dome (at least, the part of it that will cast any light on the subject) isn't any larger than the strobe's normal lens. Further still: when you pop off the diffusing dome (at least on those strobes that have a micro-switch that can "feel" the presence of the dome), the strobe's built-in zoom behavior will track your lens's focal length... and make the most of getting that light to the subject.

what do you think of bouncing it into a reflector (besides throwing away a lot of light)

I've got umbrella mounts for shoe-type strobes, and do indeed use the SB-800 and SB-600 in that fashion sometimes. But on a bright day, you need every bit of the output you can muster, and unless the reflector or umbrella is quite close to the subject, you won't really be softening the light all that much anyway.

Richard Cochran , Jul 20, 2008; 05:50 p.m.

If you shoot in the shade, the photo is underexposed or you have to use a slow shutter speed that causes blur.

In open shade, your exposure will vary somewhat, but should be somewhere around f/8 or so at a shutter speed that's the reciprocal of the film speed. So at ISO 100, that means 1/100 at f/8, which should be adequate to avoid blur. You can always open up bit on the lens to choose a faster shutter speed. Or use a faster ISO setting if shooting digital, or a faster film if shooting on film.

For example, the above picture was taken in open shade at 1/250 s @ f/8, ISO 250. No sunlight was hitting my model, but to camera right, there was a wall that was in direct sunlight, acting like a huge softbox, or a warming reflector if you prefer. The wall was slightly off-white, a bit of a cream yellow color. I used a 180mm lens handheld, and I was sitting in a braced position to hold the camera steady. The picture is plenty sharp, showing no evidence of motion blur at full magnification.

Howard M , Jul 20, 2008; 05:53 p.m.

Thanks Matt!

Richard Cochran , Jul 20, 2008; 06:15 p.m.

Also, if you HAVE to shoot in the sun, then you can sometimes use the sun as a hairlight, and for your main light, either use a reflector (natural, manmade, improvised or purchased from a photo store) or flash.

Here the sun was my hairlight. For the main light, I used an off-camera flash to camera right. To answer Howard's questions before they're asked, the flash was in manual, triggered by a PocketWizard, with a homemade grid over the front. The grid was made of black plastic drinking straws. It directs the light into a narrow beam, just about wide enough to fill the subject's face.. Notice the face has a lot more light on it than the hands. Notice also that the shadow of the nose is fairly sharp, indicating it's not a very soft light, but when your model has soft skin, sometimes you can get away with hard light.

A reflector probably could have been used in this same situation with good results. I was just experimenting with the off-camera flash and grid that I had with me.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jul 21, 2008; 01:28 p.m.

Shooting outdoors in the sun--you need fill flash or reflectors or create your own directional fill light. With all of these, you need to balance the light you are adding to the sunlight.

If you are getting underexposed images in the shade, you are not figuring your exposure correctly.

In patchy sunlight/shady, turn the subject around so the sun is on their back(s), then boost the shaded side with light.

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