Winter Sunlight Problems

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#1
When I have been out photographing birds on some of our rare sunny, clear winter days up here in the Puget Sound area, I have run across the problem of the harsh winter sunlight coming in at a low angle and reflecting off the sides of the birds. I believe it is adversely affecting my auto focus and metering systems.

In a thread by Allen Love Jr., I suggested he may have run across the same problem when he was recently out photographing trains.
http://www.railroadforums.com/forum/showthread.php?p=324313#post324313

Does anyone have any good techniques and tips to share for photographing trains (and birds if you want) in the low, harsh winter sunlight?
 
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kenw

5th Generation Texian
#2
Some things you might try: underexpose a bit, i find it helps the contrast in these situations. If you camera has the feature, Canon has a setting called High Tone Priority. I use it all them time now, it brings back definition and detail in white or very bright surfaces. And if the scene allows, spot metering and allow the background to blow out if necessary
 
#3
Some things you might try: underexpose a bit, i find it helps the contrast in these situations. If you camera has the feature, Canon has a setting called High Tone Priority. I use it all them time now, it brings back definition and detail in white or very bright surfaces. And if the scene allows, spot metering and allow the background to blow out if necessary
I shoot primarily with a Canon 5D Mk III and 7D, so I'll check for the High Tone Priority feature. I have used spot metering on birds, but I'm not sure how well it would work for something as large as a train.
 

kenw

5th Generation Texian
#4
I shoot primarily with a Canon 5D Mk III and 7D, so I'll check for the High Tone Priority feature. I have used spot metering on birds, but I'm not sure how well it would work for something as large as a train.
I’ve had surprisingly good results with spot for trains on the few occasions I’ve used it, I find I use it more when the headlights are problematic. The trick is what you actually wind up metering on and in the case of spot, usually ballast is a good neutral surface. Yes it will likely blow out the background (HTP will reduce that somewhat as well). Then there are times when glint is ok on trains, but that’s not something you want all the time.

Are you using back-button metering/AF? I find that this is probably the single biggest aid in tough lighting situations. There are several options, you might try experimenting with a couple to see if any of them help here.
 
#5
Here is a late afternoon shot of a Downy Woodpecker on the weeds at Oreapolis and a bluebird out at Yutan. The auto focus had a hard time differentiating between the bird and the weeds. Exposure seems pretty good. I was concentrating so much on not scaring the bird I didn't change to aperture preferred which would have given me a little depth of field. Both of these are with a Nikon 55 - 300mm Zoom on a Nikon 3200.
 

B_Kosanda

Outstanding In My Field
#6
Some things you might try: underexpose a bit, i find it helps the contrast in these situations. If you camera has the feature, Canon has a setting called High Tone Priority. I use it all them time now, it brings back definition and detail in white or very bright surfaces. And if the scene allows, spot metering and allow the background to blow out if necessary
I find that in the low light that underexposing the photo is the best for making sure the sky is not blown out and the colors are most intense. How I get to this is to use AEB with +/- 2/3 stops. The overexposed photos are throw-aways, but the normal and 2/3 stop underexposed versions are most times all I need to find a well exposed photo.
 

kenw

5th Generation Texian
#7
BTW, I'm on a great photography forum, and I could use a few more train shooters over there: www.pixtus.com

Lots of birders, macro and nature shooters and they've been very helpful to me.
 
#8
You are the first person I've ever heard refer to winter light as harsh.
I read a lot of classical literature as a kid and probably picked the term up from there. On a bright, sunny winter's day, there is usually less humidity in the air to filter the sunlight as there is in summer.
 
#9
An over exposed photo can be a real pain. That's why I also try to underexpose my photos as much as possible. An underexposed photo is much more easier to work with than a photo that is overexposed. Just don't over do it.
Maybe so, but if you look at the shadow area when you bring up an under exposed photo, it starts to get artifacts and speckles. I set my camera +1/3rd all the time, and bring things down, for blacker blacks and better contrast.

I'd guess that means I'm more at risk for blown out highlights and whites.

I'd rather have that than a grainy noise speckled black shadow area?

Obviously I'm one of the expose to the right school. LOL

Everyone has their own taste in the final results, that's mine. I also prefer to shoot at ISO 100 unless it gets too dark. Fuller and richer colors. Less noise.

Ah, but I don't shoot RAW, which some people insist is necessary. There's room in all of this for personal preferences.

Has anyone suggested a polarizing filter for harsh Sunlight, Winter or Summer?
 
#10
I often refer to the winter sunshine as "brutal" especially on my drive east in the morning and west in the afternoon. I know one spot I love to park and railfan is almost unusable in the winter if sunny due to it's south facing direction. I can't even see the display on the camera to know what I am filming plus it makes the video go dark/light/dark depending on the darkness of the cars being vidioed.
 
#11
Revisiting my old thread. Over the years I have developed the technique of using negative exposure compensation (i.e., under exposing) for shots involving harsh, direct sunlight. I even included it in a class I conducted on bird photography at our local Bird Fest.

I have found harsh lighting to be more of a problem when photographing birds than trains, but it can still present a problem with trains, especially at sunset. Check post #680 0f this thread:
http://www.railroadforums.com/forum/showthread.php?29284-Pity-Mile-Post-17/page68

I probably should have used spot metering when focusing on the Sounder cars.
 
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