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Working With the Sun in Photography

This weekend will be Memorial Day weekend and that's when many of us here in the United States consider summer to start -- regardless of what the calendar and the moon say. Summer photography means generally more light, brighter light, and more heat needs to be taken into account when doing any kind of outdoor photography. Lens flares and ghosts from the sun's rays can be either intrusive or desirable depending on the effect you're going for in that particular photo. So, with that in mind, here are a few tips to help you deal with the sun and its impact in your outdoor photography during these summer months. 1) People will squint if forced to look towards the sunlight. This is not a controllable thing. Plenty of parents and novice photographers seem to think that their subjects can control all of their involuntary reactions. The desire to use the sun as any other lighting source is strong and far too many photographers have their subjects face into the sun and are then displeased with the squinting eyes. 2) Be careful of shooting into the sunlight. The optics and sensors in the average commercial camera are not designed to withstand repeated shots of the sun. Generally you'll need to place a screen of a welder's mask over the lens to protect the optics if you are trying to get a shot of an eclipse or a transport or something else crossing between Earth and the Sun. Also, if you're doing sky photography or sunset photos, then you will still need to be careful to use the proper settings and filters to keep from burning out your camera. 3) Don't go to the other extreme of no-light. Okay, so you've finally gotten sick of squinting photographs and decided to put your subjects in the shade where the light is diffuse and the temperature moderately cooler. Only now, your photos are too dark. What's a photographer to do? Well, you can pick a shady area that isn't completely dark but where the sunlight is softened and muted by overhead foliage, a screen, or buildings. 4) If the lighting is getting to you, try bouncing it. You don't need a big, expensive muted or frosted-glass mirror that weighs a ton to help you redirect light. A few pieces of cardboard and some tin foil will do the trick nicely. This way, you can reflect and refract the light from the sun to exactly where you want it and, with practice, you can even control the intensity of the lighting to a limited extent. Portrait photographers often do this with those umbrella lighting rigs you see in their studios. 5) Sunscreen. Don't be reckless about being out in the sun and don't demand that your subjects be reckless. Use sunscreen to ensure that the next day's photos aren't either painful or involving people who are beet-red and tired from a night of not sleeping well. 6) Water. As the temperatures climb, take frequent water breaks and insist that your subjects drink water as well. Better that you need to arrange for an unscheduled trip to the loo than an unscheduled trip to the ER for heat exhaustion. -- da Bird
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