24 Hour Special: Harsh Light of High Noon

 
Three different exposures of this photograph were shot and combined in Photoshop to get details throughout the scene. A small aperture helped cause a sunburst. Exposure: f/22, 1/1600sec, 1/800sec, 1/3200sec, ISO 1000 Time: 12 noon. Photograph/Rohit S Krishnan

Three different exposures of this photograph were shot and combined in Photoshop to get details throughout the scene. A small aperture helped cause a sunburst. Exposure: f/22, 1/1600sec, 1/800sec, 1/3200sec, ISO 1000 Time: 12 noon. Photograph/Rohit S Krishnan

While popular notion may not consider noon as an ideal time to shoot pictures, you can use some simple techniques to shoot breathtaking photographs when the sun is overhead.

You may have heard a number of experts say that high noon is not a great time to shoot photographs. The light is harsh, ugly shadows form under the eyes and nose, and the extreme light conditions at midday make it difficult for most digital cameras to capture detail in both shadows and highlights. However, it is possible to shoot great pictures in these challenging light conditions, too! All you need to do is understand the characteristics of light at high noon, and use them to your advantage.

Change Your Vantage Point
People avoid shooting portraits at noon, because the shadows that get formed are not complementary. Avoid this by simply changing the angle and perspective you shoot from. Besides portraits, you can use extreme vantage points to shoot group photographs, urbanscapes and a variety of other subjects. The prime advantage of this technique is that the overhead sun gives direct light on the subject.

Shoot from a higher viewpoint so that your subject looks up at you. This will minimise disturbing shadows and saturate colours. Exposure: f/4.5, 1/2000sec, ISO 100 Time: 1.30pm. Photograph/Ritesh Uttamchandani / Hindustan Times

Shoot from a higher viewpoint so that your subject looks up at you. This will minimise disturbing shadows and saturate colours. Exposure: f/4.5, 1/2000sec, ISO 100 Time: 1.30pm. Photograph/Ritesh Uttamchandani / Hindustan Times

Alternatively, get down extremely low to the ground and shoot, using the blue sky as the background. This will minimise distracting shadows and also enhance the colours of the photograph.

A lower perspective sometimes allows you to minimise ugly, distracting shadows. Exposure: f/4, 1/1250sec, ISO 100 Time: 2.30pm. Photograph/Ram Morrison

A lower perspective sometimes allows you to minimise ugly, distracting shadows. Exposure: f/4, 1/1250sec, ISO 100 Time: 2.30pm. Photograph/Ram Morrison

Keep the Sun Behind You
The sun is exactly overhead at noon only at the equator. In India, the sun will never be directly overhead. Shoot with the sun to your back—this will prevent the sky areas from getting overexposed, and will also enable you to capture deep, blue skies.

Keep the sun behind you to ensure that your subject is lit evenly and to minimise blown-out highlights. Exposure: f/13, 1/320sec, ISO 400 Time: 1.30pm. Photograph/Ram Morrison

Keep the sun behind you to ensure that your subject is lit evenly and to minimise blown-out highlights. Exposure: f/13, 1/320sec, ISO 400 Time: 1.30pm. Photograph/Ram Morrison

Look for Graphic Compositions
While soft light is preferable because it spreads evenly, harsh light can be extremely effective too. The shadows formed at noon are short but extremely dark. Due to this, the shadows add to the graphic nature of the image.

The harsh shadows formed on the crevices of this landscape enhance the contrast and lend a graphic feel to the image. Exposure: f/8, 1/640sec, ISO 400 Time: 11.30am. Photograph/Alok Brahmbhatt

The harsh shadows formed on the crevices of this landscape enhance the contrast and lend a graphic feel to the image. Exposure: f/8, 1/640sec, ISO 400 Time: 11.30am. Photograph/Alok Brahmbhatt

Expose for the Highlights
The contrast in most midday scenes may be too much for the digital sensor and you may not be able to register details in both shadows and highlights. In such a situation, expose for the highlights if you are shooting digital. You can retrieve the shadows during post-processing. Expose for the shadows if you use film.

Camera Settings for Noon
A number of recent digital cameras have features that optimise the dynamic range by boosting shadow detail during the shooting process. Shooting in RAW also helps you retrieve maximum details while post-processing.
Keep the in-camera settings of contrast and saturation to the minimum value. This will ensure that the captured image has maximum details. You could also shoot more than one exposure and combine the images to form a High Dynamic Range photograph.

Use Contrast Innovatively
You can break convention and use the contrasty light innovatively. Extreme underexposure can make your shots at midday look like night. Keep the sun in your frame and underexpose by at least four stops.
Alternatively, you can choose to blow out the highlights by deliberate overexposure. While digitally blown out highlights do not always look good, they can work for certain subjects. A large part of your image will become white and you can use this to give your photographs a surreal, vacuum-like feel.

Midday light through a window or skylight is harsh, but can be used effectively for shooting objects made of glass. Exposure: f/8, 1/125sec, ISO 200 Time: 12 noon. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Midday light through a window or skylight is harsh, but can be used effectively for shooting objects made of glass. Exposure: f/8, 1/125sec, ISO 200 Time: 12 noon. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Make Use of ‘Overhead’ Light
When the sun is high above, it penetrates into tiny bylanes that are otherwise covered only in shadow. You can use this to your advantage. The closely set walls of these lanes act as natural reflectors and make photography in these narrow lanes extremely rewarding.

While lighter colours can get washed out, colours like red and blue appear very saturated in the harsh light of high noon. Exposure: f/8, 1/2000sec, ISO 100 Time: 2pm. Photograph/Craig Jewell

While lighter colours can get washed out, colours like red and blue appear very saturated in the harsh light of high noon. Exposure: f/8, 1/2000sec, ISO 100 Time: 2pm. Photograph/Craig Jewell

Use Harsh Light Indoors
Since the intensity of light is maximum at midday, it is useful while shooting in indoor locations that receive light through a window or any other kind of opening. The light is not soft, but reaches corners that do not receive light otherwise.
This makes noon a good time to shoot inside your room. You can also explore the interiors of buildings, churches and other forms of architecture.

Light at high noon reaches areas that is otherwise dark. Use this to shoot interiors or narrow bylanes. Exposure: f/2.8, 1/60sec, ISO 200 Time: 12.30pm. Photograph/Ned Horton

Light at high noon reaches areas that is otherwise dark. Use this to shoot interiors or narrow bylanes. Exposure: f/2.8, 1/60sec, ISO 200 Time: 12.30pm. Photograph/Ned Horton

Reflect Light Back into the Scene
You can use reflectors to fill in light and reduce the contrast of a scene. This is especially useful for shooting portraiture. If you do not have a reflector, you can use alternatives like a thermocol sheet or a white chart paper. Instead of using a reflector, you can shoot in open shade. Overcast weather works wonders since the clouds act as natural diffusers and soften the light at noon.

The possibility of shooting fantastic pictures at a time that is conventionally not ideal for photography, is a great example of the fact that great photography has no boundaries. The light at high noon may have its share of problems, but it is up to you to convert those into opportunities, and simply shoot.

To see the various ways you can shoot throughout the day, visit http://betterphotography.in/2012/01/13/photography-clock-24hrs-special/

Tags: Raj Lalwani, shadows, contrast, February 2009, 24 hours, overhead light, high noon, harsh light, dynamic range