Harsh, mid-day lighting is the stuff of nightmares to many photographers – but if you’re hired for a shoot and it’s only possible to work during a timeframe that is inopportune for easy natural lighting, and you happen to be natural light photographer or the circumstance doesn’t allow for your choice of lights, you’ll need to know how to work with what you’ve got to make something great.
While it can be easier to look for shade, it isn’t always available, and sometimes the client will have a specific location they want photos in that will unfortunately be in full sun. For example, wedding venues are often chosen for features/spots the client will feel are non-negotiable for an appearance in their images and they may present difficult lighting scenarios. Ergo, you must tackle them.
On top of knowing what to do on your shoot, there are ways to bring out the best in the shots you got on-location once it’s time to process.
Luckily for you, we’re here to help. These tips will add some tools to your kit that will help you navigate tough mid-day lighting situations with expertise.
Don’t Skip Shots Simply Because There Is No Shade
It’s easy to overlook a great shot when the scene doesn’t tick certain boxes in a photographer’s mind – nice soft light being one of them. Don’t pass up what could be something great because it doesn’t look easy or obvious.
Don’t Blow Highlights
Turn your camera’s highlight clipping warning on. Particularly if your clients are wearing white clothing or accessories, the dynamic range found in a scene with bright light and hard shadows makes it easy to lose detail in those highlights that you may not be able to restore, even when shooting RAW.
Look For Natural Fill
Fill is your friend; it will help you with those aforementioned highlight-clipping troubles that can pop up in harsh sunlight. It can come from a flash or a reflector, but there are lots of environmental reflectors you can make use of if you’re paying attention. A little fill will bridge the gap between the brightest and darkest tones and make it easier for your camera to render the whole scene without losing detail. Things like light-colored buildings, roads, paths – really anything in a scene of significant size and light in tone will fill in shadows, whether intended or not. So, notice these reflectors in your environment to take full advantage.
Notice Direction Of Light
Pay attention to the direction of sunlight, and of course, keep an eye on any bounced fill from surroundings. When possible, backlighting is usually a lovely choice, and you can position yourself and your subjects so that the sun’s light hits the subjects’ face in a Rembrandt pattern. Don’t forget that while you can’t change the sun’s location and sometimes can’t control the location of your subjects, where you put yourself to capture a scene is one variable for the direction of light.
Shoot With Post Processing In Mind
As in the case with the highlight situation mentioned earlier, sometimes what you’re able to capture in-camera will certainly need to be adjusted. Exposing to retain highlights can mean that the whole image is darker than desired, but knowing that the image you see on your camera’s LCD screen isn’t what your final product will look like, and knowing what you will be able to do with your files in post will keep you creating when it would be easy to become discouraged.
The methods we’ll cover use SLR Lounge’s Preset System for fewer clicks in your edits and a streamlined workflow. That said, the points laid out below will still give important insight and instruction for processing your shots regardless of if you have the preset system or not.
- The base preset we’ve chosen to use is our Signature Portrait Soft Color preset. Applying this preset is the first step to achieving the looks shown.
- Add a soft vignette with a radial adjustment set to -.50 exposure as a starting place and adjust as needed. This will apply a nice, even vignette to the edges of the image. Shape the radial filter so it matches the lens’s natural light fall-off pattern.
- Hit the “J” key to bring up clipping warnings for both over and underexposure – clipped portions of the image will show up blue or red and offer a visual representation right on your image where you’ll need to adjust.
- To save highlights and shadows, you can use specific presets for this purpose. Choose from presets in the “shadow lift” and “highlight recovery” sets. Since you will have shot to preserve highlight details, you will likely find yourself with some excessively dark shadows on some photos that will require some shadow lifting. After applying a “shadow lift” preset, you will need to drop the exposure down just a little.
- Not all highlights and shadows need to be saved, however. When exposing for a subject without flash or adjusting exposure in post that requires lifting exposure significantly, highlights can blow out in the background. If no important details go missing in the overexposure and there is still some semblance of a background, it’s probably ok. Just use your judgement. The same goes for dark areas – if the area where detail is lost in the shadows isn’t huge or important, you may not need to concern yourself with it.
- If the lens has a vignette that you don’t like, apply a lens correction preset to quickly remove it.
For much more content like this where we’ll tackle just how to get the most out of any shoot and shot, check out our Shoot To Post workshop workshop, or stream it along with a plethora of photography and post-production education as an SLRL Premium member.