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Old 03-07-2006, 08:33 AM   #1
marlene
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One of my clients frequently gets landscape photos (some slides, but mostly digital these days) that we use in various offset printed publications. A lot of the photos we get were shot on overcast days, so the sky is white (or almost white) and there's not much contrast in the photo. If that's the right term. The photos look sort of muddy.

Someone has provided my client with guidelines for shooting landscape photos. Shoot right after dawn or just before sunset, avoiding the midday sun (when there is "too much contrast").

And -- this is the bit I really don't understand -- try to shoot on moderately overcast days with gray skies. And just crop out the gray sky,

I'm not a pro, but this doesn't make sense to me. All of the photos I get that were shot on overcast days require a lot of Photoshop work to make them usable. The photos that were shot on sunny days always look much better to me, and require less tweaking.

So am I out to lunch? Do professional photographers aim to shoot outdoors on overcast days and avoid sunny days?

mxh
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Old 03-07-2006, 08:56 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marlene
So am I out to lunch? Do professional photographers aim to shoot outdoors on overcast days and avoid sunny days?
Not the photog I used for years! Amongst other subjects, he was well known and respected for his architectural photography. No matter what the lighting conditions he could make silk purses from sow's ears. He'd often do multiple exposures with a locked-down camera, then layer them in Photoshop and mix & match bits of the scene (each layer or selection enhanced as necessary) to get the final photo.

One December he shot our decorated house at night, changing the lighting from a lone, handheld spotlight for each shot. The camera was locked down on the tripod, so every shot was in perfect register with the rest. We then composited them together to get the final photo that could only be done with this multiple shot technique. The scene looked like your eyes perceived it in real life, but would be impossible for a single camera shot to capture.

   
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Old 03-07-2006, 09:19 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marlene
There's not much contrast in the photo. If that's the right term. The photos look sort of muddy.
You have identified the problem correctly. Low contrast results in a percieved loss of sharpness in most cases.

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Originally Posted by marlene
Shoot right after dawn or just before sunset, avoiding the midday sun (when there is "too much contrast").
At dawn or sunset there will be a slight yellow cast on your pictures, that can be corrected in whatever software you are using (if you want to - I think it can add something positive to nature photos, myself). Early in the morning the air is usually clearer than later in the day which is good for telephoto shots.

At midday if the sun is out in full force, the results can be a bit too contrasty It is important to remember that the eye can perceive a greater range of shades from dark to light that either film or digital media and too much contrast can result in areas being either blocked out (black) or burnt out (white), with no actual detail in them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by marlene
Try to shoot on moderately overcast days with gray skies. And just crop out the gray sky
Gray skies results in low contrast, as you have already noticed! Cropping out the sky might prove more work than it's worth or even downright impossible if you want a realistic look, depending on what's in the picture.

A very slight haze is the best conditions, but perhaps it doesn't always occur when you need it.

Use a slow to medium film, or a low to medium ISO setting if you're shooting on digital, together with a slight gray filter, or a polarising filter if used with caution.
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Old 03-07-2006, 11:50 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by marlene
So am I out to lunch? Do professional photographers aim to shoot outdoors on overcast days and avoid sunny days?
Depends...

Every light has its own qualty and advantages and disadvantages depending on subject matter. Here's an excellent article I just read about light, by Alain Briot:
How to Find the Best Light for a Specific Photograph

(Other articles in the series are quite good as well.)

   
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Old 03-10-2006, 12:53 PM   #5
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Wow, he sounds like a really fixated photographer (but I mean that in a good way)!

The photos I get are usually not from pros -- they are from company owners who happen to have their own digital cameras (which they think makes them photographers).

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Old 03-10-2006, 12:55 PM   #6
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Gray skies results in low contrast, as you have already noticed! Cropping out the sky might prove more work than it's worth or even downright impossible if you want a realistic look, depending on what's in the picture.
So you don't agree with the writer who recommends shooting on an overcast day? I don't agree with him, but I need backup!

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Old 03-10-2006, 01:02 PM   #7
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Wow, he sounds like a really fixated photographer (but I mean that in a good way)!
And a good teacher as well, and on top of that very readable.

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The photos I get are usually not from pros -- they are from company owners who happen to have their own digital cameras (which they think makes them photographers).
The cameras actually could, in a sense - but not immediately. A big advantage of digital cameras is that you can get immediate feedback - disappointed with your shot? Try again! Not everyone will do that - but some people will and thus the camera becomes a teacher - in a way an analog camera never can.

   
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Old 03-10-2006, 01:03 PM   #8
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Very interesting article. Briot also likes overcast days.

Maybe the real problem is not the overcast sky per se, but that the photos I receive which were shot on overcast days were shot by bad photographers!

mxh
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Old 03-10-2006, 03:37 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marlene
So you don't agree with the writer who recommends shooting on an overcast day? I don't agree with him, but I need backup!

mxh
There is a saying here in the UK: horses for courses: if it is what you want then go for it! Although from an aesthetic point of view it doesn't look very pleasing (my subjective view).

If it involves getting rid of the sky, then it is a no-no! What do they expect you to do? Replace it!?

The other issue with shooting in that kind of conditions (apart from the contrast) is under exposure, even if modern cameras cope quite well in most situations.
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Old 03-10-2006, 04:40 PM   #10
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Bo:

The other issue with shooting in that kind of conditions (apart from the contrast) is under exposure, even if modern cameras cope quite well in most situations.

I thought that landscape photography didn't offer exposure problems: after all, it doesn't move, and you can use a tripod, can't you? But often you must insert your own sky, and that seems a problem only in digital photography.

   
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