Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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So I'm in the bright sun with no shade around. What can I do to minimize over exposure and shadows with just a regular point and shoot? Should I go into "manual" mode? If so, which mode and what do I want to tweak?

I will not be taking portraits, but rather just general shots like at the beach and parks.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

This is very dependent on options/modes available in your camera, but there are several things you can try:

  • Try to get the sun behind you, as that will allow a little more even lighting.
  • if your camera has an exposure adjustment, try to decrease the exposure by -.5 to -1.
  • if you can, set the iso to the lowest setting possible (100 probably)

In the end though, during the day under the bright sun is difficult no matter what camera you have. If you are able, pick a time of day when the sun is not as bright. Some of the best landscape pictures (and other styles as well) are taken during the "Golden hour", the time just after/before sunrise/sunset.

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+1 nice answers :P –  Alan Aug 2 '10 at 19:52
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The most important thing to do is to reduce the exposure (EV, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture if your camera supports that).

If you can do that, then you can also try firing your flash (yes, add more light). When used this way it's called a "fill flash", and the idea is to raise the brightness of the areas in shadow. When you do that and reduce the overall exposure, you'll get a more balanced picture with less hard shadows.

However, you're at the mercy of your flash here; I doubt most point & shoot cameras will have enough flash power to really compensate for the outdoor light. And that's assuming your camera can reduce the exposure enough to begin with.

This is where SLRs stand out; they give you more control over what you can do. They also tend to support hot-shoe flashes, which are bigger and more powerful.

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A lot of point & shoot cameras let you half-press the shutter button to lock the focus and exposure settings, so if you can't change them manually you may be able to 'trick' your camera like this:

  • Point it at something that that's about the same brightness as your main subject, without the harsh background light
  • While still holding the shutter half down, turn the camera to point back at your main subject
  • The camera should still have the focus and exposure settings from before, so you may be able to get get a shot with with more shadow detail (at the cost of loosing detail in the highlights)

NOTE: Doing it this way also means your camera won't re-focus when you turn it, so you'll want to make sure your "example subject" is close to the same distance away, otherwise it'll be out of focus (which does kind of make this of limited use, but I have found it handy at times)

This is probably also more useful for portrait type shots rather than general ones, so might not be much help for you :/

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Unfortunately the high contrast light and shade caused by harsh sunlight cannot really be compensated for, even with high-end cameras. If you want a good exposure, try to shoot with the sun over your shoulder (as long as your shadow isn't in shot) so that most of what you are shooting is evenly lit.

There's no definite way to tell you how to set your camera. Manual won't give you any different results if you just follow what the camera tells you is correctly exposed, rather than making a judgment yourself on top of that. If you camera doesn't have spot metering, then I'd advise filling the frame with an area of grass that is lit in the same way as your subject, expose for that grass, and keep that setting for your photo. At the beach, the same will work with sand instead of grass if you remember that sand is lighter than grass, about 1.5 stops.

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One small thing I've found useful is the way I hold the camera. If I focus on an object and tilt the camera a bit down, as if I'm taking the shot from above, it helps reduce exposure, especially, if the sun is overhead.

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The camera's Program Auto Exposure should do a good job with bright sun shots.

Depending on the features of your P&S you may have the following options:

  • You use a bracketed exposure, taking several shots of a scene and use post-processing software to combine them into a single exposure.

  • If you notice that the camera is overexposing, you might be able to use "exposure compensation" to dial down the exposure settings by 1,2 or even 3 stops.

  • Use manual mode, to correct for the camera's overexposure by under exposing

  • Avoid taking pictures when the sun as directly overhead (ie try the mornings or evenings)

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