I was out doing an assignment about symmetric and asymmetric pictures (rule of third, golden mean, golden ratio).

I could not figure out what is the best way to deal with the following setting:

  • I am sitting in the shade, the sun is clear behind me.
  • I used F2.8, 1/250s, WB 7500k (sun), 80mm focal length on MFT, 200 ISO
  • I would have liked to have proper exposure in the foreground and the background as good as the human eye could see

I could not even come close :-(

Either the foreground was ok, and the background was overexposed (as in picture below). Or the background was ok, and the foreground was too dark so that you can only see the shape.

The most important to me would be to see at least a bit of the grey colors of the fountain and the pigeons in that case; you can ignore the asymmetric attempt (although if you can comment on that, I'd be happy to learn your ideas).

Sunny day in the shade


5 Answers 5


This is the situation when you use fill-flash.

Contrary to common belief, flash is NOT to be used in darkness. In darkness flash lights up the foreground and leaves background pitch black. Flash is best used to outshine bright light you can't control (like sun) so you can bring dark foreground up to bright background. This will most likely create white point imbalance, so you need to gel your flash with a matching yellow filter. *

Yes, it does sound like a lot of work, but you still have to do that work. Either before pressing shutter, with flash, gels and exposure or after, with photoshop.

What is a fill flash and how is it used?



https://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-mix-ambient-light-and-fill-flash-for-outdoor-portraits/ (The last one is pretty confusing about all that metering. I recommend to simply take a few test shoots while tweaking flash exposure and a bit of main exposure, you'll get the hang of it pretty fast. That is, if you use AE, because if you shot manual then adding flash to lighten up foreground would be rather straightforward.)

*EDIT: as mattdm pointed out, the shadow-filling flash is supposed to emulate the cooler diffused light, not the warmer direct sunlight. Typical flash already is at "daylight" color temperature so gelling it would be counterproductive for a shot like this. Maybe for people shots, as people look better in warmer light.

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    The downside of flash in that particular scene is that only your first attempt will have pigeons in it ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 3, 2017 at 12:22
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    @Tetsujin From my experience, there aren't many creatures more fearless than a pigeon. youtube.com/watch?v=Wrq_uFVfbhw
    – Agent_L
    Apr 3, 2017 at 12:31
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    I don't think you'll need to gel your flash in this case, since the background is presumably in full sunlight, and flashes are generally made to be sunlight-balanced already.
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2017 at 13:36
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    Sometimes the short stretch of illumination from a flash is exactly what you want in a night-time shot. It all depends on the effect you are after. I have a photo of one of my dogs (unfortunately not online, so can't link to it) where I used a fill flash (on a digital compact, no less) against a sunset sky. People who see it keep asking how I could get such a picture; I just keep telling people pretty much the same as you are doing here, don't be afraid to use the flash, just know how it works out.
    – user
    Apr 3, 2017 at 14:06
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    I’m not sure what you mean by “neutral diffused ambient.” All lighting is colored. The important thing is to match the color of your fill to the color of your background. I don’t believe @mattdm’s argument is that the flash is neutral, it’s that the flash is a better match to sunlight than you think it is. Apr 4, 2017 at 1:16

My answer to "what is the best way to deal with the following setting" is: don't. Let me explain.

As Seweryn says, you are experiencing what I believe is one of the most basic principles of photography, which is that the camera does not see things like you do. Now, while there are some techniques that you can use to "bridge the gap" and make your photographs look more similar to how you saw the scene when you photographed it, I personally think it makes for a smoother and less frustrating photographic experience if you don't even try. In my photography, basically none of the scenes look the way I saw them when shooting, and far from being a problem, it's what makes them interesting (to me at least...), because the "real-life" scenes did not look that good.

To me this approach seems to fit into a more general state of mind where instead of trying to use various tricks to hack your way outside the technical limitations of your equipment, you learn to work within them. When I encounter a scene like the one in your photograph, I just think: "Okay, there's way too much contrast here, my camera can't handle that, so I'll just walk a bit more and find a better one," no matter how interesting the scene looks to my eyes. And conversely, sometimes I encounter (or manufacture...) a scene that does not look very interesting in real life, but makes me think that I can still get an interesting shot out of it in "camera vision".

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    In cases like this, I'll take the pictures anyway - If they don't look right when instantly reviewing them on the screen, then that's a chance to experiment! If they don't look right when exported, then they can be ditched then. Not every shot is going to be stunning - I'd prefer to practice and improve, and produce a good amount of poor photos, than to miss a potentially great shot
    – Baldrickk
    Apr 3, 2017 at 13:27
  • Very good advise. A camera is not a human eye, it is more like an artists palate starting with a frame within which you compose an image. Where an artist would use construction lines to focus attention, a camera uses aperture and depth of field. Where an artist uses shading to control intensity, the camera uses exposure. The best lesson I was ever taught was to not look at what I wanted to photograph, but rather, look at what I can see through the viewfinder.
    – Paul Smith
    Apr 3, 2017 at 16:45

Shoot in RAW at the lowest ISO. Expose for the sunlit portion of the picture. In your RAW software adjust the shadows to show some details.

The bench is lit by direct sun and the shaded areas are lit by the blue sky. This will give different white balances. In your RAW processor you can produce two different pictures with the two different white balances. If you have a photo editor you can combine these to get a single image.

  • I believe that technique of varying exposure in certain areas in post-processing is called "dodging and burning".
    – Agent_L
    Apr 3, 2017 at 13:36
  • ...or alternatively, "fake HDR".
    – user
    Apr 3, 2017 at 14:07

I really like several of the other answers here — particularly, use of fill-flash to balance the scene as the top technical measure, and accept the camera as an important alternate way of thinking.

I want to add to that second one just a little bit. I think this photograph succeeds as a composition just as it is in terms of exposure, but the mixed white balance has taken a toll, with a very unnatural-looking yellow.

Shaded sunlight is cool (in the [art sense]) and bluish. Setting the color temperature to 7000K compensates for this, drastically reducing the blue channel, which makes the shaded foreground neutral — but subtracting blue from the background, lit by bright sunlight, leaves it appearing artificial yellow (instead of the green foliage that I presume it is in reality). Particularly because we know what color leaves (and people) should be, this looks more like a mistake than an artistic choice.

The fill-flash technique will help with this because the color of flash is closer to that of sunlight than to shade. But, this is sort of like shooting with a small aperture to get a large depth of field with everything in focus — sometimes, it looks nicer to actually have the background blurry, and likewise, it can work to have overexposed or underexposed elements in the photograph.

One approach is to render the image in black and white. That works for two reasons — first, it hides the white-balance issue. But, more importantly, black and white photography naturally emphasizes graphic form and I think people naturally give it more latitude for expression in areas that seem like error in color. Here's your image in black and white with all color channels equal:

b&w conversion

And here, with the green and red channels significantly de-emphasized, leaning on the blue more:

blue filter

This second approach leaves the background very bright, but I think also brings out just enough detail that the interplay with the foreground is interesting, with the woman providing counterbalance to your off-center composition. (Which in this case I think is important because the hedge has a strong visual weight. Just dumping the pigeons at a rule-of-thirds line and leaving that there without a balance wouldn't feel as successful to me.)

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    PS: It's really nice that the two pigeons are looking at the woman; this draws the eye, helping with the balance — and adds a bit of story. In my armchair opinion, this is a good photograph as it is, but would be a great one if all three were.
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2017 at 14:13

You are now experiencing the power of nature and the construction of human eye :-).

Technically the CMOS sensors are catching like 6-7 EV brightnes/darkness span (dynamic range) at one time (for the 14-bit sensors/raw images). Info taken from Bryan Peterson's book Understanding Exposure. Everything that is beyond that will be black or white. Human eye handles 16 EV span!

It seems like 16-bit medium format sensors can coupe with such a conditions. See remark below. Concrete evaluation was done here for Hasselblad X1D and Fuji GFX EV vs. ISO for Madium Format cameras from Fujifilm GFX 50S vs Hasselblad X1D - porównanie (polish). Both cameras have the same sensor.

Additionally to what Alan P said try to use HDR technique. Shoot couple of images e.g. 5-9 with different EV and combine them. You can start with 3 shots, but in your case I never got good result using only 3 captures. Images in HDR will more less simulate the human eye.

Practically it would be good to use dedicated software or plugin to achieve the optimal result.

Remark to numbers. It seems that numbers are depending from references, so I am adding couple of them:

And already discussed:

  • HDR (or exposure fusion) is a good technique for such situations if the scene is mostly static. For scenes containing e.g. moving people or animals like the OP's example image, however, you'll often get ugly artifacts in places where things in the picture have moved between the shots. Apr 3, 2017 at 12:10
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    @IlmariKaronen some digital cameras support doing this at three different exposures rapidly on a single shutter press - My Father's old Panasonic Lumix camera for example can do it. You still get the ghosting when something moves quickly across the screen, but the capture is rapid enough to all but eliminate it for images like the example - a pidgeon taking off or landing would not come out so well though.
    – Baldrickk
    Apr 3, 2017 at 13:26
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    True. It's called autobracketing, and it's quite common in all but the lowest-end cameras; my old Nikon F-601 film SLR has it, as does my slightly less old D70s, and even my cheap Canon PowerShot pocket camera can do it because I hacked it with CHDK. :) But as you note, "rapid" is relative. Also, the speed depends a lot on whether or not the camera can use an electronic shutter to take all the exposures without having to close and reopen the mechanical shutter in between. But it is indeed a very useful trick when it works. Apr 3, 2017 at 14:00
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    Can you elaborate more (references would be nice) on the assertion that modern sensors record only around a range of 5 stops? Today's top DSLRs are generally regarded to record from 12-14 stops of dynamic range.
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2017 at 16:39
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    The information in Understanding Exposure is significantly out of date.
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2017 at 23:12

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