Sunny Imposition

There is an epidemic spreading among many upstart photographers, my friends. An epidemic of sunny proportions. Huh? Well, you see, many people new to photography have a tendency to see the sun shining and say to themselves “It’s beautiful out there, nice and sunny. I’m gonna go take some pictures!” (insert sound of game show buzzer here). Wrong answer! Now, I’m not saying you can’t get good results on a sunny day, but your burdening yourself with a sizable handicap before you even get out the door. This sounds crazy, I know, but trust me, bright, midday sun and photography do not a good match make. Let me explain…

Midday sun has a very harsh quality because the sun is at its smallest in the middle of the day, and a small light source produces very harsh shadows, particularly when placed directly overhead. Couple this with the fact that the sun is also at its coolest colour value (roughly 5500 kelvin) in the middle of the day, which tends to take on a cool blue tone as opposed to a nice flattering warm tone, and this equates to a photographic nightmare. Now, there are ways to combat this, namely by adding a circular polarizer to your lens (think of this as sunglasses for your lens). But lets explore another way to help you get better pictures during the day…

Wait for a cloudy day. Yup. You heard me. The reason I say this is that the clouds act as a natural diffuser for the sun, giving you ample light, but spreading it out evenly, eliminating the harshness of direct sunlight. Here’s a real life scenario to help bring it on home… Why do we put lamp shades on lamps? Because they match the decor? No, it’s there to diffuse the light produced by the bulb (again, a very small light source) and spread it around the room. Clouds do the same thing for us outdoors. This results in nice, even lighting that takes on a more saturated look, as opposed to the washed out nastiness of direct sun. Don’t believe me? Have someone stand beside a lamp with the shade on. Now take that shade off and have a look at the difference. Pow! Shadows. Harsh shadows.

I understand why photographers want to go out and shoot when the sun is out and the birds are signing. I really do. So if you prefer to stay a fair-weather shooter, here’s a tip for you… If you don’t have a circular polarizer (as mentioned above), shoot in Manual  or Aperture Priority mode and set your Aperture to f16. This is know as the “Sunny 16” rule. It gives you a great starting point for shooting in direct sunlight.

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