The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bright Sunny Days

We all know that the best time of day to shoot great photos is either early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is not harsh and directly overhead.  But what can you do if you are out and about on a very bright, sunny day?


The first thing is filter – remember that circular polarizing filter.  Make sure it is turned to give the best protection from the glare created by bright, midday sun.  Some days it will be so bright that the normal protection from the circular polarizer may not be enough.  You should also invest in some neutral density filters if you find yourself shooting midday more than you care to.  The neutral density filter comes in different grades some will really block out a lot of light allowing for slower shutter speeds and colors not so washed out.  Since the ND filter will not help as well with glare as the CP filter – what I think would be ideal is a ND filter that is not too dark stacked with the CP on top to allow for the turn to either get the reflection (if that is what you want) or to take it out if you don't want it.  There are also gradient neutral density filters that are used to help darken a washed out sky while leaving the detail of a darker landscape.


Just as I tell people in class that a CP filter is like sunglasses for your camera – a lens hood is your camera's sun visor.  When you are out in bright sun – if you have a lens hood in that bag – use it.  I have seen guys on photo shoots taking off their caps and holding them out and over the lens to shade it a little for a shot.  The lens hood will help reduce flare by shading the end of the lens.  It really does work as a visor or hat you would wear or as if you put your hand up to shade your eyes to see better in the bright sunlight.  An added benefit of using a lens hood is that little extra protection it gives your lens.  Anything you may bump into with the camera lens will tap against the hood before it would reach the lens (but of course, your lens is filtered if for nothing else, protection, right?)


Now let's talk about settings on the camera.  The first thing to check is the ISO – is it set to the lowest your camera allows?  The lowest my cameras will go is 100 but I know some even take it lower than that.  Be sure to check this – and then check it again if you move to a shadier spot.  How is the white balance?  Sometimes – even in bright sun the white balance can help with colors.  Take a few shots of the same scene with different settings and decide which you like best.  I try sun, shade and cloudy almost all of the time when I am out to see which gives me the color I am looking for.  Have you ever used the exposure compensation settings?  You know – that little +/- thing?  Here is a good time to try it out.   Moving this setting to +1 or greater can really improve the photo in bright conditions.  If your camera has settings like "snow" "beach" and such – it is setting this exposure value (EV) for you when you choose a lighting condition that can be difficult to for shooting.


And what about that shadier spot….if there is some shade – try to use it.  Look for a great photo already in shade (before you shoot it make sure the camera is set for the shade and not the bright sun  Check that ISO, EV and anything else).  This is when a background can be a little tricky – if the subject is in shade and rich with color – but the background is washed out by sun – you won't be happy.  Look for a good subject with a good background.  If there isn't enough good shade, you can always make your own.  Get that umbrella out of the car and use it for shade.  This is where you may also need a tripod to hold the camera while you hold the umbrella over a subject and set the timer on the camera.


Don't forget – you still may need a flash.  Especially with bright sun you can get freaky shadows on faces.  If someone is wearing a cap – their eyes will be shaded and not show up well in the photo.  Also some subjects will just have a silhouette effect.  Even though it is super bright and everyone is wearing sunglasses – flash – and the photo will be better.  A lot of cameras have the fill flash feature – this is when you use it.  And when you do use this, you will need to be close enough for the flash to have an effect.


So go get a bottle of water and practice with that camera in the bright sun.  Practicing with features and settings before there is an event always pays off. 


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