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  1. #1
    sheil's Avatar
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    Question Exposure: How to shoot outside on a cloudy day?

    Please take a look at IMG_2851.jpg | Flickr - Photo Sharing!.

    My question is regarding how to properly expose photos on a cloudy day, such as the one in the sample shot. I've been out to shoot on two separate days - one at the Rennaissance Faire in NY and another at a day in Washington DC - and both days have been extremely overcast. It's made exposing for photos outside very difficult, particularly because the sky ends up extremely washed out. I've tried using a graduated filter in Lightroom and it's helped a bit, but the resulting photo also ends up looking a little fake and weird (see IMG_2924.jpg | Flickr - Photo Sharing!). If you manually underexpose to compensate for the sky, the subject at front ends up looking dark.

    I wanted to see if anyone had any advice on shooting in such a scenario. Do you just avoid sky shots altogether? How do you work with a sky that will inevitably end up overexposed? Would appreciate all the help.
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    Ok.. You're shooting dark subjects against a bright sky, which is no different to putting a bright light behind your subject. Inevitably you will get either washed out highlights or dark subjects.

    The way to get round this is to make the highlights and lowlights less different (Decrease the contrast or dynamic range if you like) either to use an NDGrad filter to darken the bright areas, which for some reason you don't like although I think the photo is far better than the first, or you can use a fill in flash by forcing your on camera flash to fire, which will brighten the dark areas (or both). The result is likely to be something much more acceptable to your eye.

    You could also try using the HDR function on your camera if it has one, but if you didn't like the ND grad, you probably won't like that.
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    Two things come to my mind right now: You can try HDR (Taking two different exposures and layering them), but it'll probably be hard to get the people to stay perfectly still.
    That other is use a small flash or reflectorts to provide some fill light.
    Not too much help, but This looks like a good starting place
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    Thanks for your replies, guys. I'll answer em one by one:

    1. It's not that I'm completely against NDGrad filters, but like I said, I always thought it make photos look really weird and fake. Do you think using a physical filter (one that goes on the lens) versus fixing it later in Lightroom is a better option?

    2. HDR is definitely an option that I've embraced (see Dark Days in Washington | Flickr - Photo Sharing!). It's a little tougher to do when shooting handheld and I always figured HDR portraits always would turn out terrible, but maybe I should explore it a little further.
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    Fill flash + underexposing ambient light (i.e. sky) via shutter priority mode. Basically, you expose for the sky first (underexposing) and I start at around 1/250 as my base. If I want darker, then go higher up, if you want brighter then go slower. Once you get the right exposure you want, then you use flash to light up your subject. You can compensate for flash exposure of course and you will need to adjust according to how you want your subject lit.

    Then shoot.

    I saw this on youtube . Search for shooting with ambient light.

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    sheil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by graciousness View Post
    Fill flash + underexposing ambient light (i.e. sky) via shutter priority mode. Basically, you expose for the sky first (underexposing) and I start at around 1/250 as my base. If I want darker, then go higher up, if you want brighter then go slower. Once you get the right exposure you want, then you use flash to light up your subject. You can compensate for flash exposure of course and you will need to adjust according to how you want your subject lit.

    Then shoot.

    I saw this on youtube . Search for shooting with ambient light.
    Underexposing + fill flash is something I thought about right after I posted. I've always been generally afraid to use flash because I'm not a big fan of artificial light (probably because I don't know how to use it). I'll have to research this further and experiment.
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    Quote Originally Posted by sheil View Post
    Underexposing + fill flash is something I thought about right after I posted. I've always been generally afraid to use flash because I'm not a big fan of artificial light (probably because I don't know how to use it). I'll have to research this further and experiment.
    I used to feel that way but I've changed my mind, realising that I am seriously restricting photo opportunities if I don't learn how to shoot with flash. Then I started learning and you know what, it's quite exciting because I have realised how much opportunities you can do with artificial light. The secret, of course, is learning how to use flash without making it look like you used one.

    With fill flash, you can even get away with using on camera flash (built in) if that's all you have. Depending on your camera, you can still compensate how much light you want for the flash to give out.

    I still prefer photos taken in natural light. However, we can't always get the beautiful shots we want if we are only relying on this.

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    A GND filter in front of the lens wold be very useful here. Exposure wise, here's what I would do.
    1. Put camera in manual mode, set shutter speed to 1/250 sec.
    Why?
    Because this is typically the max shutter sync speed. This will minimize the ambient light relative to the flash. The flash duration is typically 1/1000-1/20000 sec., so it is basically unaffected by shutter speed. Max sync speed enables you to use larger aperture which does effect flash exposure.

    2. Meter off the sky, and select aperture that gives correct exposure for sky at selected shutter speed. If I wasn't using a GND, I would probably over expose the sky by one f stop.
    Why?
    Because I don't want the background elements ( castle, people, etc.) to get too dark, the sky is normally bright anyway, and you should still get detail. Of course you will chimp and change this as required.

    3. Set flash in TTL mode. It is important in TTL to keep the focus point on the subject, because that's where the camera measures the pre-flash from to set flash power. If you must focus and re-compose, use the flash value lock before re-composing.

    4. Chimp, look at LCD and histograms, and adjust ambient and/or flash as required.

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