photographing in hard sunlight, with or without flash
This is one of the toughest lighting conditions to deal with. Where I can, I try and position my subjects so that they are in shade, or at the very least their backs are to the sun. This way they are looking away from the bright light and less likely to squint and frown, and they will also have more even shaded light on their faces, with rim lighting around the sides.
But where you can’t position people and you have to deal with the lighting situation as it is, you have a few options:
You can get lucky with the angle so the features and details of most of the people are shaded, providing you with fairly uniform light on the essential parts of what you want to capture. Some parts of the scene will blow out, but hopefully nothing really relevant.
With this photograph, no flash was used. However, I did work things in my favor by shooting in the RAW format so that I have much more control over the image in post-production. I can more easily hold detail in the highlights while bringing up detail in the shadow areas.
(The examples in this posting assume that you are a solo photographer without the team of assistants to hold up large scrims and fill lights, but that you have to make do with what you have – a camera with a speedlight mounted on it.)
But if you’re stuck with full sun where part of the subject is in shade and the rest in sun, you have two options:
1. Use flash. Direct flash with no light modifier.
I would suggest staying at max sync speed to get the most range / power from your flashgun. Only go to high-speed sync flash if you really need that shallow depth of field or high shutter speed.
This image needed no work in post-production to look like this, and as far as I am concerned is a perfectly acceptable image of these two flower girls.
Here I used the histogram to make sure I don’t lose detail in the highlights, and then I added flash at -0.7 EV compensation. The flash in this instance is more than just a subtle fill-flash so I had to dial it up from the usual range of -3 to -2 EV where I keep fill-in flash.
Then you have another option.
2. Don’t use flash.
But then you have to accept one of two things that will happen.
a. the image is going to look poor because of a lack of shadow detail and because of the harsh contrast.
b. Or you can accept that the image without flash is going to need some work in Photoshop.
Here I created two JPGs from the RAW file, each at different exposures. Then I combined the two JPGs as layers in Photoshop and masked off certain areas so I could get detail in the shadows and retain detail in the highlights.
This does look good, but this does take time.
So there you have the choices.
Personally, I would be quite happy to accept the compromise of fairly hard fill-flash in this situation to bring up the shadow detail. Doing it this way and still controlling my exposure properly by using my camera in manual exposure mode gives me a very good image already during the actual moment of taking the photograph.
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