Making pictures with John Enman: Pictures shot in the sun

The contrast in light from shadows to highlights on a very sunny day can be too extreme for a camera’s sensor to capture

Bright sun and clear sky might be great for some scenic photographers, but it can cause many problems when photographing people.

My assignment this week was to photograph an event that began at 2:30 under almost clear skies, and where even in the shade the temperature hovered in the mid-30° degrees celsius. The location was on a south-facing, treeless, hilltop with a sprawling vineyard in the background.

The event, other than a large group shot of all the guests, was held under five large, white tents, and my goal was to balance my flash and exposure to lighten up my subjects without glare, or shadows, and properly expose the field’s sun-drenched background.

The contrast in light from shadows to highlights on a very sunny day can be too extreme for a camera’s sensor to capture. I always look for open shade, or place the sun behind my subjects and use a flash.

I meter for the mid tones like the grass, or, in this case, a large open field, and underexpose about two stops, then balance the overall image using my flash.

My flash sits on a bracket and the flash is attached to my camera with a wire so I can remove the flash and hold it at different angles if I need to.

I did notice people wielding point and shoot digital and a couple photographers with DSLRs trying to use their pop-up flashes, but I am sure they were disappointed with their results on that sunny day as the extremes from black to white are just too much for digital sensors.

Fortunately, photographers can load images into Photoshop, and no matter if they are JPG or RAW files can be optimized using Adobe RAW – an amazing application that gives additional control over exposure, shadow, and highlight detail.

Adobe RAW can even help with those not-so-well focused images.  I use that program to polish my images and make them all that they can be which is much better than settling for photographs mass corrected at a big box lab.

After selecting the best images, I correct the white balance and colour using Photoshop.  I make the photo look pretty much the way they appear through the camera and the images taken in the bright sun now have lots of detail.

Another program I regularly use (and think is amazing) is by Nik Software Inc. and is called Viveza.   Viveza allows selective control of light and colour. With that program I can maintain the colour and tonality while changing the background and blending the effect exactly.  All this isn’t much different than I used to do in my old film darkroom except now it is more precise, the process can be duplicated, and overall everything is easier.

Between the two programs I am able, without spending too much time in post-production, to provide my clients with polished and balanced images that do not show the harsh environmental realities of that day.

Sure, sunny clear days please us all and when planning an outdoor event we prefer that to rain, but for photographers the sun and harsh unflattering shadows on people’s faces isn’t the best outcome. My advice is not to approach this type of photography the same way as a scenic and to begin with test shots and constantly pay attention to the exposure, and absolutely use a flash for the best outcome.

These are my thoughts this week. Contact me at or Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops.  And if you want an experienced photographer please call me at 250-371-3069. I also sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment.








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