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Direct Sunlight

Lesson 74 from: Fundamentals of Photography 2016

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

74. Direct Sunlight

Next Lesson: Indirect Sunlight


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Welcome to Photography


Camera Types Overview


Viewing Systems


Viewing Systems Q&A


Lens Systems


Shutter Systems


Shutter Speeds


Choosing a Shutter Speed


Shutter Speeds for Handholding


Shutter Speed Pop Quiz


Camera Settings


General Camera Q&A


Sensor Sizes: The Basics


Sensor Sizes: Compared






Sensor Q&A


Focal Length: Overview


Focal Length: Angle of View


Wide Angle Lenses


Telephoto Lenses


Angle of View Q&A


Fish Eye Lenses


Tilt & Shift Lenses


Subject Zone


Lens Speed


Aperture Basics


Depth of Field


Aperture Pop Quiz


Lens Quality


Photo Equipment Life Cycle


Light Meter Basics




Histogram Pop Quiz and Q&A


Dynamic Range


Exposure Modes


Manual Exposure


Sunny 16 Rule


Exposure Bracketing


Exposure Values


Exposure Pop Quiz


Focus Overview


Focusing Systems


Autofocus Controls


Focus Points


Autofocusing on Subjects


Manual Focus


Digital Focusing Assistance


Focus Options: DSLR and Mirrorless


Shutter Speeds for Sharpness and DoF


Depth of Field Pop Quiz


Depth of Field Camera Features


Lens Sharpness


Camera Movement


Handheld and Tripod Focusing


Advanced Techniques


Hyperfocal Distance


Hyperfocal Quiz and Focusing Formula


Micro adjust and AF Fine Tune


Focus Stacking and Post Sharpening


Focus Problem Pop Quiz


The Gadget Bag: Camera Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Lens Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Neutral Density Filter


The Gadget Bag: Lens Hood and Teleconverters


The Gadget Bag: Lens Adapters


The Gadget Bag: Lens Cleaning Supplies


The Gadget Bag: Macro Lenses and Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Flash and Lighting


The Gadget Bag: Tripods and Accessories


The Gadget Bag: Custom Cases


10 Thoughts on Being a Photographer


Direct Sunlight


Indirect Sunlight


Sunrise and Sunset


Cloud Light


Golden Hour


Light Pop Quiz


Light Management


Artificial Light




Off-Camera Flash


Advanced Flash Techniques


Editing Overview


Editing Set-up


Importing Images


Best Use of Files and Folders




Develop: Fixing in Lightroom


Develop: Treating Your Images


Develop: Optimizing in Lightroom


Art of Editing Q&A


Composition Overview


Photographic Intrusions


Mystery and Working the Scene


Point of View


Better Backgrounds


Unique Perspective


Angle of View


Subject Placement


Subject Placement Q&A




Multishot Techniques




Human Vision vs The Camera


Visual Perception


Visual Balance Test


Visual Drama


Elements of Design


The Photographic Process


Working the Shot


The Moment


One Hour Photo - Colby Brown


One Hour Photo - John Keatley


One Hour Photo - Art Wolfe


One Hour Photo - Rocco Ancora


One Hour Photo - Mike Hagen


One Hour Photo - Lisa Carney


One Hour Photo - Ian Shive


One Hour Photo - Sandra Coan


One Hour Photo - Daniel Gregory


One Hour Photo - Scott Robert Lim


Lesson Info

Direct Sunlight

All right, time to get started on the light section. First thing we'll go into is just a real quick definition of the different types of qualities you want to think about. And once again, this goes back to the awareness. Are you aware of what type of lighting situation you are in? So the first thing to be aware of is where is the light coming from. The direction of the light because that's gonna obviously affect where our shadows are and what's lit on our subject. Next up is the size of the light source. Is it a small light bulb, is it a gigantic cloud that is reflecting light down? Where is the light coming from and what is it bouncing off of, for instance? The other thing to notice is the intensity of the light. How bright is that light? And how that's gonna have a strong impact is in the shadow areas. How strong is the difference between the light side and the dark side and where that shadow line falls. Another area of potential concern or at least awareness is gonna be in the color...

of the light source. Very apparent with the sun in the difference between morning and mid-day, the sun has a very different color because it's cutting through more or less of the atmosphere. So just kinda being aware of those four characteristics of light. I've broken up natural light into a lot of different categories. I just like to organize things in my mind, if I can organize things in my mind I feel a little bit more comfortable about learning them. In some ideal world we would figure out what it is that we wanna shoot, the subject, and then we would figure out what would be the best imaginable light for this particular scenario. And then we would photograph it under those conditions. But the fact of the matter is, is that's not the way most of us get to work. Because having perfect light exactly on the subject that we want when we want it just doesn't happen. And so we figure out something that we do wanna shoot and when we can shoot it and then we have to deal with the lighting situation that we are in at that time. So it might be sunny, it might be shady, we could have overcast day. All sorts of things could be going on and we just have to deal with what we have. So a lot of times it's just dealing with those problems of light. It may not be the perfect light you want or maybe you're gonna have to wait for that light. Different types of light, breaking them into two very different categories. The first part of this light section is gonna be on natural light. We'll deal with artificial light on the second half of the class and that's gonna be mostly dealing with speedlights. We'll talk a little bit about strobe units, but you can also use regular old light bulbs of any sort of sort in many situations. So we're gonna be talking about natural light. Natural light can be broken down into further categories. The categories that I have chosen to break it down are a little different than most other photographers, I would say, but I'm gonna keep it rather simple. Direct sunlight, which I think we all know what that is. Indirect sunlight, we're gonna talk a lot about that. Then there's a bunch of other, little other stuff that, well it's natural and it is creating light, but it's not things that we really deal with very often and so we're gonna kinda send those off, that's not really gonna be what we're gonna be talking about today. So we'll be talking about direct sunlight and indirect sunlight. And these go by very different names and different photographers use different names. One of the ones that, I was always just kinda unclear about was the word ambient. What is ambient light? That's the light that just happens to be there, but where is light coming from, it's bouncing off of other things. It's indirect sunlight, in most cases. As we go through this section, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna bring up a certain topic, a type of light, I'll define it, I'll tell you what some of the advantages and disadvantages and some tips on using it. Direct sunlight's pretty obvious. That's our summer days, for the most part, at least here in Seattle. Nice, sunny days. What's great about this is that you're gonna have tons of light, so so there's a lot of quantity. It's gonna make things very easy when it is setting up your shutter speeds and apertures. You get some very nice colors because that's one of the ways that we see colors well is when we have a lot of light to work with. Now that we have some shadows, we're gonna be able to see some texture and some detail in the scene in front of us. This is a good time, potentially, for looking at black and white photographs. One of the things that we'll talk about in here is the best time of day to shoot. Middle of the day is really a tough time to shoot with, but for black and white work it can work out very well because you end up having a lot of contrast which typically looks quite well in black and white photography. There are some notable disadvantages that our sensors have a hard time capturing the light to the dark. Anything that is in the dark areas might be very hard to see and this high contrast just does not look good on many different types of scenes that you might be photographing. Some tips on working with this. If you are gonna be working and you know it's going to be a sunny day, this is a great time to get out in the morning and the evening, when that sun as low in the horizon as possible. This is when you'll have a good chance at using that polarizer. We talked about that in the last class about having the sun 90 degrees off to your side, then you're gonna get that great polarizing range right in front of you. This often works, I talk about this in my landscape class, and this is usually when you want to be photographing that big, open area because you've got a lot of light coming in, you can see a lot of detail, in that case. You want to be careful about including too much blank sky, in those cases. Like in that photograph there, there's just a little bit of sky on the top, not tons. So the direct sunlight can be broken into further categories, simply just where the sun is. Is it in front of us, to the side, above, behind us? Each one of these is gonna give us a very different result in the final subject. The front light means the front of our subject, right here, the front of our little owl is fully illuminated in light, which for the photographer means the sun is at our back. Kind of coming over our shoulders, if you remember reading the old Kodak film canisters. Shoot with the sun over your shoulder. Once again, it's gonna be very easy to set shutter speeds and apertures because you have a lot of light coming in to the camera. We don't have too many shadows, so areas that might be lost in the shadows, not really a problem in this case because light is illuminating everything that we're seeing. We get those great colors and it does have kind of a smack you in the face type of powerful impact. It's not necessarily the most beautiful light, but it does have a very strong impact. Now there are some disadvantages to this front lighting is that it does hide the textures. Notice this is the delicate arch in Utah, there's some nice texture in the ground below the arch, but it's kind of hard to see because of the flat lighting. We call this flat lighting because it makes our subjects lose it's depth, it feels very, very flat to it. Losing it's depth you might say. This is gonna be a little bit too harsh for certain types of subjects, this bright sunlight in there and that's gonna vary from subject to subject, of course. It's probably the least interesting. It's very clear and simple, but it's not necessarily the most interesting story or way to tell the story. If you are working with a front light situation which is the sun coming from right behind you, just try to have the sun as low in the horizon as possible. You'll often get a little better color when you do that. This is a good time to put that polarizer away. Remember if the sun's right behind you, polarizing doesn't have much impact. It's when the sun is off to your sides, not directly behind you. You do have to be careful, I find, when the sun gets down too low your shadow can be out in the frame here, so you have to be, sometimes creative about which direction you're pointing or maybe not having the sun too low in those particular cases. We usually don't want to see your shadow in the frame. This is a good time to potentially look for flat subjects and you'll see some subjects like that here in a moment. So this is direct sunlight, it's not the most interesting light, but it's a very clear way to see that face. If you want to see that face, it is very evenly lit here. Front lighting, hitting all of our subjects very much on the front side, can see them very, very easy. Bold colors, in these cases. Side lighting. If I had to pick one type of light to work with and I didn't know what I was shooting, side light would probably be the one that I would just choose. It works out very well in photography, so it's definitely one of my favorite. Now it's gonna show us texture and depth. It's gonna give us more of a three dimensional feel. Look at those pillars there. You can really get a feel for the texture of those pillars there because we can see some shadows and we know what that surface is gonna be like. This is where it works really good with those polarizers. Once again, 90 degrees, a common theme that I'll bring up again and again. Sun's gonna be typically lower on the horizon, if it is at the side, it's not gonna be up in the sky and it really separates our subject because of those shadows, we can see that depth in there. The problem with this is that you're only really gonna get this at sunrise and sunset for relatively brief amounts of time while that sun is just about to go down or just coming up. I know that I've been out, like this is at Yellowstone, and if you want to shoot with side lighting there's a circular trail that goes around Old Faithful and if you want to shoot with side lighting, there are exactly two places that you can stand. There's not very often because it's either you're gonna be looking in or around and so it's kind of limiting where you can go. Not gonna work out very well in the forest or in deep canyons, so you've gotta have that big, nice open area so that that sun can reach in nice and low. Sometimes this contrast might not work for certain types of subjects. Even though I might like this as kind of a default favorite type of lighting, doesn't mean it's the best lighting for everything, it just works really well for many things. Once again, got that side light, used the polarizer, and notice how I found a lot of texture in this photograph. You see all that, those little snow mounds. Get those little shadows in there. You can get a feel for what that snow is like right in that area. When I shot this photo at Yellowstone I was timing the eruption of Old Faithful with the last one of the daytime. So the sun was as low in the horizon as possible because then I would get the most exaggerated shadows possible in that photograph. Timing and being in the right place at the right time. Obviously gonna work great in the morning and in the evening. Side light, in Morocco. Notice the light coming from the right hand side, giving us some nice shadows and we look up in the fortress. We have buildings that have shadow, sun, shadow, sun, shadow, sun. That pattern all over it. We'll talk about patterns when we get into the composition section. Side light. Side light really gives you a feeling for the size of these, the texture of this wall. Makes it a little bit more three dimensional. See how at sun rise and sun set I'm figuring out where is the sun and I'm not necessarily pointing the camera at the sun to photograph the sun coming up and down over the horizon. I'm looking for where the sun has a nice, strong impact on other subjects that I'm around. Working with a window light at the side. One of the more difficult types of light to work with, back light situations. There's some real nice advantages, but it is a little bit more tricky to work with and can be really, really exciting in some cases depending on if you have the right subject. Any sort of transparency, like notice her hair. See how her hair is getting illuminated, creating almost a halo effect, which can be really nice. We'll see that in a lot of different shots here. That rim lighting, look at her shoulders getting that little highlight coming over the shoulders, really separating her shoulders from the background for instance. The front side, notice the shirt, pants. You can all see that very clearly because it's all evenly in the shadows which is how I'm exposing this particular shot. The face is evenly lit, there's not bright spots on the face, it's not particularly dark. It can also hold detail in those shadows areas. For instance her face, we're not having blown out highlights on the face, once again. These are difficult situations to work in because of the intense light and the intense dark areas that you're likely to have in a situation like this. This is a good time to be taking a look at your histogram to see if you are getting the right exposure or not. This is where aperture priority or program is not necessarily one of the best modes. I definitely recommend a manual exposure with some test shots to make sure that you're getting the right exposure in these cases because the dark and bright areas can really fool your meters. Use your lens hoods and be creative about how you frame up the shot. When I took this particular shots of these ferns, I had sunlight coming straight in my face where I wanted to stand and I moved a little off to the right hand side, compromised my point of view a little bit so that I could stand in the shadow of a tree that was casting a shadow directly on the front of my lens because my lens hood was not blocking the front of the lens. So there are other things that you can use to block your lens if you're creative about it. These are just gonna be a little bit longer exposure, so you're gonna have a little bit longer shutter speeds in most cases. Sometimes you need tripods for that, of course. Looking for subjects that have a transparent element to them, something that light can actually shine through and you can see that color of the subject. Obviously, it's hard to get back light when the sun's up in the sky, so sunrise and sunset are gonna be your easiest times looking for that. As I said before, blocking that light with lens hoods, lens shades, or other elements. Finding a dark area behind the area that's illuminated. You'll notice in this photograph, these ferns here can be really easily seen because the ferns behind it are not illuminated, they're in the shadows and this is kind of an unusual situation but it is a tricky setup because you have light and then dark behind it which means they all can't be in the same sunlight. This is something that I have learned works in the past, so now my brain has kind of been triggered when I see that situation, I know there's a potential light in front of dark. That there's something that's potential, that could be very, very good that comes out of that. Notice the rim lighting right here. It really separates our subject from the background. The runner here on the left, one of the things that going on is we're gonna talk more about reflective light, but you can see all this light coming behind him and what it's doing is it's illuminating the trail and it's bouncing the light back on him. You'd think his front side is all in the shadows, it should be kind of dark, but it's receiving so much reflected light here, but we are getting this beautiful rim light. Look at this arm that has this white line that goes right down the edge of it that separates his right arm from the background. Stands out really, really clearly and easily. It's a very similar situation in the photo on the right. Back lit situation, nice even lighting. This whole area in the foreground is in the shade, but it's evenly lit. Compare this which is back lit. I was shooting some photos of these wine bottles and then the sun broke through and it made all the difference in the world. Here's what it looked like a moment before. Not nearly as interesting, that light coming through the wine bottles. Look at all that extra color that we get out of it. Having that back light in there really, really brought out some more colors. Alright, least favorite light by most photographers in the world is the straight overhead light. This is the middle of the day type light. It's available at all the convenient hours, so if you like to wake up late and go to bed early, you're working in the middle of the day, this is what makes this very difficult to work with is that this is the convenient hours to work, but it's the bad hours for light. We have abundant light so it's very easy to set our exposures, we don't need tripods out there because we have so much light to work with. It's not gonna work out real well. The dynamic range is just way beyond our cameras. You'll notice in this photo of Mount Rainier the shadow areas get very dark, it gets very, very contrasty. I would guess for somebody new to photography watching this class and listening to me might be a little bit confusing because every once in a while I say contrast is good and sometimes I say contrast is bad. It's one of those things where you want some, but you don't want too much. It depends a little bit from photograph to photograph. It's clearly, I don't know it's like spice on the food, you want some, but you don't want too much. In this case we've got too much contrast, I think, and it would look better with more even lighting. We're gonna lose those details because the shadows are so dark. Without that right lighting, we're not gonna be able to see the texture as well. It does have a very, every day, well that's how everyone sees it type look. When you photograph it with a little bit more beautiful light, people can immediately recognize good light. It doesn't take an educated photographer to kind of go, oh that looks really nice. It's something that the educated photographer is more specifically aware of and a little bit quicker to understand what's going on. Everyone else just kind of goes, I don't know what about it, but I just kind of like it, when you get to that good light. If you do have overhead light, like this, the first thing is just to avoid it. Choose some other time to be in that particular location or to do those types of shots. If you can't avoid it, well this is a good time to find some shade and shoot in there. We'll be talking about working with shade in just a second. Working in the shadows of either a hillside or a building can be a great place because you'll have nice, even lighting in those places. There's also some very good, natural reflectors out there. Whether they're rocks or the ground or buildings, there's a lot of different places which can help balance the intense bright sunshine that is out there. This is a photograph that I don't much care for. It's got plain, overhead lighting. There's not very many interesting shadows and this photo needs a little bit more contrast. This is one of those times where wrong time to be there, I would say. This is okay time to be shooting the air show. Got overhead lighting, that's how you see the planes because they're wings are pointed upward, we're getting nice colors here. In this case, we're working with some interesting shadows. I think this is okay to be working for bright sun in this particular situation. The tulips usually don't look real good under bright sunlight, but here we have a very light colored dirt that is bouncing light up. So there's actually as much reflected light on the bottom, almost as there is bright sunlight up on the top. One of my favorite types of lighting, but it's definitely harder to find, is some sort of spot light. This is gonna be really fun to work with if you have a good situation. This really does create a very dramatic effect, if you can find it in the right place at the right time. Definitely different than your standard shots because it doesn't usually last very long, in most cases. We often call these "God Beams", as if God is illuminating that particular subject down there and we can get that light on that right subject, it really does have an other worldly feel to it. That's down in the upper Antelope Canyons in Arizona. This is something that we just don't see very much. I'll be honest with you, there's only a few photos that I have that really embody this spot lighting. You can end up with some very, very contrasty images in here, so that's just kind of natural. It comes with the territory with these types of photographs. This is another area where manual exposure is probably gonna be the wisest choice, with some test shots and checking the exposure because that bright area and probably the dark areas are just gonna fool some of the meters in there. This is where you've got to get the camera out of the program and the auto modes, use it in manual. A lot of times, like in this case, there's a hot spot and I've told you in the past, you have to be kind of concerned about areas that are blown out in brightness and in these cases you're just gonna have those from time to time. We talked about exposure bracketing back in the exposure section. This might be one of those times where if you're a little unsure, throw three or five exposures on either side of the zero to make sure that you're getting a good exposure if things are happening very quickly and you're not sure if you're getting it right. Be really aware of the environment around you, looking for clouds and are the clouds moving around. If I'm out shooting, I'm always trying to keep track of what's going on up there and is there gonna be a little break in the clouds for that sun to peep through and what can I do with that. This is some spot lighting, but it's mostly due just because it's early in the day, as the sun is coming over the hills in Athens. It's gonna illuminate things that are higher up. In about five to 10 minutes, the rest of the city was bathed in sunlight, so it was being in the right place at the right time. I thought this was just unusual. There was just a little bit of light streaming through one of the canopies and you'll notice how you're eye is drawn to where that light is because, and we'll talk about this when we get to the photographic vision section, is that your eye is drawn to the lightest element and that's why this spot lighting works in so many situations is that your eye suddenly has a direction to go to. You know what you're supposed to be looking at. Highlighting this. This is a bit of spotlight over here on the left, as well as a little bit of back light. Notice how well this mountain goat stands out from the background area, that shadowed area behind it. Now my bet is that you could stand over to the left or over to the right and get this photo. I can tell if you go over to the left, this bright area behind it is gonna start getting exactly right behind it and it's gonna start, it's not gonna have as clean a background. So I'm choosing this area and we'll talk more about this later, but choosing a nice, clean backdrop for that subject to be. Give that one a few more seconds here. Just that light as it's setting, illuminating that tip of that little mountain. This was a canoe trip up in Canada that I had taken and we wanted to get a shot of me and my buddy and all the gear that we had to bring on this particular trip. We had not planned on this, but I saw the clouds breaking and the sun, this beam of sun, this spot of sun was moving across the sand. I said, get into position quick, we don't have time to get the boat. We wanted to get our boat in there as well, but we didn't have time to do it because the sun was just kind of moving across the sand and we only had one shot at getting this picture. The sun really helps illuminate the subject, if you can get that spot light on your subject, it can look really nice.

Class Materials

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Fundamentals of Photography Outline

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Learning Project Videos
Learning Projects PDF
Slides for The Camera Lessons 1-13
Slides for The Sensor Lessons 14-18
Slides for The Lens Lessons 19-31
Slides for The Exposure Lessons 32-42
Slides for Focus Lessons 43-62
Slides for The Gadget Bag Lessons 63-72
Slides for Light Lesson 73-84
Slides for the Art of Edit Lessons 85-93
Slides for Composition Lesson 94-105
Slides for Photographic Vision Lessons 106-113

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

Love love all John Greengo classes! Wish to have had him decades ago with this info, but no internet then!! John is the greatest photography teacher I have seen out there, and I watch a lot of Creative Live classes and folks on YouTube too. John is so detailed and there are a ton of ah ha moments for me and I know lots of others. I think I own 4 John Greengo classes so far and want to add this one and Travel Photography!! I just drop everything to watch John on Creative Live. I wish sometime soon he would teach a Lightroom class and his knowledge on photography post editing.!!! That would probably take a LOT OF TIME but I know John would explain it soooooo good, like he does all his Photography classes!! Thank you Creative Live for having such a wonderful instructor with John Greengo!! Make more classes John, for just love them and soak it up! There is soooo much to learn and sometimes just so overwhelming. Is there anyway you might do a Motivation class!!?? Like do this button for this day, and try this technique for a week, or post this subject for this week, etc. Motivation and inspiration, and playing around with what you teach, needed so much and would be so fun.!! Just saying??? Awaiting gadgets class now, while waiting for lunch break to be over. All the filters and gadgets, oh my. Thank you thank you for all you teach John, You are truly a wonderful wonderful instructor and I would highly recommend folks listening and buying your classes.


I don't think that adjectives like beautiful, fantastic or excellent can describe the course and classes with John Greengo well enough. I've just bought my first camera and I am a total amateur but I fell in love with photography while watching the classes with John. It is fun, clear, understandable, entertaining, informative and and and. He is not only a fabulous photographer but a great teacher as well. Easy to follow, clear explanations and fantastic visuals. The only disadvantage I can list here that he is sooooo good that keeps me from going out to shoot as I am just glued to the screen. :-) Don't miss it and well worth the money invested! Thank you John!

Vlad Chiriacescu

Wow! John is THE best teacher I have ever had the pleasure of learning from, and this is the most comprehensive, eloquent and fun course I have ever taken (online or off). If you're even / / interested in photography, take this course as soon as possible! You might find out that taking great photos requires much more work than you're willing to invest, or you might get so excited learning from John that you'll start taking your camera with you EVERYWHERE. At the very least, you'll learn the fundamental inner workings and techniques that WILL help you get a better photo. Worried about the cost? Well, I've taken courses that are twice as expensive that offer less than maybe a tenth of the value. You'll be much better off investing in this course than a new camera or a new lens. I cannot reccomend John and this course enough!

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