Outdoor Photography Tips for Controlling Sunlight

Aspiring product photographers might not always have a studio at their whim. Other times, you might choose to shoot outdoors—a dash of colour, bright natural light; it’s more fun than staying cooped up in a studio for hours. But sunlight can sometimes be a problem, because even though it looks even, it really isn’t. Here’s a video that shows how a simple diffuser can solve that:

The Potential Problems

In the video, Phoenix-based photographer Mark Wallace shows us an example of how uniform sunlight can come across unevenly. While his subject, a jug of lemonade, is well lit, the dark green foliage behind absorbs the sun. It looks murky.

Even though the sunlight is uniform, it looks uneven.

Even though the sunlight is uniform, it looks uneven.

The Solution

Wallace places a Sunbounce Sun Swatter Mini Diffuser between the pitcher and the sun. The diffuser shades the pitcher enough to even it out with the green background, but manages to keep some of the specular highlights that define the jug’s three-dimensional appearance.

By blocking the sun with a translucent diffuser panel, you can open the aperture wider to allow more background light in.

By blocking the sun with a translucent diffuser panel, you can slow down the shutter speed to allow in more background light.

But Wallace isn’t done yet. He then adds a small California Sunbounce Micro Mini Reflector Panel on the ground near the lens to bounce some light back up. As you can see, this adds stronger specular highlights on the front of the pitcher–that little white shine gives it extra depth that’s hard to manufacture in post-production. The shutter speed is also adjusted to properly expose the jug’s edges.

The jug is best defined here: even lighting and specular highlights make it pop.

The jug is best defined here: even lighting and specular highlights make it pop.

Wallace uses a long zoom lens for the shot to compress the image and make the background appear closer to the object than it really is. A shallow depth of field works best here—all the focus should be on the lemonade.

Setting up the shot.

Setting up the shot.

Wallace notes that this process could be done backwards. Instead of darkening the foreground, he could have set up a remote flash behind to light up the foliage instead. But often it’s easier to carry less expensive equipment and not worry about batteries and exact positioning. And best of all, with enough manual modifications, you won’t need to spend much time afterward perfecting the shot in Photoshop.

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One Comment

  1. J L says:

    Great tips here, I custom built my own diffuser years ago – if you need a very large one google DIY ideas for a diffuser panel, very easy to do. Photography Tips

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