Photography In Harsh Lighting
Taking photos during the middle of the day outside is a difficult setting to shoot in. It is difficult to work with shadows and exposures when shooting anytime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The way I have learned to create the best quality photographs during these times has been through trial and error with different shutter speeds on my camera, being conscious of backgrounds and foregrounds, and developing my editing skills. I will always under expose my photos during this time of day because it allows for more to be done in the editing process. Aperture (f-stop), ISO, and the shutter speed all work together to control the photo’s exposure. In brighter settings, the lowest aperture and ISO and a faster shutter speed will help to expose the image correctly. Perfect exposure is typically what is ideal for photography, but in harsh lighting it is necessary to consider under exposing the photos slightly because the perfect shutter speed on the exposure meter of your camera will still look over exposed. With lighting like this, I always shoot with a vision for how I need to edit the pictures, because of how heavily I rely on editing to get colors and lighting to make the photo beautiful. I do all of my editing in Adobe Lightroom, all of the editing adjustments I did for the following images were applied after putting a Kodak Portra 160 preset over the image. I used the Kodak Portra preset because it corrects the colors automatically to look like it was shot on a roll of Kodak Portra 160 film, which composes beautiful colors for high noon shooting. If you do use Lightroom for editing but do not use any presets, the following adjustments I describe are still very applicable!
This photo was taken at around 1 p.m. on a hot and sunny day. I shot it with a faster shutter speed so that the image was a little darker, because that allowed me to darken the colors in the background but lighten up the color of the horse in order to keep a good contrast. It is also important to be aware of the background and the colors that are behind the shot. With this one, I took it at an angle that had a few different blues, reds, greens and yellows to adjust in the editing process. With less colors in the background, it makes for difficult editing because often times the blue sky is difficult to work with.
This is an example of having a more difficult background to shoot with. It only has a couple different colors and just a lot of blue from the sky. The best thing to do when the background is tough to work with is import your photo into Adobe Lightroom and adjust the luminance, saturations, and hues with the colors you have. The horse is a mix of red and orange so with this one specifically I softened the hue by lowering the saturation of red and orange and increasing the luminance of both. In order to keep the horse’s face as the center of attention, I lowered the saturation and luminance of the green, yellow, and blue to make them a bit darker. I also adjusted the hues by moving the green more towards yellow and the blue towards more aqua. As you can see, there are still shadows on the horse’s face, but shadows are not always a bad thing to keep in a photo. If you try and lighten up the shadows and blacks in a photo during high noon, the photo can become over exposed and lose its beauty. With this specific photo, I embraced the shadows on the face because it creates a good contrast of colors throughout the whole image.
This photo I used a similar process as the others. First, shooting the picture at a lower exposure because of the harsh lighting. Really the only two colors in this image are orange and green. I lowered the saturation of both because the high noon sun will cause colors to saturate a little more. I also adjusted the green hue to be a little more yellow to compliment the orange in the horses better. I also moved the hue of orange towards yellow and away from red. Finally I moved the luminance of the green to be a little lower for a more neutral contrast and increased the luminance of orange to make the colors of the horses be lighter and help compliment the contrast it has with the green.
These tips are all based on my personal process for photography in harsh lighting, it is not the only way to create beautiful shots in this particular setting.