Keeping it simple

Today I shot some photos of the tenth Toronto Annual World Naked Bike Ride. So if nude human bodies offend you (and I truly hope they do not: I cannot see why they should), you do not need to read on.

If, however, you want to learn a little sunny day snap technique, read on.

Above: the snappers snapped. I photographed the “getting ready” part, in Coronation Park, right at the lakeshore in downtown Toronto. There are always curious people at an event like this who come out with their DSLRs to snap something that apparently they have never seen: “nude!!! women!!!”. My advice to those people: grow up, or at at least gather up some courage and get naked yourselves, too.

As a lens, I chose the 24-70 f/2.8 zoom. A zoom for convenience, and that one because it is razor sharp. Camera was the 1Dx.

And it was a mainly sunny day. Easy, therefore. Right?

No. Sunny days give contrasty light, ugly hard shadows, and washed out colours.  I want the opposite.

And to get that I want to use, you guessed it, my flash. That enables me to make the background a little darker, meaning saturated colours; and it fills in the shadows. Even a bare on-camera flash. So that is what I used. Without a flash I would have had to expose faces etc with ambient light, and the backgrounds would have had to be very bright. And washed out.

I want to not have too dark a background when I am using an unmodified on camera flash. So my technique is:

  • Camera on manual.
  • Flash in TTL mode, aimed straight ahead. I used a 600EX flash.
  • 100 ISO
  • 1/250th sec (synch speed)
  • Now choose an aperture that gives you a slightly dark background. Depending on cloud cover, this can be between f/5.6 and f/16. If your subject is not in direct sunlight, i.e. if you manage to find a little shade, you may well get away with f/5.6.
  • Constantly watch the light. If clouds cover the sun, be ready to go down in aperture number.

My aperture was between 5.6 and 11 for most of the day.

And as you see, the pictures have a nice vivid look. Without flash, I could not have done that. Take this:

1/250 sec, 100 ISO and f/6.3. If she had been entirely in the sun, I would have needed a higher f-number.

One more, and again you see the vividness, and the nice saturated colours, that only flash can help you achieve on a sunny day:

That was 1/250th, ISO100, f/9. So again, I watch the light constantly and adjust the f-number only.

Here, I am using f/5.6:

I.e. here I have a little more ambient light, for a lighter look. Each picture can be different; you need to get a feel for the light.

So in conclusion: for sunny day snaps, you’ll do better if you have a flash available. And in that case use ISO 100, 1/250th sec (or 1/200, if that is the maximum your camera handles with flash), and then just vary aperture from 5.6 up. Flash on TTL, perhaps dialled down a little (note: I say may because a Canon camera does this anyway if you have bright ambient conditions: it assumes that you want simple fill flash.)

Enjoy. (And I hope Naked News TV uses the interview they did with me!)

FOOTNOTE: last day for the Father’s Day Specials. Please check for them. Portrait, lesson and book discounts for dad. Got to buy by tomorrow!


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