Monday, April 2, 2012
Photographing Small Subjects in Mid Day Sunlight
To create a successful image in mid day sun, you need to compress the contrast range in the scene.
Bright mid day sun is very contrasty which makes it difficult to obtain a good picture. Highlights are very bright and shadows are very dark. If you expose for the highlights, the shadows block up. If you open up to record information in the shadows, the highlights blow out. So what's a photographer to do?
To create a successful image in mid day sun, you need to compress the contrast range in the scene. If you're shooting a grand vista, there aren't many solutions. HDR will help, but the quality of mid day light is too poor to capture a good scenic. But if your subjects are in close proximity to the camera and aren't very large, there are solutions.
Diffuser: A diffuser is used to soften harsh light. Placed between the subject and light source, it gives the effect of a bright overcast day where the light evenly wraps around the subject. The contrast range is significantly reduced allowing digital sensors to represent all levels of light. The size of the subject dictates the necessary size of the diffuser. A 30" collapsible one works fine for flowers and small nature subjects. If you're photographing people, much larger ones are needed and require the use of an assistant.
Reflector: A reflector bounces light into a scene. The shadows open up which narrows the contrast range. They come in many shapes, sizes and materials. I carry a collapsible one with silver on one side and gold on the other. The silver bounces bright pinpoint light back onto the subject. The gold reflects a similar quality of light but it's warm in tone. As with a diffuser, the size of the subject dictates the size of the needed reflector.
Flash: My most often used method of taming contrast entails the use of flash. In the image of the saw whet owl, I used a flash to fill in the dark areas caused by shadows from the surrounding leaves. The fill light also added illumination to the eyes - notice the catch light in each. The deep set eyes of most owls cause lighting problems unless the sun is low and direct. The light emitted from the flash put light into what otherwise would have been dark voids.
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