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Firstly, of course, photography is all about light, but for doco/street style photography (which is what I like), it's really about being in the right place at the right time.

However, I've been really struggling for years now with taking pictures during the middle of the day.

Night photography is awesome, because of the blacks and contrast. Dawn and dusk of course, the "golden light", great angle of light.

But I really struggle in the middle of the day, especially if it's sunny. Colours and/or textures seem washed out, and things generally look flat, or lack sharpness and definition.

Do any of you find you have the same issue, and how do you deal with it?

I've kinda dealt with it by not shooting during the middle of the day anymore!

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Similar question about landscape is here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/532/… –  Karel Aug 8 '10 at 7:29

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Street photography comes with a lot of constraints on equipment and methodology – no diffusers, no reflectors, no asking people to please move one way or the other – so the best advice is to concentrate on what you can control: where you shoot, and how you shoot.

The environment

Much of this boils down to know your city, or be ready to explore it. Interesting compositions can make up for technical deficits, so find interesting places and concentrate on those.

Watch where the shadows fall. Midday at summer will always be problematic, but there are always awnings, bridges and overhangs to take advantage of, and tall office blocks almost always have a shaded side. As soon as the shadows get a little longer, they can benefit you in a lot of ways. A background in shadow with the subject brightly lit can be a strong composition. The transition from shadow to sunlit space can be very interesting, objects like signposts can cast interesting lines, and large blocks of shadow can make some interesting geometry, for example:

Visor Improvement Services
[©John Goldsmith]

Watch for reflected light. This can be something as extreme as No Flash Corner, or as simple as an interesting pattern or unexpected contrast in an otherwise-shaded area. There are almost certainly some 'sweet spots' for reflections at various times of day. Tall office blocks can cast reflections of their windows even at midday.

Exposure and postprocessing

If you don't already, use a hood. This will help eliminate any possibility of veiling flare (I think these printable hoods are always worth mentioning). Similarly, it might be worth removing any 'protective' filter if you habitually use one, if only to rule it out as a source of flare.

Underexposure can help by improving colors, but also make sure you're metering the right thing to begin with: the street/sidewalk/people, and not the sky.

White balance may also need some slight adjustment; slight blue casts (from a white balance set too low) can really rob from the apparent detail of an image. Alternately, give a warm tone to highlights to separate them from the cooler shadows.

Some street photographers use fill flash, but it definitely is more intrusive, and isn't a technique (or a look) that everyone likes. I think anyone concentrating on street should give it a try, but it might not be a long-term solution for you personally.

Of typical filters, graduated NDs just aren't compatible with typical street compositions. Haze and UV filters have a minimal effect on nearby subjects. Polarizers could be useful, though you should avoid the temptation to fiddle, or you'll likely end up missing shots – I'd try to preset it to something reasonable for the area you're shooting.

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1  
hey matt, great advice, and the pictures really helped. Yeah, not into flash, and I quite like flare, but the other advice has already given me some ideas to go out and try. I think particularly knowing yous space, and waiting for that little longer light is excellent advice –  andy Aug 9 '10 at 0:33
    
@Andy - veiling flare isn't the one that produces colorful reflections or polygons. It's just a general loss of contrast across the scene, there's not much to like about that particular kind of flare. –  ex-ms Aug 9 '10 at 8:28
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ahhh... ok, my bad, I think this deserves it's own question! –  andy Aug 22 '10 at 23:38

I don't have an issue shooting images at any point during the day; I try to take advantages of the lighting and go from there.

I would wholeheartedly say: SHOOT ANYTIME YOU CAN!

Midday sun is overhead, and gives you dark (often called harsh shadows). On the plus side, mid-day sun is very bright and gives you plenty of opportunities for good exposures while handholding a body.

When bright light is directly on your subject, you end up with exactly what you describe: washed out colors, flat geometry, and definition is not there.

So how do you combat this?

  • Use a sheet or other material to diffuse the light. Softening the light will reduce the harsh shadows, and give your subject more volume.

  • Use a fill flash to brighten up shadows. This image was shot at high noon on a super bright day on the oregon coast.. The subjects were lit with an on camera fill flash and because the image was shot at high noon, you get a perfectly illuminated background.

  • Use a reflector to add more light to a subject. This will cause certain areas of your subject to have shadows, which will in turn give your subject more volume.

  • Use a circular polarizing filter to help increase color contrast. Part of the reason colors looked washed out is due to the reflection of sunlight on colors. The strong intensity of the light reduces overall saturation. These reflections manifest themselves as polarized light waves. A CPL will block out specific polarized light, which results in more vivid colors.

  • Use shadows. Sometimes the most interesting photos are created by shadow play. Harsh sun creates harsh shadows which can be used for amazing results.

  • Bracket Exposures and try HDR images. THe effect is often abused, but it's fun to see what sort of images you can create with multiple exposures. Give it a whirl!

  • Stay in the shade. One thing I quickly learned in the 90+ degree heat of spain was to stay in the shade. Buildings make great areas shade.

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+1 for fill flash, polarizing filter and using shadow play. –  nalply Aug 8 '10 at 10:21
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Reflectors and diffusers don't really apply to street photography. –  ex-ms Aug 8 '10 at 11:10
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Well, one can look for the places where big bright walls act as reflectors or try to use cafe sunscreens as diffusers. Your best softbox is still the evening sky. –  Karel Aug 8 '10 at 12:38
    
+1 excellent answer, including with modifiers, flash, & HDR. –  Johannes Setiabudi Aug 8 '10 at 14:07
1  
hey alan, yeah, the diffuser and reflector stuff is not great for street photography that I like to take, but great general advice, and I'll definitely be trying a polarizing filter and more shadow play, cheers –  andy Aug 9 '10 at 0:29

I'm not sure what you use to process your images or if you're even shooting RAW. For myself, I use Photoshop CS5 and for shots like that, during the RAW processing phase, I'll make adjustments to contrast, usually bumping it up, as well as adjustments to saturation, again usually increasing it. However, every image is different, so there's no formula I can give for this, just that contrast and saturation adjustments can seriously help.

Now, if you do shoot JPEG, you can still do the contrast curves and saturation adjustments in your photo editor of preference, it's just that it has some additional cost in loss when saved again. Mind you, that can be unnoticeable, but it is there.

Finally, one way to deal with the harsh sun during shooting is to look at filters. A circular polarizer will not only reduce the light by 2 stops, making it less bright, it will also help to cut the glare that can wash out images. Of course, this is assuming you're using an SLR, you didn't mention what camera you have, so much of my advice (less the JPEG stuff) is aimed at dSLR shooting.

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+1 Don't be shy to postprocess your images! Nobody admits it but everybody does it... –  nalply Aug 8 '10 at 10:22
    
there is nothing wrong with post-processing. the camera does it even if you don't want to. –  icelava Aug 8 '10 at 15:29
    
I'm a little confused, I don't recall saying that there was anything wrong with post-processing images. Anyways, the camera doesn't do it for RAW, or it is very minimal, as that's the point of RAW so of course you have to do it yourself. –  John Cavan Aug 8 '10 at 18:41
    
thanks john, great advice on the filters. yep, RAW all the way, and sometimes ILFORD film. –  andy Aug 9 '10 at 0:30
    
No prob Andy, good luck with the shots, I'd be curious to see them. –  John Cavan Aug 9 '10 at 0:47

Whenever someone says "avoid shooting during the day" I say "Bah!"

Reality is, many of us shoot when we can, and don't always have the flexibility to time shift on a regular basis. Or are in locations where timeshifting isn't practical (or necessarily safe more on my BAH! here: http://www.chuqui.com/2009/12/three-rules-they-tell-new-photographers-and-why-they-are-wrong/ ).

you should shoot when you're able to shoot. It might make the shooting more challenging, but still, you're better off shooting at a bad time than not shooting at a better time because you can't be there.

One thing I never see recommended when people ask this question: think about changing what you shoot to take advantage of or mitigate the conditions. If it's bright and midday, instead of trying to take vistas and landscapes, shoot macro and get into the shade where the bright glare won't be a factor. Sometimes you have to change plans and shoot what's good rather than bull through and shoot what you went there for.

But many times there are things you can do to mitigate. If you're shooting people, put them in shade or on the side of the building out of direct light. Or put a scrim or a canopy over them and use bounce panels to soften the light. Think about the ways you can adjust the light or take advantage of it to get a better image.

There are always options.

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Scrims, canopies or macro don't function well with street work. –  ex-ms Aug 8 '10 at 5:55
    
Great article you linked to there :) –  Hamish Downer Aug 8 '10 at 16:21
    
great advice, thank you! though I'm looking for more street photo specific info, this could defo apply –  andy Aug 17 '10 at 3:34

You have three options:

  • Avoid shooting during the day... obviously this has some drawbacks :)
  • Fix it in post... a better option, because at least this way you have a picture
  • Use filters to remove the glare/haze

Post Processing Options

There are quite a few different techniques, but curves are your friend.

Filters

If I have the option, I'd prefer to get the shot right and avoid the extra steps to fix the shot later, so this is my preferred solution.

You have several options as far as filters go:

  • ND (Neutral Density) - these block all light evenly, which allows you to effectively darken the whole scene, allowing a greater flexibility in aperture/shutter settings. This can help avoid stopping down as much, which can decrease diffusion.
  • GND (Graduated ND) - these can be used to darken the sky, allowing better contrast on the ground
  • Polarizers - these are probably the most helpful, as they can block the glare on glass or other light reflecting off your subject, however they are directional. In order for these to be helpful the light source needs to be at the correct angle from the subject so that you are able to block it.
  • Haze (or UV) - UV filters are most often used on digital bodies for lens protection, but they are helpful in daylight scenes for reducing haze and can improve contrast. A haze filter takes this one step further by blocking a wider range of UV light.

Also, slightly underexposing can improve color saturation in brightly lit scenes.

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NDs won't darken a whole scene unless you use the unfiltered exposure values, in which case it's the same effect as underexposure. –  ex-ms Aug 8 '10 at 11:38
    
Sorry, I may have misworded that a bit, I meant darken in terms of decreasing the ambient lighting, which will allow you to change your exposure settings. –  chills42 Aug 8 '10 at 13:00
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Think of it from the meter's point of view. The meter's attempting to get the same total amount of light to the sensor. Add an ND filter to reduce the light, and the meter just changes the aperture/shutter to get to the same total. Result: nearly identical pictures. And if you add a filter but keep the unfiltered settings, you might as well just underexpose by the same amount without the filter. –  ex-ms Aug 8 '10 at 13:50
    
@ exactly, but the difference is the in the changed aperture/shutter. –  chills42 Aug 8 '10 at 15:31
    
@matt ND filters are useful when there is too much light and one wants to capture a scene at a shutter/aperture that otherwise becomes too washed out without the filter. –  icelava Aug 8 '10 at 15:33

I'm with matt and churuqi - use what the light gives you, and leave your fixed ideas behind.

Strong contrast can be great for strong lines, for leading the eye, for picking out aspects. Maybe hang out near an alleyway that's aligned with the sun so that there is shade on the main road, with a narrow-ish area of light at the end of the alleyway. Anyone walking through the patch of light will be picked out compared to the people on the shady part of the street.

The strong contrast could also allow for negative space - if something is partly in the sun you could aim to have the shaded side completely black with a well balanced sunny side. (Might require post processing). Or you could have a mostly shaded picture with deliberately blown out highlights where the sunlight enters the image.

Maybe find a market where all the stalls have canvas roofs. It would be a bit dark in that kind of environment early or late in the day, but midday the light coming through the canvas would still be enough for handheld shots. Different colour canvas would produce different colour lights on the people - and the produce being sold.

Or think about what might look good in a bleached out light. It could well add to the impression of an object having been there for ever - think old posters on a wall, an old shop front, faded material hanging in the street.

Or look at different types of shade. I love the light you get filtered through trees - green and dappled. The pattern of contrast would probably be distracting on a face, but on a more even surface it could add interest. So you could look for tree lined streets, or head into a park.

Ultimately, you are only limited by your imagination - open your eyes and see what is there rather that trying to see what you wanted to see when you set out.

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great answer man, thanks! –  andy Aug 9 '10 at 3:29
    
it was between you and matt man, but great great answer, thank you –  andy Aug 17 '10 at 3:35

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