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Watch Out For Hot Spots!

Posted Jun 26 2009 5:31pm

Capturing the Light;Photography header

"Celebrate Summer - Sun drenched days and starlit nights..". -- Gooseberry Patch.  

 Ahhh, the days of summer are upon us! Days filled with vacation, ice cream,  tea on the rocks, sprinkler fun, flip-flops,  barbecues, family gatherings...the list goes on. I'm willing to bet more photographs are taken during the summer than any other season. 

Summertime . . .with its long, bright days. . .opportune times for picture-taking, and capturing faces of those we love and places we love to be. In this article, we're going to talk about watching for 'hot spots' in photographs, and ways to capture more pleasing portrait-like images of those faces you love, and how to avoid those hot spots on hot days. 

S_MG_1931 - harshlight Are you familiar with the old mantra of "shoot with the sun over your shoulder?" By following that directive,  your subject would be well-lit, your (the photographer's) back is to the sun, and you would avoid the camera flare that could result from you aiming your lens into the direction of the sun. Makes sense, right? Sure, but it can also cause some problems. If the sun is bright, it can cause your subject to squint, not exactly producing a pleasing portrait. Also, you can have the problem of dark shadows under the eyes, as shown in this photo on the left, of my lovely model, Letha.

Not particularly flattering for such a lovely face, is it?

This is something that can be easily missed, because our eyes naturally adjust to the lighting in the scene, and unless something like this is actually looked for, it may go unnoticed. What are some remedies to this problem?

You could try fill-flash, where you turn your flash on to lighten the shadows, but on a bright day like this, S_MG_1962 rim nf it can help a little, but not much. The other thing you can do is reposition your subject where  their back is to the sun, thus putting you in the position to shoot towards the sun. If you have a lens hood on your camera, you can avoid possible lens flare, or you can position your subject at a lower level, such as sitting on the grass,  where you then can shoot at a downward angle to avoid flare from the sun.

  This can produce a nice S_MG_1958 portrait with the hair being highlighted through a technique known as 'rim-lighting' or 'back-lighting', as we see in the image to the right.  However, with the camera's automatic metering, the face came become underexposed; though with the addition of a little fill- flash, we can add a little pop to the eyes, and brighten the face (right).The back-lighting adds some impact to the image, as it is striking and not a common technique purposely used in amateur photographs.  

Using A Shaded Area

An idea spot would be a shaded area, such as the overhang of a building, to place your subject. By doing this, you'll be able to get the benefits of skylight, without  the harshness of direct sun light. In this portrait to the right, Letha was placed in A_MG_1934 of the shading provided by the overhang of a patio cover. Bingo!  Softer lighting that is kinder and gentler to the face. A more glamorous look is produced with the addition of a flash, as this smooths out minor complexion imperfects and skin tones.

All Shaded Areas Are Not Created Equal
S 1946 hot spot In looking for shaded areas, you might think a tree would be the perfect spot to place someone for a nice portrait. Maybe. . . but not necessarily so. One problem to be aware of is spotted light patches that are produced when the sun is filtering through the leaves, as in the image to the left. These hot spots can be difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of, even if you do use flash.

The best thing to do in a situation like this, is to reposition or move your subject altogether, all the while paying attention to the lighting pattern, and doing what you can to avoid hot spots. You can use something to deflect the light, where you can create a barrier to the way the light filters and strikes your subject, but repositioning is the simplest thing to do. 

In the image to the right, Letha was repositioned, still at the same location, so her face was evenly lit S1954. You can see filtered light highlighting her hair, which is fine, with some spillover on her shoulders, which is acceptable, but her face is now clear from the harsh, splotchy hot spots of sunlight. 

Next time you're out shooting your favorite faces, pay a little more attention to the light patterns on those faces. One of the best things to do is your own  practice shoot, following some of these guidelines, and you will sensitize yourself to be more aware of the light and how it's affecting your subject.

Happy Summer, and happy shooting! 


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