The 307 Photographer - Using Flash in the Bright Sun

Let me start by apologizing to Kayla, the wonderful model, for not having a better photo to show as an example.

Shooting in bright Daylight can cause major issues with harsh lighting, and deep shadows. Digital cameras don't see the range of highlights and shadows that our eye does. So you look at the scene and think, wow, this gal looks amazing. Then your camera does this. The first image is straight out of the camera. No adjustments. The bright skin tones are expose properly, the back ground and water look acceptable, but our subject is the darkest part of the scene. As we know, they eye is drawn to the lightest part of a photo (In general).

So, how do we fix this issue? Most people will go into photoshop, or camera raw and raise the overal exposure of the image to make the majority of skin tones the proper exposure. But this does horrible things to rest of the image.

No flash Natrual harsh sun - compensated

No flash Natrual harsh sun - compensated

Now we know from our original image that there is in fact details in those areas. But we essentially got rid of them by overexposing the majority of the image.

Now, before you start saying things like HDR, just remember that HDR on skin tones is a very delicate art, and if you can successfully HDR this image, why are you reading my blog? I know I could pull out the details by taking multiple exposure from the same Raw file and get details where I want them, but with skin tones that is a lot of work, and I would spend an hour on this one image. I am not looking to spend an hour on one image. 

 

No Flash, natural bright sunlight.

No Flash, natural bright sunlight.

I raised the exposure on the exact same image approximately 2.5 stops to get the skin tone on her midriff exposed right. Now this doesn't look any better. All the amazing detail in the water is gone, and the rich blues of the lake are pale and desaturated. And the sky is well, nonexistent. All the details in the highlights of her skin are totally washed out. Now shooting in Raw can help recover some of this. I grabbed a threshold shot of this image to show you were there is no detail left. All the white areas on this image are without any details at all.

Threshold mask of overexposed image. White areas have no detail.

Threshold mask of overexposed image. White areas have no detail.

There are other problems with this lighting that cannot be corrected with just a slider, or even hours of HDR work. And that is the amount of detail available in areas that are not exposed properly. This is something you can't just get back. The detail in the eyes is lacking. I focused on the eyes just like I normally do, and you can tell by the detail in the properly exposed areas near the eyes. But the underexposed shadows of the face have less detail. And then when we overexpose the image to compensate we lose the rest of the fine details in the original properly exposed areas. Thereby getting rid of ALL our fine details, and making the entire images soft.

Detail of original shot - Click to enlarge.

Detail of overexposed shot - Click to enlarge.

So, what is the solution?

Get it right in camera. Use a fill flash to properly expose your subject. These images are also straight out of the camera, and shot within a minute of the first one. The lighting didn't change at the lake, I just added light with my speedlight. It is better to use an off camera flash, like I did. But even your popup flash will work to help fill in the shadows and grab the detail.

There is an added benefit of the flash. You get that amazing catchlight in the eyes, which adds life to any portrait. Not to mention the amount of details that show up.

Now that all the details are visible, you also all the reasons I apologized about this image at the beginnin. But it illustrates my point to a great degree.

Detail of shot with flash - click to enlarge

Shot with same settings and an off camera flash to fill in the shadows.

Shot with same settings and an off camera flash to fill in the shadows.

Now that you know, go out and use your flash in the bright daylight. It will make your images much easier to edit, and give you details you forgot your camera could capture.

Side by side comparison - click to enlarge

Side by side comparison - click to enlarge

Phill HarndenComment