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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Don't photograph between 10 am and 3pm...

lest you turn into a pumpkin. At least that is almost what you might think if you believe everything you read.

The main reason you see advice like this is that the light during the middle of the day is very harsh and creates very strong shadows. In people portraits this produces big bags under the eyes, nose and chin and looks pretty ugly.

For many landscapes it creates too much contrast for our cameras to render without big splotches of bright, burnt out highlights and black gobs of nothingness in the shadows. Yuck.

Photographing in the softer hours of the morning and evening creates images with less contrast and thus more pleasing results for most subjects - but not all.

As I have said in a previous post there is no such thing as bad light - just the wrong light for certain subjects. The photograph above was taken at Nathan Reef off the far north Queensland coast at exactly 12:55pm - right in the middle of the no-go time zone under one of the harshest suns on the planet.

The reason it works is because there are no shadows worth worrying about. Any shadows that exist don't detract from the main point of the image - which is the vibrant colours of the Great Barrier Reef and the blue sky above. You get these great colours during the middle of the day, with the addition of a polarising filter to cut down on the glare.

Objects consisting of one or two colours (preferably primary colours) photograph really well under strong midday sun. If shadows are a problem you can use a bit of flash to fill them in, put the sun behind your subject to backlight it or turn your top lighting into frontal lighting!

How do you do that you ask? Moving the sun is never an easy proposition so you have to move your position in relation to what it is you're photographing. If you're standing at the same height as the subject you're photographing, the sun will be hitting them from the top. But if you get up high and photograph down on to the subject (so the sun is now behind you) then it becomes frontal lighting. In the photograph above I got up high on the second storey of a Coral Princess ship so that I could look down on the scene.

Try it yourself. Head out to photograph in the 'curfew' hours. Look for subjects that photograph well at this time of the day. Avoid anywhere with high contrast (rainforests, buildings creating shadows etc) and look for more graphic images consisting of one of two bright, primary colours. Think bright blues and reds and greens. And think about having all of your subject in bright sun - not half in sun half in shade.

As I mentioned the image above was taken with a polarising lens on the camera - an indsipensable accessory for anybody photographing around water. It was taken with a very wide-angle lens to emphasise the vastness of the reef, and a small aperture for a large depth-of-field. I placed the horizon just above the centre line because I wanted to emphasise both the water and the beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds in equal proportion.

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