Before you take a picture outside, stop and think a moment.

You know you do not want a picture with your subjects squinting into the sun. So, turn subjects away from the sun.

But you also do not want this – a picture of the same people pointing the other way. In tis picture, my students on my photo walk on Sunday are no longer squinting, but they are too dark, and the background is too bright:

Students (Photo: Michael Willems)

Not bad.. but noise hides in the shadows, while bright pixels are sharp pixels.


  1. Reduce exposure of the background to two stops below ambient (-2 stops, e.g. by using exposure compensation, or by using manual settings for aperture, shutter and ISO);
  2. Use flash. Even a single flash on camera.
  3. Consider making that flash warmer by using a 1/4 Hol photo CTO Gel (set your white balance to “flash”).

You now get what you want: brighter people and yet, a darker, more saturated, background. We’ve turned things around!

Students (Photo: Michael Willems)

Better eh!

(Yes, I grant you, straight flash is sub-optimal, so off-camera flash or softboxes (or a combo) would be even better of course. If I had had it at hand, I would have put my Honl softbox on the flash. Or you can use the Fong Lightsphere perhaps. Or raise the flash with a bracket. Or set up two flashes, one left and one right, to get a little rim lighting, as in image one – but lit well. Or use a flash turned down a little using Flash Exposure Compensation. Flash really has no limits to how you can use it creatively.)

For sure, this one is acceptable.

Here’s another one using the same technique:

Stop! (Photo: Michael Willems)

Make this STOP sign your beginning: go make a picture exactly like mine. On a bright day, using on-camera flash.


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