Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shooting in midday sun

Generally speaking, outdoor photographers prefer to work during the golden hours - just after sunrise, and as sunset approaches. The reasons are pretty well known, and make sense for a lot of situations and subjects. For example, when the sun is near the horizon, the direction of light creates shadows on the land that bring out texture. The color of the light is usually warm, because it is traveling through a greater expanse of atmosphere before reaching the ground. When the subject is a person, a light source directly overhead (such as noonday sun) casts unflattering shadows from the brow and nose, leaving the eyes in darkness ("raccoon eyes") and the mouth with a slash across it. Late afternoon sun (especially with some cloud cover to act as a diffuser) can be a perfect start to great portrait lighting, as long as the subject doesn't have to squint while looking toward the brightness. It can be better to turn the person away from the sun, using it as a backlight/hair light, while adding another, gentler light source in front of their face. But, that's a subject for another time.

Sometimes the only chance to shoot is in the middle of the day, and it is not impossible to find (or make) good light, especially if your choice of subjects is small animals or plants. Today I enjoyed watching some migrating birds, including some not always seen in my area. There were a pair of red wing black birds, but they were too shy for me to approach and photograph well without preparation. As I am a shameless opportunist who doesn't consider common birds any less fascinating than less common varieties, I took aim at a foraging robin who wasn't quite so skittish. In the first shot, a patch of sun through the trees caught his front and helped it stand out against a shadowed background. The feathers of his wings and underbelly are muted in tone, but the head sparkles.

A moment later, he moved to a spot where all of his topside was lit, and as a bonus for me, some shiny dead leaves reflected a bit of fill light to his belly. I like the attitude caught in this split second.

Meanwhile, the confused flowers blooming in Raleigh three weeks into February made quite a display for me when I got my head all the way down to the ground. I knew that to balance their illumination with the bright sky in the background would require some help, so I made use of a really high-tech piece of equipment - a sheet of aluminum foil, crinkled a bit and shaped into a curve. This reflected light into the little purple umbrellas opened a few inches above me, highlighting their yellow reproductive parts. Working with a wide angle zoom, I used focal lengths ranging from 29mm to 35mm for these shots.

Even pale yellow flowers call for fill light when they face the ground.

The color contrasts were important to me when shooting the purple flowers against blue sky and green leaves, but didn't make as much drama with the pale yellow flowers. I decided to take advantage of the tonal control that black and white offers, and worked the relative contributions of blue and yellow to gain maximum contrast. After a little tweaking of a custom tone curve, I got a pleasing result.

So, in about an hour with the sun near zenith, I managed a few shots that may show some possibilities for making midday light work for photos. 


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