Time Of Day
Early morning and late afternoon have always been the favorite times for professional photographers to shoot. It’s not just the warm Kelvin temperatures that create an inviting mood. It’s also the experience of documenting a town coming to life or transitioning to the night. Also, shadows created at those times of day are more pleasing on the eye than those created from the harsh overhead light of midday. That doesn’t mean that cameras should be put away in the vicinity of high noon. The middle hours of the day are a great time to photograph people in open shade or to explore museums and other interior locations.
When traveling, especially in group situations, it’s not always possible to be at the right place at the right time in terms of ideal ambient light. The use of a flash can reduce or eliminate harsh shadows under the eyes, often referred to as “raccoon eyes.” Because most flashes fire at a cooler, i.e., bluer, color temperature than the prevailing ambient light, I usually have a slight warming gel over my flash head in the morning or afternoon to create a correct color balance.
Also, I often hold my flash at arm’s length and trigger it with a remote flash system. This further helps to create a more natural and realistic scene by making the shadows drop down behind the subject. In addition, I’ll often put a Gary Fong Lightsphere Diffusion Dome over the flash head to soften the light with a minimal loss of power. Additional flashes can be added and triggered remotely for all types of creative possibilities.
Rather than saying backlit, I like the French expression contre-jour, which translates as “against the day.” Shooting with the sun behind the subject eliminates harsh shadows and keeps people from squinting. In-camera meters can get thrown off by contre-jour situations and underexpose the scene, so it’s important to know how to utilize the camera’s exposure lock and exposure compensation controls. This technique requires a lens shade and at times a hand to help block the direct light hitting the lens. Without a shade, a lens flare can occur or, at the very least, a flattening or dulling of the colors in the scene will result. I’ve begged students for years in workshops to use this simple piece of plastic or rubber. Why take an expensive piece of glass and reduce it down to the quality of a throwaway camera?
Natural frames can create a 3-D feel in our 2-D medium. Architectural elements and flora, in particular, can be utilized in the foreground to lead the viewer into a given scene.