Tuesday, April 7, 2009
How to handle tricky lighting situations in the field
I’m a big fan of Adobe Photoshop and use it quite often, but the instances I discuss here are accomplished in the camera with very little help after the fact. High Dynamic Range (HDR) is fantastic in that it allows multiple layers and exposures in order to have mile-long depth of field or both the background and foreground properly exposed. But there are times when you can’t take multiple exposures, don’t have access to a tripod and must capture the image quickly before it disappears.
I like to call these images great compromises because usually you have to compromise something—lighting in the clouds or the landscape, silhouette versus blown-out subjects or what part of the frame must be in sharp focus. In each of the examples here, some compromise has been made to capture an interesting photograph. Obviously, digital images have a slight edge in that you may see the fruits of your labors almost immediately and make the necessary corrections, but if you truly know your camera, these situations soon become second nature.
Send In The Clouds
1 Shooting into the sky poses its own set of problems, but if you’re fortunate enough to have the sun behind a cloud, backlight can be your best friend. When exposing any image, try to find as many natural reflecting sources as possible. On a beach, waiting until the sand is drenched with highly reflective ocean water will brighten your shot. This moment won’t last long because the sand soon will absorb the moisture, and damp sand offers no fill lighting.
With the sun behind a cloud, I was forced to expose for the surrounding landscape. Waiting for the sun to almost peek from the edge of the cloud allowed the rays to extend from all sides and lighten the exposure. Wanting the landscape in the rear to be in silhouette, I opened the aperture just enough (ƒ/13) to get detail in the sand, water and cloud. The water mirrors what’s seen in the sky. If I opened the aperture to ƒ/11, I’d lose detail in the clouds but gain it in the background. This compromise of exposure told enough of the story without dwelling too much on any one area and still gave me enough detail in the clouds.
2 On the East Coast, sunrises are colorful events without the need to boost the saturation of the image. With the color temperature hovering somewhere around 2000 Kelvin, the reds and oranges will be the most pronounced. As a lobsterman began his early-morning ritual, I captured the moment with a long lens and set the color balance to daylight (5600 K). Because the sun was so low, the ambient orange light appeared redder in the digital image.
Wanting to focus more on the sky and ocean, I let the boat go into silhouette. Taking a spot exposure reading off the ocean kept it and the sky properly exposed. If I wanted more lighting detail on the boat, I could have exposed for it, but the water and sky would have been too overexposed. Again, you must make a choice or compromise—I chose the sky. In Photoshop, I also could have selected the boat and lightened it, but that’s not the way I wanted the shot. It’s the beginning of a new day, and therefore the boat still should be slightly dark, with the brilliant dawn being the backdrop.
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