Three Nightmare Lighting Conditions and How to Shoot in Them

By Mike Panic / July 13, 2010

Knowing how to manipulate, capture and deal with light is what makes you a photographer.  Even the best photographers can often be dealt a bad hand with lighting and nightmare conditions exist, it's how you shoot in them that makes all the difference. Here are three of the worst lighting conditions and how to shoot in them.

Bright, Midday Sun

Johannes

Photo by kwerfeldein

Oddly enough, shooting in the middle of the day seems to be an obvious no-brainer, but it can actually be one of the most difficult lighting situations to shoot in.  For portraits, people and group shots, always use a flash to help fill in light on the face caused by the sun directly above you.  Alternatively, look to shoot in the shade of a tree, building or other structure to help reduce the harsh shadows.  A large reflector is also an option to help fill in shade.  When shooting nature, wildlife and landscape shots, utilize a polarizer filter to help saturate the bright sky and set the exposure compensation on your camera to -1/3 to -2/3rds to help even out the direct light from the sky and the reflected light from the ground below. If all else fails, don't forget the sunny f/16 rule and you should get something worthwhile.

Candid Family Photos Indoors

Playing Games

Photo by Brian Auer

Photos inside, during the evening, around family dinner time, a birthday party or other event that happens inside can be some of the most difficult lighting situations.

Lets assume the sun has gone down for the evening so light will be mixed based on the different bulbs used through your home.  Utilizing a flash will only work if non-reflective objects are not in the frame, such as picture frames or in the case of the photo above, a sliding glass door.  If you can use a flash, aim it towards the ceiling and / or use a light modifier like the Sto-Fen Omnibounce to help diffuse the light, but be aware it's only good for 12-15′ total distance, and light intensity diminishes by up to 1 full stop when using a diffuser.

The way the photo above was captured was by utilizing a very high ISO, 1000 in this case, and a custom white balance.  We've already shown you how to manually set a white balance and why you need to, so once that's done just shoot away.  Newer DSLRs are capable of insanely high ISO with very little digital noise, so don't go grabbing for the flash right away, try utilizing existing light.

Moving Water

Little Rapids

Photo by turbojoe (away)

Moving water is synonymous with photography, in the same way train tracks and sunsets, but it can be a real bugger to actually shoot properly. The concept is simple to comprehend, it's the execution that takes some understanding to nail.

A tripod is needed and the easiest way to shoot this is on shutter priority, where you choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the right aperture.  The problem is, on bright days with the sun reflective off the water, like in the shot above, your lens can't always close itself enough to allow for a properly exposed long shutter shot.

To compensate, a neutral density, or ND filter is needed.  Think of these creative filters as sunglasses for your camera, reducing the amount of light allowed to pass through them.  The shot above was on a ND4 filter, but they come in several different numbers and can be stacked to decrease light on really bright days.  Again, utilize exposure compensation to work out slight over / under exposures once you are in the right area of where you want the shot.

The fun in photography comes from the challenges and how to overcome them.  These are only three difficult lighting situations explained, but the concepts can be applied to so many more!

About the author

Mike Panic

is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.

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