Guest Blog: 4 Ways to manipulate Outdoor Light

May 13, 2017

                                                                                                                   Today we have a guest blog from Katie Conlon over at Proam USA

Katie will talk about 4 ways to manipulate outdoor light. So if you are struggling to understand lighting situations outside and looking for ways to overcome this problem read the post from Katie Below. 

4 Ways to Manipulate Outdoor Lighting For Photographers

Shooting outdoors sounds like such a great idea. But the truth, as we all have come to know it, is that working outdoors can be incredibly challenging. Whether you’re shooting a single person portrait, natural landscapes, or a bridal party; nature rarely works in the photographer’s favour. That difficulty of taming nature shouldn’t stop you though. Use these simple pro tips to best the outdoors, and come away with beautiful, controlled outdoor photos.

How to Handle The Sun

The sunlight, albeit epic, is harsh, and can create huge contrasts–which are not good for a multi-hour shoot, let alone a project that requires multiple locations. Brightly lit backgrounds can take away from your focus and from your foreground. One way to combat the problematic sun, is by bringing much larger lights to the shoot. Using an HMI or plasma light can help balance outdoor lighting problems, but they’re cumbersome, so expensive, and light modifiers work much better!

Popular reflectors come as 5-in-1 versions with a translucent core, and a reversible sleeve, usually made up of white, silver, gold, soft gold and black colours. Each colour offers a different amount of reflectivity; adding warmth, colour, or light, depending on which colour is used. You can achieve crispness, fill light, or enhance skin tones all with this one tool, and shooting outdoors without one (or more) is silly.

Using a scrim or a diffuser is another way to really tame the sun on your outdoor shoot. They’re basically screens that are used to soften harsh lighting. Usually translucent to some degree, a diffuser simply reduces the amount of sunlight traveling through and reaching your subject. With one, your shot will become more balanced and focused. If you don’t currently own a diffuser or a reflector, white delivery trucks work as great fill light reflectors, and a white queen sized bed sheet held up with a few clamps easily becomes a perfect diffuser.

Using the Magic Hour

Magic hour happens twice a day, has beautiful colour, and creates wonderful shadows; it’s every photographer’s perfect back drop, and everyone’s favourite time of day. Unfortunately, from a practical standpoint, it’s elusive and frustrating. Magic hour, or the golden hour as it is also known, is roughly the first hour of light after the sunrise, and the last hour of light before sunset. The sun is low during these times of day, and produces a soft, diffused light. This subtle light is much more preferable than the typical, harsh midday sun that so many of us are used to shooting in.

Rather than shooting for a few short minutes twice a day, and having to get up uber early, an easier way to achieve similar results is by shooting in the shade or when it’s cloudy. Shady shooting allows you to utilize more diffused, ambient light to fill your scene and offers more consistent lighting throughout your shots. An overcast sky acts as a giant diffuser, (no more harsh shadows), providing more consistency, and more consistency longer. You will be able to get the shots you need without adding extra light modifiers or scrambling because time is about to run out. With proper exposure and white balance, you can make shady shots look epic!

Sunny 16 Rule

Know the sunny 16 rule, so you can approach bright days with a game plan, if you don’t have light modifying tools or DSLR support at your disposal. The sunny ƒ16 rule offers a way to meter for proper exposure during daylight without using the camera’s meter. The rule is that on a sunny day, with your aperture set to ƒ16, your shutter speed will be the inverse of your current ISO speed. For example, if your camera is set to ISO 200, and your aperture value is 16, your shutter speed will be 1/200th of a second. If you were shooting in the shade, you’d simply adjust and use ƒ8 instead. Ideally, using an incident light meter, or grey card is more preferable because either will give you more accurate exposure.

Post Production Time Saver

Speaking of grey cards; use them! Here’s why: Let’s say you had an all day shoot involving multiple locations and your camera was set to Auto White Balance the whole time. That will result in hundreds of different white balance values, (a post production nightmare). However, if you spend the $6 on a grey card, and then remember to bring it, your subject can hold the card on the first shot at each new location and save you hours of unnecessary work. This way, when you open your editing software later, 1 click on the grey card can synchronise the rest of the photos in that set and your white balance editing problems are non-existent!

Photography outdoors can be a wonderful experience and the results can be breathtaking and perfectly executed if you’re prepared to handle the fickle sun and mother nature’s temperament. If you know how and when to manipulate the sunlight, you’ll be able to shoot your subjects beautifully, easily, and with minimal gear.

By Katie Conlon


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