BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: Questions with Sample Photos

Photography Question 
Laura Johnson

Shooting subjects half in sun and shadow

  Lazy Leopard
Lazy Leopard
Subject in sun and shade. How best to balance this type of shot?
© Laura Johnson
any tips of shooting a subject that is half in and half out of the shadow. Obviuosly, the camera can only cope with the shadow or sun, how do you get a well balanced shot.
See example attached.

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1/30/2002 4:59:19 AM

Ken Pang  
"What's that? Is he edible?"
© Ken Pang
Since 90% is in the shadow, and he's the subject, just balance for that, and let the rest be washed out.

That's just an opinion. Others might differ.

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2/2/2002 6:34:58 AM

doug Nelson   Laura,
You're butting heads with one of the most common problems in photography-scenes with great differences in lighting. Your timing's great; John just answered your question below with his excellent explanation of metering systems. It makes no difference which metering system you have; just be aware of what part of the screen is being metered. Once you know what your camera does with different kinds of situations, you can second-guess the meter.

In the leopard example above, suppose you know your meter is a very common center-weighted one. The shadow detail you wanted is off-center, the animal's head. You'd do a little mental calculation that says, the meter's gonna freak when it sees all that bright light and speed up the shutter (or close down my aperture) in response to all that light, SO I'll give it a stop more exposure(one shutter speed slower or one aperture click of opening, or a + 1 on the exposure compensation dial).

In a difficult lighting situation, bracket your exposures. What this means is to shoot over and maybe under what the meter tells you, so that you're sure to get your exposure the way you want it. In a scene like the leopard, you're unlikely to improve the shot by allowing less light through, so you'd give it 1/2 stop more, a whole stop more, and even more, just to be sure.

Your camera might allow you to take a light meter reading centering the cat's head. Then you recompose the scene and try it that way.

Shoot more, practice, keep track of what you do, and remember mistakes you make. I foul up shots like this still, so don't feel alone.

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2/4/2002 8:41:27 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy   There are a couple of different approaches to what you are asking. First of all it is important to know whether you are using slide film or negative. I'll take a shot in the dark and assume your using negative film.

The first and simplist approach when using negative film is to simply expose for the shadows (especially if the majority of the main subject is in the shadows). The more complicated approach is to determine the exact ratio of the scene. Meter the shadows and then meter the highlights and determine how many stops apart they are (metering similar toned objects). Typical color negative film has a range of around 7 stops. It can handle about 2 stops of under exposure and about 5 stops of over exposure. If your scene has a range of 7 stops then meter the shadows and underexpose them by 2 stops. If the range is greater than that then you have to decide whether you want to sacrifice shadows or highlights and adjust your exposure accordingly. Of course you could just decide not to take the shot at all.

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2/4/2002 6:59:00 PM

Laura Johnson   Hi Jeff,

Thanks - I am kind of getting the picture.
However, could you give that to me with an example.

If I have set my f-stop to F8 and the highlight reads at 1/250 and the shadow at 1/60, there is 2 stops difference.... and this is where I get lost.

Would I change my fstop and shitter speed or only my shutter speed? Essentially, I'd prefer NOT to blow the highlights completely.


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2/5/2002 1:36:10 AM

doug Nelson   Shoot one at 1/60 for the shadow. Split the difference on the next one and try 1/125.
If you have no extreme depth-of-field issue, f8 was a good choice, as most lenses are at their sharpest around there. However, if you want to try, say, a half stop difference, make the change in your aperture, as there are no click stops between the shutter speeds.

If your camera has an electronic shutter, and you make your changes with the aperture, the camera may give you an intermediate shutter speed that will correspond exactly with the aperture you set.

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2/5/2002 7:35:41 AM

Laura Johnson   Guys, thank you very mcuh will try and report !


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2/5/2002 8:03:33 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy   If you are shooting negative film and there is only a 2 stop difference between the high lights and the shadows then you shouldn't have any problem shooting at the shadow reading. One thing to keep in mind when you get the prints back is that quite often prints made on an automated machine won't be correctly printed. IOW they are printed to a mid tone and if the majority of your shot is bright the machine will print them down to a darker tone and you will lose shadow detail. Conversely, if the majority of the shot is in shadow they will be printed lighter and your high lights will appear blown out. What I'm saying is, you may have nailed the exposure but the printer screwed up the prints. So don't be discouraged if you try the advice you've received and the prints don't look any better. You can either take them back and have them reprinted or start shooting slide film.

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2/5/2002 11:14:38 AM

Bill McFadden   I'm still struggling with these situations myself but I'll offer my two cents. You may want to consider using fill-in flash if the subject is within roughly 10 to 15 feet (at most) from your location. Of course, when shooting leopards, that distance may not be feasible! By the way, I love the second photo. Larry Peters, who have seen in a couple instructional videos, makes literally a million per year using a simple philosphy. If there is more than a 2 stop difference between your subject and the background, add flash to adjust the lighting so that there is one stop difference. Peters, though, shoots senior portraits and can be in a controlled situation, in-doors or out-doors. I tried the five stop rule with film and found that when the background is five stops more than the subject, you get an almost silhouette situation. Shadow with very little detail on the subject's face.

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3/28/2003 9:57:50 AM

Henry Baynes   You just need to use a tripod and shoot twice: one shoot with the correct exposure for the shadow and the second with the correct exposure for the highlight . Then you can work this images in photoshop and merge the two together merging the layers. It can be also acomplished if you are shooting transparency by sandwiching the two together. Just bracket to get the right exposures.

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11/12/2003 7:38:16 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   What Henry says is true but it's also a lot of extra work. If you just get the exposure right in camera you don't need to do any PS merging and tweaking.

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11/12/2003 9:33:05 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  You could try using some fill flash to bring out his face. The grass right by the leapard will be really bright but the grass behind him won't show too much difference. But if you can get it's face to show up well, that will make the picture look much better because that's what will draw the attention in the picture.
But you should also get to the zoo right when it opens. At high noon, everyones sleeps. The sun is lower and it's cooler at the time the zoo opens.

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11/26/2003 5:06:48 AM

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