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| Shooting Techniques | Adequate Lighting | Too Much Light |

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Dealing with Too Much Light

  1. Don't Shoot Where There's Too Much Light: In the bright sunlight, your pupils need only open a small amount to let in enough light for your eyes to focus on your surroundings. In fact, if your pupils open too wide, the pattern that makes its way to your retina will be mostly light with very few shadows. Just as you can barely see any details when you first enter a dim room, you're hard pressed to make out details in the blazing sun.

  2. Fortunately, the pupils in your eyes are able to close down to a pinpoint, so that even in relatively bright light, your eyes are able to adjust. Lenses are simply not that flexible. This is especially true for consumer grade video camcorders. The aperture opens and closes as your pupils do, but they close down only so far and open only so wide. As a result, when you go out to shoot on a bright, sunny day, your images may very well be over-exposed.

  3. How do you know if your frame is over-exposed? Even when the LCD and viewfinder are set correctly, overexposure is not always obvious. If the whites in your frame have no details, there are no shadows on your friend's white t-shirt then it might be over-exposed. Some of this is okay. If your friend's white t-shirt appears to be glowing as the white bleeds outside of the edges of the shirt, then you're definitely over-exposed.

  4. If you suspect that your images are overexposed and your camera has a zebra stripe function in the on-camera menu, you should use it. (Consult your manual to find out if your unit has this feature and how to access it.) When the zebra stripes are on, anything that shows up striped will be absolute white and without details when you play back the tape. There aren't many things that are absolute white. So unless you're shooting on a snowy day, you won't want too many stripes in your frame. How do you know how many stripes are too many? You use your judgment. Putting the camera into manual exposure mode and closing the iris down a notch or two should do the trick. If you don't trust your judgment with manual exposure control, and you suspect that your shot might be overexposed, set your exposure manually using a gray card.

  5. I grant you, it helps if your subjects don't wear white. It doesn't take that much light to cause whites to bleed and when you close down to stop the bleeding, the rest of the frame is likely to be under-exposed, this often includes important details like the skin tones of your subject. For this reason, you rarely see reporters or anyone involved in a studio shoot wearing white.

  6. If conditions are harsh enough, over exposure will be obvious even if no one is wearing white. In this case, putting the camera on manual and closing down the iris a notch or two does no good because the automatic exposure has narrowed the iris as far as it will go. Conditions tend to be overly bright in the snow, on the beach or even when you're on a concrete sidewalk surrounded by concrete buildings. So, what do you do?

  7. When the pupils of our eyes have gotten as small as they can and there's still too much light, we squint or shield our eyes. If we're prepared for the brightness, then we put on our sunglasses. Many video cameras have a built-in pair of sunglasses called a neutral density filter. (Consult your manual to find out if your unit has this feature and how to access it.) If you're camera doesn't have this built in, you can purchase a neutral density filter to put over the lens at your local photography shop. These are fairly inexpensive and have the added advantage of providing your lens protection against sand, dust, etc.

  8. If you don't have an ND filter, or if you've used it and your image is still too bright, go through the automatic exposure settings on your camera. sun and sky is designed specifically for bright light. Finally, you can try adjusting the shutter speed. The faster the shutter opens and closes, the less light makes its way through the lens. A faster shutter speed can also mean crisper images if you're shooting subjects in motion. For this reason, the sports mode uses a faster shutter speed.

  9. If you can, move to the shade or, more broadly, change the lighting conditions. This is not always an option. If you're shooting a soccer game for instance, you can't just relocate the game to the neighboring woods. But if you're interviewing the coach or some of the players before or after the game, you can ask them to move under a tree.

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