HOW TO EXPOSE FOR THE SKY | FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

 

I can’t believe how long it has been since I last posted some technical stuff.  If you missed the previous blog posts, you can see what I wrote about  “how to get tack sharp images”“tricks for in-camera metering & exposure”,  or “composing with negative space and leading lines” by clicking on the links.  I really enjoy sharing what I know, and I hope people find these posts useful!

I always preface this type of posts by saying that I am merely sharing how “I” shoot. There are many different styles of photography out there; some people might use off camera flash (cool strobists like Scott Robert Lim) and with a ton of post editing. I like to keep my style simple, modern, and timeless. Also, I typically shoot without an assistant, so it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to setup some tricked out off camera lighting.

If you shoot mostly natural light, and have been struggling with properly exposing for the sky, this post is for you!  Please feel free to comment if you have any questions or would like to add to the discussion!

Let’s get to it, shall we?

First, what does it mean to properly expose for a subject? For me, a properly exposed photo means the viewer is able to see all the details in both the highlights (brightest spots in the photo), and the lowlights (darkest spots). If you look at the histogram of a well exposed photo, the histogram should be a bell shape. With the peak in the middle of the graph. For the first image, it was taken around 11AM in an open field with no shade. HORRIBLE time to shoot. But it was the only time we had. If you look closely at the feet of my daughters in the photo above, you can see that shadow is pointing to the right of them. And by how short the shadows are, you can also tell it was close to mid-day. Once we got there, I immediately liked the composition of the photo, it felt almost like a painting to me.  And the reason why I chose to shoot it this way, is because by facing my daughters away from the sun, I am now having to expose for the bright spot. Which in this case, is their pale pink dresses. But since the dress is of the same brightness as the rest of the field (and sky), I am able to see all the details with no blown highlights.

This is from my destination engagement session at Waikiki Sheraton last summer. I really wanted to show case the crystal blue water, and the deep blue sky. So again, I placed Ken & Candy at the far end of the pier, with the morning sun coming from the left of them. For this image, I exposed for the back of Ken’s shirt (brightest spot). And because there is the same amount of brightness hitting the back of his shirt, I am able to have a well exposed scene that showed off the sky and water. Can you imagine this couple flying all the way out to Waikiki and can’t see the ocean behind them in the photos??

This photo is from a family session I shot at Laguna Beach. The time of the day was approximately 3 PM. As you can see the sky is completely white (blown out). Which is OKAY as well, depending on how you want to shoot your photos. I really liked the rock formation and how the siblings just hung out on the rock. In this case the sun was coming from behind them, therefore my subjects were “back lit” by the sun. It gives that nice halo effect around the subjects. However, in order to expose for this photo properly , I had to expose for the dark spots. The dark spots happened to be on my subjects’ faces since they were back lit. Once I exposed for the face (dark spots), I had to compensate by either lower shutter speed, or bumping up my ISO to allow more light in.

Now for the up two images, they were literally shot within 20 minutes of each other. With the same lighting condition. I wanted to show these two images in order to demonstrate the possibilities even within the same lighting condition.  For the top image, I exposed for the couple’s faces. And since the faces were darker than the background, once I properly exposed for the faces the sky is blown out. But it’s okay, because I think the open field, and the lovely Tim & Karen frolicking in the field makes a much stronger image.

For the bottom image, I wanted to do a silhouette shot. So for this shot, I had to expose for the sky. Since the sky is much much brighter than the ground, I had to up my shutter speed, and lower my ISO. Once I properly exposed for the sky, my subjects and the ground because dark. It’s never ‘pitch black’ but dark enough to create a very nice silhouette shot. The trick to get this shot is to place the couple right in front of the light source (sun) to get that crispy clean shadows.

That’s about it! Again, feel free to email me, or comment below if you have anything to add to the topic. I’d love to hear from you!

To register for coming up workshops, please email info@jeremychouworkshops.com OR visit www.jeremychouworkshops.com 

 

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