Pesky Natural Light Demons Solved.

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Pesky Natural Light Demons Solved.

 When natural light works for you it’s like magic; yet it can turn into a demon very quickly. Here are a few ways to spot the demons before they destroy your image. Even better, how to tame them; turn them back into wonderful magic.

 The biggest challenge with natural light is contrast; it’s too high or it’s too low. There are wonderful times of the day when the light is golden, nearly always perfect to work with, found early morning or very late in the evening.

 In the morning the light is a bit crisper with a slight cooler color to it. The dust and pollution created by they day’s activity have not kicked in yet. The angle is long and low, giving soft, long shadows. The clouds are rich, colorful and dramatic. It is the first few hours of sunrise, very much worth the early rising.

 In the evening there are two times, the golden hour just before the sun slips below the horizon and the twilight. Twilight has a wonderfully soft blue hue to it. The sky is still blue; sometimes stars and the moon are clearly visible. The sun has just dropped behind the hills. Most of the stunning cityscapes are done at this time. You will need a higher ISO, longer shutter speeds; perhaps some fill light for your subject. It is worth playing with.

 But those demons, they happen in the time in between. So here is how to deal.

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 High contrast light is the toughest. If you put the sun behind the subject, their hair gets blown out or your subject is too dark. Now you can work with that by doing silhouettes. Place your subject with clear sky behind them, expose for the sky; they will go black or nearly so. If they have delicate fabrics, like near shear dresses, scarfs etc. this will add interest.

 In Photoshop you can increase the contrast.  Pull back the sky exposure a bit, it will go white while your subject remains dark enough to still get that stunning silhouette.

 Working with backlight, which gives your image such wonderful depth and energy, you can bring in a reflector; get that bright sun demon working for you. Reflecting light back into the subject reduces the contrast, removes the cool blue from them being in the shade. It’s a softer light so your subject won’t be squinting.

 Reflectors can also be buildings, walls or anything else that can bounce the light back at your subject. The closer the reflector is to the subject the more light illuminates it, giving you control of the brightness on your subject.

 Some people move into the shade of trees. Which works well to a degree. You have to watch the speckling, the splashes of light from holes in the tree foliage. It can add some foreground interest, but usually is too bright with the hot spots being just burned holes in the image. When these atomic shafts of light hit your subject it is beyond fixing, resulting in a very distracting image.

 In this situations move your subject into the tree trunks shadow. It is a solid shadow of protection. Always use a grey card here so you can easily get a corrected color as green light bounces everywhere.

 One of the most distracting issues with this strong lighting is when it grazes the skin. You have to be very careful, the slight turn of the head can result in a shaft of light touching the nose, which just burns it out beyond recovery. You can also have the light coming down the side of the face. This creates massive texture, something that works for guys but not so much for women.


 Another way to face direct harsh sunlight is to turn and face it head on. The subject will usually need sunglasses or eyes closed poses. But for drama and power, this light is tough to beat.  Face placement is the key. It needs to be dead on, this creates a type of glamour light. It is stunning. A slight turn of the face and very ugly shadows start to appear.

 You can simply step out of the light. Let the harsh light demon rage at the shadows edge. The deeper you go into the shadow, the softer and less directional the light becomes. It also becomes bluer so you will have to adjust for that. Once in the shadows you might still want some light to kick up shape and contours. Reflectors, even mirrors do the magic. The further back from the subject, the weaker the light is, giving you lots of exposure control.

 One photographer lights his subject, posed in the shadow side of a building by having his assistant go down the block, then reflect the light back using a sheet of mirrored Plexiglas. It kicked back this wonderful wall of warm light.

 Anytime of day can work for a photographer. You need to analyze the light quality and strength. Watch for distracting shadows, hotspots and blowouts. Think of the mood, the effect or style you want to achieve then proceed to manipulate the demon midday light to your whims.

 There is no really bad light or bad time of day. It is more a question of what effect you want then figuring out how to get it. The best way to defeat the demon light is to plan for it, be aware of it. Then it becomes magical again, and you become the hero of the piece with a thrilled client.

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