Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Take Better Photos: Overpowering Sunlight

I recently posted a photo on my facebook page that prompted several people to ask how I was able to get that “look.”  There have been a few inquiries about the “look” based on other photos that I’ve done as well, so I am going to do a quick post about how it was done.  One of our brides was pleasantly surprised when she got her engagement photos and got colors more vibrant than what she remembered seeing in real life.  There is no magic involved, no photoshopping, or no special filters.  Just straight up photography 101.   Here’s the scoop:

Here is a photo taken at a “normal” exposure.  Notice that the sun is still up, and I’m getting a bright sky, and if I had someone standing in front of me, he or she would be properly illuminated.  The problem with this is that they'd be backlit, and their faces would be dark.  I like to make my photos more dramatic, and I like blue skies, so I am going to purposely make the photo darker.  

In photo lingo, this would be called “underexposure,” and I am setting my aperture to a setting much smaller to darken the overall image.  You can already tell there is a big difference in the nature of the "look" of the photo.

From here, all I need to do is illuminate my subject with an external light source.  

Here I’ve got the flash firing at my hand, and you can see what it’s going to do to my subject when placed in the frame.  That shadow on my arm is because I'm using the built in flash, and the lens that I've got on my camera sticks out so much that its shadow is being produced on my arm.  The solution is the mount an external speedlight on top of the camera via the hot shoe.  

Here is the trick-  if the light source is weaker than the ambient sunlight, you won’t get anything but a dark photo.  You need a strong light, or you need to wait for the sunlight to get dimmer.  In this case, it was close to sunset, so it was no problem for my one on-camera speedlight to “overpower the sun.”  Remember that phrase.  Using flash outdoors?  Isn’t that unnecessary?  The biggest mistake most people commit is not to use flash outdoors.  You get a lot of shadows on faces in direct sunlight, and it’s not so pleasing.  Remember that great photos are not created by the specific camera but rather it is created by great lighting.

 Here is an example of what happens when the light is not strong enough to overpower the sun.  

You get a silhoutte.  In order to fix this, you need to either
1.     Find a stronger light source.
2.     Wait until the ambient sunlight is weaker, therefore allowing your light source to become stronger than the sunlight
3.     Adjust your camera settings to a brighter aperture or ISO setting to balance the light sources for the best possible exposure at the given moment.

And here is the final result!  

Hope that was helpful!  


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