Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to take outfit photos in harsh daylight

With spring temperatures rising, it seems like the perfect opportunity to experiment with outfit photography outdoors. Unfortunately, as the days get longer, it can be difficult to spend time outside during the best peak hours for light (sunrise and just before sunset). Like a vampire, I've spent a lot of time trying to dodge broad daylight for my outfit photos -- the brightness can create harsh shadows and lines and diminish the details that I'd like to capture. But hey, life happens, and whether it's after work or during a trip, it can be difficult to schedule a time to take photos during those awesome magical light hours.

Enter these tips, which I've learned/taught myself over the last year and a half that have helped me enhance my daylight photos. There are many kinds of equipment and camera accessories that you can purchase to achieve better results, but because I rely on my digital point-and-shoot Sony camera, I'll mainly focus on beginner techniques that can be done without the use of extra equipment while you're shooting or later during editing.

Say goodbye to Mr. Sun's glare:

1) Find some shade: If at all possible, try finding a shady place to take your photos to help diffuse harsh lighting. This would be a great time to experiment with location by taking photos in the woods, in between buildings, or wherever you find most interesting. Some of my favorite spots have included up against historic structures or in the woods. The above photo was taken at 11:30am in January, when the sun was at its highest point in the sky.

2) Use fill flash: This technique focuses on using a flash in broad daylight,  as Digital Photography School suggests, because it can help get rid of shadow lines across your face and body and help emphasize the details that you'd like to capture. Your subject in the photo might end up looking really light in the photo with dark contrasts in the background, so it's good to experiment with a few shots to see what your preferences are in regards to composition and how the colors look in each photo.

3)  Position your camera in different angles from the sun. One of the best ways to deal with harsh lighting is to experiment with the sun's position in your photos. This can mean obstructing some of the sun with another object in the frame, which can create beautiful backlighting against your subject. If you want to be daring and have the sunlight dominate your photo, it can provide stark contrasts that help create drama (and these photos often look great in black and white because of the shadows).

4) Tinker with your ISO settings. Most cameras have a manual setting that will allow you to change your ISO, which measures how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. For broad daylight photos, you'd want to keep your ISO setting low at around 100 to 200, because it will allow less bright light into your photos, and will help prevent that over-exposed, white-as-a-ghost look. A higher ISO number is better for situations where there isn't much light -- like a church wedding or a play -- and the higher the ISO gets, the grainier photos tend to look.

5) If all else fails, edit it. Broad daylight hours are a hard time to master for any photographer, so it might take a few trials to get comfortable with the photos you've taken. And in the meantime, there are plenty of post-editing tricks that you can use to help create the lighting you want: HDR, Saturation, Contrast, Sepia, Black and white, etc. My favorite programs to use are Picture2life (for saturation, resizing and sharpening) and Picnik (there's an awesome 1960s feature that creates dreamy, sepia-infused lighting to any photo).

So whether it's during your lunch break, on a beach (lucky!), or out in the desert, broad daylight can be mastered for outfit photos.

What kind of techniques do you use during your summer photography? What kinds of editing tools, if any, do you use? Do you prefer to use equipment, and what kind?

For more on this topic, check out these resources:

- Bright ideas for shooting in midday sun - Digital Photography School
- ISO Camera Setting - Photography Course
- When to use ISO - SLR Photography Guide
- 60 second lessons - idigitalphoto

Earlier on Sidewalk Chic:
- How to pose naturally for outfit photos
- 6 perfect photo locations that are right in front of you
- How to showcase accessories in photography
- Safety in self-photography

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