Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Tag Archives: Sunlight

14 Ways to Improve Your Photography in a Few Days

This article by Chase Guttman,  an award-winning travel photographer, whose love for travel and adventure has allowed him to photograph his experiences in over 40 countries, on the Lightstalking website is on the button, I don’t think I can disagree with any of his points.

Some might argue the point that photography is an art form.  Training your eye to see the world and translating your perspective visually takes time and patience. Yet, there’s also technique involved in creating arresting images. There are ways to quickly improve your photography and impact your creative vision. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Here are just a couple of the points Chase makes

1. Read The Manual. Resist the impulse to cavalierly toss your manual in the trash as it holds a plethora of knowledge. For savvy shooters, manuals are the holy grail of photography books. They teach us the functions, capabilities and basics of our most important piece of equipment. The camera manual should be the bible for your gear. I recommend placing it in your camera bag. It will be worth the extra weight.

You could take our Understanding Your Digital SLR Course which would also help

3. Lighting Lessons in a Flash. Beginners seem to misunderstand the magic of a flash.  Keep in mind that most flashes illuminate only about ten feet in front of you. Furthermore, there are two main ways to optimally use flash — flash fill and bounce flash. In flash fill, you use the light source to attempt to fill the shadows created by natural lighting sources such as the midday sun. Bounce flash on the other hand is when the flash’s light is bounced off a wall or surface so it lights an indoor room evenly. To take better pictures, try to diffuse your flash by either aiming the light away from the subject or by using gels to minimize the light’s strength. Harsh or strong light isn’t kind on a subject’s face. Additionally, if the light isn’t diffused you may experience flash blow out, where your subject is a pitch white color and there’s a lack of highlights in your image. For maximum creativity and flexibility purchase an external flash.
We completely agree with this and have a course designed specifically to help people make better use of flash in their photography, here is a link to that course
_MG_0544©Keith Barnes 2012

Shooting portraits and weddings in harsh sunlight

I came across this tutorial on the Pictage site by the Youngrens. I think it is spot on with regard to dealing with harsh sun light, not something we are currently experiencing here in Oxford. I couldn’t find the site address for this tutorial so it is reproduced here in in full

 

If you think about it, wedding days are totally against us as photographers, particularly when it comes to light. I mean, who has two thumbs and ends up shooting bridal parties at high noon in July? For four weekends in a row? This girl.

One of our most frequently asked questions at The Youngrens is “How do you shoot in harsh sunlight?”

The short answer? We don’t. We find shade. Any kind of shade. Shade from a tree, a building, a cloud, a doorway, a diffuser – anything. As much as we humanly can, we try to avoid harsh sunlight.

Which brings me to our second most frequently asked question.

“Ok, but what if there’s no shade to be found? Anywhere.

Fair question. We’ll start with the basics, then throw out a few tips.

Side Note: Avoiding harsh sunlight is a part of our particular photographic style. Others may welcome harsh sunlight as a part of their artistic eye, or some may use artificial lighting to overpower the sun and create high-fashion looks. Those are both great styles, but we’ll be outlining how we stay within our particular style in harsh, mid-day situations.

Shoot in Manual
The only way you can properly expose skin tones in a harsh sunlight situation is by putting your camera in manual mode. As smart as cameras are these days, there will be a lot of light bouncing around your subject and your light meter won’t give you an accurate reading.

You will have to be smarter than the camera. So take a deep breath and make the leap into manual, if you haven’t already.

Widen Your Aperture
Harsh sunlight is undesirable because it creates hard shadows on the skin that highlight little facial details (ie blemishes, pores, imperfections, discolorations, wrinkles, etc), which is totally unflattering.

So your overall goal as the photographer in a harsh sunlight situation is to soften the light on your subject’s skin and create a more pleasing skin tone.

We typically shoot between f/2.0 and f/2.8 for most of our bride and groom portraits, because a wider aperture particularly helps in harsh sunlight situations to soften skin tones.

It’s important to note, however, that when shooting at such “wide open” apertures it’s increasingly difficult to maintain a sharp focus on your subject(s). So slow down and take the time to focus properly when shooting with these settings. Otherwise you’ll be angry at me.

So throw your camera into manual, widen your aperture, then…

Put their backs at an off-angle to the sun
High noon is the only time of day that there will be absolutely no angle to the sun, but if you’re at least 30 minutes on either side of that, you can take advantage of what sun angle exists.

Since you’re trying to soften your subjects’ skin, you don’t want harsh sunlight to directly hit your subjects’ faces. So put their backs at an angle to the sun so that their faces are completely shaded. You will get a rim light of blown-out highlights around their heads and bodies, so minimize the amount of blown highlights that you show in your frame. Recover what you can in post.

Use spot metering
In order to create a soft, pleasing skin tone, you will need to expose properly for the skin. Switch your camera to spot metering so your meter won’t lie to you – as much. With spot metering, your light meter will expose for the small area in the center of the frame instead of trying to expose for the entire photo. Here’s a great explanation of spot metering.

So you have your camera in manual, you’ve widened your aperture, you have your subjects’ faces shaded, and you’re spot metering just for their skin. Now what?

Overexpose for the skin
Your camera will try to underexpose whatever you’re focusing on because there is so much light bouncing onto the meter and it thinks it needs to make things darker. But because you’re in manual you will need to override your camera’s meter and slow down your shutter speed enough to create bright, fresh skin tones.

(In fact, we like to overexpose our images to create brighter, cleaner skin tones quite often –not just in harsh sunlight situations.)

Sometimes you will need to overexpose by just a little to get great results, but other times you’ll be overexposing by several stops. It all depends on the particular situation.

Those are some basic techniques to shooting in harsh sunlight, so once you master those, try these extra tips that we use quite often:

Use your couples to shade each other
Get rid of sun blotches on your bride’s forehead by having the groom shade it for you with his head. It may sound weird, but bride’s love being taken care of by their grooms.

Don’t look at the camera
Avoid those terrible under eye shadows by never having your couple look at the camera in high noon sunlight. Crop in close to their faces and have a second shooter or an assistant use a diffuser on their skin or wait until you can find some shade to get that necessary “looking at the camera” hero image.

Take advantage, grab some flare
Get artistic and use the sun to your advantage. Grab a little flare, wash out your lens, or use the lines of harsh shadows in your composition.

Disclaimer: Only do this if it reflects your style.

Go inside
Not feeling the high noon outdoors? There will be a lot more sun coming through interior windows during this time, so go inside and take advantage of it.

Use a doorway
Use the bright and lovely fall-off light in doorways. This kind of soft, even light makes skin look GORGEOUS.


Got a question that you would love for us to write about? You can ask it here or vote for ones that you’d love to see us answer in an upcoming article.

Hugs,
Erin

Written by Erin Youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.