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by Bart Arondson

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I like hiking, and usually take my DSLR with me. I often find myself in front of beautiful landscapes, with the sun really high or directly in front of me. The resulting pictures are usually pale, ie they lack contrast (I don't know if I'm clear). Also, the sky is usually very clear.

This can usually be post-processed, but what are the techniques for getting good pictures in such conditions ?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I think this is an example of: use the opportunities you have, rather than the ones you wish you had. The situation you describe is tricky, and it'll be difficult to get the kind of grand, well-lit landscape that you seen in magazines. But, as Kyle suggests, perhaps there are different interpretations of the scene that could work. Some specific suggestions (some of which are mentioned in other answers as well):

  • Keep the sun off your glass (not just out of the frame): shoot from the shade, use a lens hood, shade the lens with your hand or a hat, etc.
  • If you want a blue sky, underexpose or shoot in manual, spot-metering off the sky.
  • A polarizer will help.
  • Make note of interesting scenes and come back when the light is better.

Good luck!

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(Spot) metering in different part of the scene is helpful, and trying different combinations helps, too. Luckily landscapes usually allow you a bit of experimenting... –  Francesco Jul 24 '11 at 8:39
  • As others mention, time of day. I found over the years that these dramatically lit scenes mostly don't turn out, as you mention, but the times immediately before the extreme sunset light and the times after the extreme sunrise light look amazing on actual photos. The colors pop, the dynamic range is not to strong, the angles of light are interesting. Keep an eye out for the first morning light and the last afternoon light (but not necessarily sunset/sunrise or dusk/dawn--- these look good to our eyes but tend to overwhelm the camera).
  • Try turning around and seeing what the sun is lighting up behind you. In other words don't plan to shoot directly at the sunset or at the sunrise, try shooting at what the sun is lighting up. Plan sunrise and sunset hikes (if that's your thing) with not only (A) the colorful sunrise/sunset sky in mind (what you describe) but also watch for (B) the colorful landscape/scenery lit by the colorful part of the sky (the golden colors).
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If you use a Canon body, Digital Photo Professional (DPP) has a series of picture styles you can try. Emerald PS comes to mind. It brings out the colors during well lit days when pictures might look pale and uninteresting. This is post processing, but DPP allows you to create a set up you like on one photo, then simply copy it to all photos.

If you shoot in JPEG, then lens hood and under exposing are your best options. Filters will also help, but its additional money you need to invest.

Also, make sure you set the right white balance.

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Polarizers and neutral density filters will go a long way to help this, but they are not a panacea. At some point you will hit their limits and will need to consider an alternate time of day to really get the shot. That is, after all, the "secret" of photography: the right time at the right place.

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Time of day

Underexposing

Graduated ND filter

HDR with tonemapping (I don't like overcooked HDR, but you can make it look very realistic, all depends on the settings).

If there are foreground subjects, a strobe setup.

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In this case you might try under exposing the image. I think you will still want to post process it but if your white areas end up clipped with digital you might have a little less room to create more contrast in post processing. This also might be a place where shooting in raw might give you a little more range you can work with in post processing as well.

You might also look for a way to make the flatness of the lighting work with the landscape. If you get lots of layers and then maybe flatten the perspective even more with a telephoto you might get kind of a nice gradient feel to the overall image. You know, something artsy like that ;-)

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I'd say time of day is the best thing if you can control that ;)

This is discussed more in this question

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