Friday, June 05, 2009

You Light Up My Life Friday: Nasty Lighting In The Sun

Good Morning Everybody,
Well, we head home today after 3 weeks on the road. Can you believe it, the first half of my Digital WakeUp Call tour is nearly wrapped – only Louisville, KY on Monday and Cincinnati, OH on Tuesday. I’ve got a special treat for our Cincy attendees – I reserved the Netherland Hilton – Hall of Mirrors for the presentation.

This is by far, the best location, considered by many the most beautiful location in the Greater Cincinnati area for a wedding. Fortunately, we get to work there quite often. I thought it would be a treat to have the DWUC program at the Hall of Mirrors since I show so many images from that location during my program. I’m truly looking forward to it. Hope to see many of you there.

We head back to good ol’ Cincy in a few hours, land at 2:30 and get home by 3:30 p.m. Then I have to scoot right out the door and meet up with my assistants for a shoot tonight. Then tomorrow, we have another wedding – it’s in another one of my favorite locations, Plum Street Temple. I really looking forward to the opportunity to capture some spectacular shots for my bride and her family and guests. I’ll post a few next week.

Oh, did I mention that last night a young photographer drove 1200 miles from the Las Vegas area to attend last night's seminar in Oklahoma City, OK. What an honor it is to share my Digital WakeUp Call message with so many excited photographers. If we add Las Vegas to the tour schedule this fall Kasia is truly welcome to attend as my guest. Congratulations and lucky for Kasia as she was also a prize winner!

Hey, enough of my yakking, let’s get on with You Light Up My Life Friday. Here we go…

Nasty Lighting: How To Shoot In The Sun
This post is similar to Wednesday's post about shooting family portraits in the sun but I thought I would expand on it even more today. It also answers a few questions raised in Wednesday's comments. Here we go.

Hit the "Read More..." link below for the rest of the story.

This question has come up over at my Skribit widget on the right so I thought I would give it some coverage today. So just what do you do when you are faced with the worse of conditions for a wedding shoot? There is no really elegant solution to the high-noon wedding shoot but let me point you in the right direction in still obtaining some decent images.

We talked a little about this on Wednesday, but that involved shooting in the sun much later in the day. As I discussed then, the work around is not so tough. It’s the afternoon sun on those hot summer days that makes it tough on everyone especially us wedding photographers.

Nasty Lighting In The Sun : Here Are My 10 Steps When Shooting In The Sun

1. Let’s start with the ISO rating. I set my ISO to 100 ISO. I need that lower ISO so I can use wider open apertures with my lens. Why? Because I want the background to go as soft and out of focus as possible.

2. Next, grab the longest lens in your gear bag – I like the 70-200mm IS lens. And, I like to shoot it racked out to at least 150mm. With the wider aperture at this longer focal length, I can kick the background a fair amount out of focus. This creates a nice separation between the subjects and the background. Yes, my assistant is much closer to the subjects than I am. My assistant will usually be about 25 feet away.

3. Be sure that the sun is BEHIND your subjects. That puts their faces in shadows allowing me to use my off-camera flash to create the direction of light that is so important to me.

4. That also means that I underexpose the subjects about 1 ½ stops so I can see the effect of the off-camera flash whose intensity has been set to give me the proper exposure on their faces.

5. Here is the tricky part. With the sun behind your subjects, cross your fingers that the background is still acceptable for the shot. Check out my first image below. This image was taken pretty much at high-noon. Fortunately the background was at least acceptable for my shot.

6. You have just a little bit of “wiggle room” when positioning your clients, but be super sure you don’t let any of that direct sunlight hit the front of heir faces. It becomes BIG Photoshop issues if you do. My exposure, by the way, for this shot at 1:30 p.m. was F5.6 @ 1/160 sec at ISO 100 with camera in "manual" mode as it always is when I have a flash attached. I generally underexpose the background slightly as I did in Wednesday's post. This is simply a matter of personal taste.

7. OK, I’ve got the group, the sun, my lighting, and exposure set for the shot – not bad but not great either. Looks like we need to make a trip to Photoshop. I wasn’t the “happiest camper” with the background – notice the “holes in the trees" exposing the sky that, at least for me distracts from the shot.

This is an easy fix with the rubber stamp tool. Check out the second shot and see how about 2 minutes of Photoshop improved the image. In this image, I put a better crop on the image, added additional foliage to the background to make it more uniform, thus more pleasing to the eye, and also added a slight vignette to the bottom of the image.

8. I had one more thing to take care of too. Check out the first shot again. Look at the harsh shadows on the girls’ shoulders on the right side of the group. I used the Patch tool along with the Rubber stamp tool to soften the shadow’s edge. This is pretty easy with the patch tool as it does a lot of the blending for you. I only use the Rubber stamp tool for a little touch up.

9. Another touch up is to brighten the faces a bit. I do this by hitting each face with the Dodge tool in “Highlight” mode. That step pops the faces just enough to draw the viewers attention to their faces and obtain a nice look to the group shot.

10. We are almost there. My final step is to add what I call my Beauty Blur to the shot. This is nothing more than adding a slight Gaussian blur to the images then using a layer mask to punch through to the bottom layer to bring back the sharpness to the facial features and dresses. The foliage remains slightly blurred. It’s the Gaussian blur that sort of blends the tones together and softens the harshness of that strong overhead sun. Maybe I'll show this technique on next week's Technique Tuesday.

Gang, that’s about it. Combine a little common sense about the sun, add the second light to the shadow side of the subjects, and toss in a little Photoshop for good measure and you should be able to achieve a nice finished product.

Hey, everybody, that’s about it for me today. We’ve got a busy weekend and the plane leaves shortly. I’ll see everybody on the flip side of the weekend. Have a great one, -David


  1. The link to the Beauty Blur technique is missing. Could you please add it? Thanks.

  2. This is a great post! As I am shooting my first wedding tomorrow...outside in the hot Texas heat.

    I am sure that I will spend a good deal of time trying to fix shadows and so forth. I am sure to revisit this post tomorrow and during the next week.

    Thanks again.

  3. Thanks David for another great tip. I guess there is no way around shooting in the bright sun. But a little PS tweaking comes to the rescue. Thanks.


  4. Great post, David. Thanks for the description of the beauty blur. I often use a similar technique for softening skin, but to use it to keep faces sharp and blur the rest of the image is a great idea. Will put it to good use.

  5. Great post David. I'll use a couple of your tips, as I have to shoot a Class reunion picture tomorrow on the harsh sun of Puerto Rico. Keep up your good work. Thanks for your daily help.

  6. David:

    Thanks again for another tip on shooting in the dreaded high noon sunlight. One question I have is the assistant is approx. 25 ft or so from the group? Correct?
    What power is the Trusty Quantum set at that the assistant is holding? 1/4 1/2 Full? On manual I assume?

    Thanks for the info

    Mark Wojdylak
    Fresno Attendee

  7. I remember getting family portraits in Cincinnati OH done in the sun. It does present some interesting predicaments, but our photographer did a good job of compensating for them. Thanks for the sunny photography tips.