Photography tips wanted
April 22, 2014 2:25 AM   Subscribe

I need to take an outdoor photograph of a subject standing in front of a large, white, shiny background (a vehicle). The person and the vehicle are equally important elements in the picture. I need to take the photo when both the subject and the vehicle are available, so I have no control over the date or time or weather. Assuming I need to do this on a bight, sunny day (although I'm hoping for a slightly overcast one) where do I position them relative to the sun?

I won't have any equipment outside of a pretty basic camera, so no deflectors, lights, etc. Any other tips you can provide for making this turn out well will also be appreciated.
posted by sardonyx to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry. Typo. Should have been reflectors. It's too early in the morning for me.
posted by sardonyx at 2:39 AM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: If you're at the center of the clock, and they're at 12 o'clock, you'll probably want the sun to be around 4.30 or 7.30. Obviously the vertical angle of the sun matters a lot too. If it's low then you'll (obviously) get longer shadows, which you may want to take into account.

If possible, arrive at your location ahead of time - you can never really have too much prep time for a shoot.

I imagine the person is going to look quite dark relative to the bright white vehicle. If the vehicle really is bright and shiny, you could potentially use it as a giant reflector to help light the person. This would involve having the vehicle at the right angle, and may take some experimentation. Worth thinking about though.

If you have control over the venue for this picture, perhaps finding a large shaded area could tame some of the harsh sunlight.

As with any portrait, I definitely recommend a tripod.
posted by Magnakai at 3:56 AM on April 22, 2014

To further the light position question: look up two/three point lighting. You've basically only got a key light, the sun.

Here are a couple of Strobist links involving unusual reflectors: fill horse, fill goat.
posted by Magnakai at 4:02 AM on April 22, 2014

Does your camera have exposure compensation, i.e. you can set it to expose at -2, -1, 0, +1, +2? Even many basic cameras have this. This would help prevent your subject from being wildly underexposed next to the white car.

Reflectors don't have to be anything fancy. Something holding a white cloth or posterboard would be a big help. Not sure if that changes anything for you.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:08 AM on April 22, 2014

Can you influence the vehicle position or have any say on what side of the vehicle is in shot?

How basic is the camera? If really basic then try metering off the person and also off the vehicle. Many cameras let you set exposure by placing the subject in the centre of the frame and partly pressing the shutter release, then recompose while holding down the button and take your picture with the final composition.

If you have an exposure compensation dial then also try all settings.

Tel us what camera you have.
posted by epo at 5:19 AM on April 22, 2014

This scenario is difficult for even professional shooters.

Not having any other lighting source is a gamble. What if the model has a dark complexion or they insist on wearing a hat? If you really can't rent or borrow lights, at the very least buy some white foam board from your local craft store.

I also highly suggest you find a friend with a white car and practice this worst-case scenario ahead of time. You can see how far you can go with the equipment you have.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:44 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you have any photoshop experience, you could do a pseudo hdr photo, by taking a few shots at different exposures, and merging them together, so that nothing is over or under exposed.
posted by markblasco at 7:06 AM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If your camera can shoot raw you should easily be able to get enough detail in shadows and highlights to make an acceptable photo. You'll need to use some kind of raw processing software to process the pics but the month long demo of Lightroom is fully functional and I hugely recommend it.

Expose so the highlights are all captured and as far to the right of the histogram as possible without burning out and then bring the shadow detail up on the person.

If you can get vehicle and person into the shade of a big building you will find it much easier to expose the photo (and to pose the no longer squinty subject!). White foam board makes great ghetto reflectors as girlmightlive said...
posted by Mr Ed at 7:24 AM on April 22, 2014

I'm a professional who does a lot of editorial work and like someone else said, this is a gamble. If I went into this situation without any other gear I'm not sure I could deliver a good shot. With what you have the best scenario is to put them into the shade of a building, but you don't have control over the time. The actual best scenario is to bring another light, a large reflector, or an even larger scrim... something, anything to reduce the contrast from the sun. I'm actual about to walk out the door right now to do an assignment similar to this and I'm bringing 2 strobes and that is traveling as light as possible for me.

The people here who are saying you can recover detail from the RAW/HDR it aren't wrong but no amount of Photoshop is going to change shitty light.
posted by bradbane at 7:46 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Picking up a dashboard reflector (like to keep cars cool) at the local dollar store can help get some fill light if you have a spare tripod to fix it to.
posted by klangklangston at 10:14 AM on April 22, 2014

Not as important as the complications with lighting, but still adding to your problems, you're probably going to get your surroundings reflected in the vehicle. Generally, you'll get nice results if the surroundings are simple - eg. a distant horizon, above it only sky. The reflected horizon produces great lines that show off the sweep of the body. But if you've got buildings and power poles around you, telephone wires overhead, etc. all that mess is going to be in the car panels and windows, distorted and breaking up the form.
posted by anonymisc at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2014

Response by poster: I was hoping to avoid talking about the camera situation because it just makes the whole scenario slide even closer to the looming disaster side of the scale and much further away from the optimal situation end.

The camera is a Nikon Coolpix L120. It's a camera I have never used before (big red flag), but this is a work situation and it's the work equipment that's on hand. I've got a bit of time to play with it and get used to it, and I have experience (although it's pretty dated now) using an SLR back in the film days, so if necessary I can take it out of fully automatic mode and adjust the exposure, etc. Actually the first thing I was going to do is figure out if it can give me photos in RAW format.

I like everybody's suggestions about do-it-yourself reflectors (and I love the fill sheep!) but I don't have an extra tripod or anything else that can be used as a reliable, flexible stand. Plus the only times I've used reflectors is when I could give directions to the person holding it (a little more to the left).

I'll have a bit of control of the subject (so definitely no hats). I hope to have some control over where the vehicle will be placed, so hopefully I can avoid (major) reflections (fingers crossed).

Thanks for all the words of caution and warning. I do take them to heart, but believe me, I'm well aware of everything that can go wrong with this. It's just one of those circumstances where there are no good options, and I just happen to be the best choice to tackle this out of a highly unqualified bunch of colleagues.
posted by sardonyx at 1:59 PM on April 22, 2014

sardonyx: "I like everybody's suggestions about do-it-yourself reflectors (and I love the fill sheep!) but I don't have an extra tripod or anything else that can be used as a reliable, flexible stand."

Sheet of foam board; a little duck tape; and a just about any sort of stick the length of the foam board that you could tape to the top center of the sheet. This makes a sandwich board set up that is easy to adjust for direction and angle. Weight it down with some 1 gallon zip locks filled with sand/gravel/beans/etc. if it is breezy or even just tape it to the ground if you are one asphalt or concrete.

One good thing about foam board is it has two sides. A little spray glue and some aluminum foil gets you a shiny reflector as well as your white one.

It sounds like you can't wrangle a helper but if you can a simple white sheet held by an assistant makes an amazingly large reflector. Two broomsticks in 5 gallon buckets filled with sand can sub for an assistant.

Also the less shadow detail you have to deal with the better so if you have control of what the model is wearing try to go for lighter colours; no black pinstripe suits.
posted by Mitheral at 6:02 PM on April 22, 2014

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