Little House on the Suburb

Big Sky

The clouds in the sky were awesome this afternoon! I was heading home a different way after running an errand and decided to whip into McDaniel Farm Park where I’ve been many times. There wasn’t a whole lot of light left, so I didn’t go far into the park.

I learned a lesson today. I’ve been taking some of my older cameras and lenses out with me, honestly, because I didn’t want them to think that I have discarded them. Yes, I know it’s stupid, but I grow attached to things that have served me well and that I have enjoyed. I’ve even cried when trading in vehicles, for heaven’s sake!

However, today would have been a great day to have my best camera and best lens, and I didn’t. This isn’t a bad image, it’s just not what it could have been, both in detail and in lack of distortion.

Photo tip: How to avoid silhouetted objects

Be aware that when you shoot toward the sun, and you don’t make any compensating adjustments, the objects in the foreground are going to be in silhouette. (See original, unedited photo at bottom of post.)

Assume that if you can actually see the sun in your peripheral vision, your camera lens can also “see” it, and it affects how much light gets to your sensor. This is what happens with automatic metering. Metering is when the sensor takes in all the light information that’s in its frame and tries to strike a happy average. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well when there is a lot of light. What the sensor is doing is going “Oh, there’s more than enough light for this picture, I’m going to darken the objects to average out the scene.” Your eyes do the same thing. When you’re looking toward the sun, you squint to minimize the effect of that much light hitting the “sensors” at the back of your eyes.

There are a few ways to minimize the chance of images that are in silhouette (unless that’s the look you’re going for).

One is to try to position yourself where the sun is at your back over one of your shoulders, not straight behind if possible, but off to one side. Right behind you will cast no interesting shadows on the object in front of you (and might actually cast YOUR shadow into the frame). If the sun is slightly off to one side or the other, the light will come in at angles that cast good shadows. Shadows help to define depth and create good darks to balance the highlights. Of course, it’s not always possible to be in this relation to the sun and your object of interest, but at least consider it if it’s possible.

Another possibility is if your camera has an exposure lock (AE-L button on many cameras), you can “meter” on an object that doesn’t have any excess light in frame, then reframe your shot, and shoot. This is really a lesson in itself. Perhaps I’ll cover at at different time.

If your camera allows you to raise and lower your exposure settings (called EV steps) for the object you’re shooting, this can help too. If you want to lighten the dark object, raising your EV +1 or +2 will result in a lighter image, however it will also run the risk of “blowing out” the details in the bright areas. Conversely, lowering the EV to -1 or -2 will result in darker darks, but your light areas will have more detail. Use this technique when you are willing to gain detail and clarity in the main object and lose detail and clarity in the others.

If you have a point-and-shoot with no settings that allow you anything other than position, you can try taking your flash off automatic and make it flash as fill light into the dark spaces. Depending on your distance and the brightness of the scene, it might not make that much difference. My only other advice is to move into your subject as close as you can and still get the shot you want. As long as you can fill up the frame with something that blocks out extra light, you’re less likely to have a silhouette as a result.

Since I know what I can do with my files after I’ve shot, I don’t worry too much about shooting toward the sun. I try NOT to, but when the scene presents itself so that it’s my only option, I do it. This is the advantage of shooting RAW files and having software that helps pull out the details that would be lost otherwise. In this case, I was more interested in capturing the beauty of the skies, knowing I could adjust the house later. Had my focus been the house, I would have metered for it instead.

(Oh, I actually laid down on my stomach for this shot so I would get as much sky as I could. First time I’ve done that in a public place. The smell of wild onions and the coolness of the grass was wonderful and made me want Spring to hurry up!!)

See unedited image below.

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