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Controlling the sun

This past week I had an assignment to make a portrait of an athlete for a story one of our sports reporters is doing. I really don't like these jobs because they involve making an interesting photograph of someone to illustrate a story about a very active person -- the best baseball player of the year is an annual example -- but in this case my subject was in injured athlete.

The idea is that my photograph will somehow match the reporters story in tone and flavor, so a very happy looking subject in a photograph that will run with a story about a young lady who suffered a concussion and had her athletic career cut short would make no sense. Thus I have to make a moody/somber looking portrait of my subject which usually involves deep shadows and a somber/serious facial expression. 

In this case the facial expression is the easy part, I just coach the subject not to smile. The harder part is making a moody looking photo when I had to meet the subject outdoors at 1:30 in the afternoon on a cloudless, sunny day. Moody sunlight happens around 7:30 p.m. this time of year.

"Oh boy, what kind of trick can I do to pull this one off, Peter?" I'm thinking on my feet as the subject and myself walk to a soccer goal, the setting of the photo. Bright, straight overhead, flat, sunlight. Yuck.

The solution was to use an eight stop neutral density filter over my lens to darken the noon-time sun to a manageable level, which allowed me to use a flash held off the side of the camera to both overpower the light of the sun and, at the same time, create more pleasing shadows. A neutral density filter is nothing more then a dark chunk of glass the screws onto the front of my lens and doesn't do anything other than darken the overall photograph.

The darkest one I have is an eight stop filter, which, if my math and physics are correct, darkens the photograph eight times darker then the actual brightness level. Think of the filter as sun glasses for the lens or a welding mask shield. The eight stop ND filter is really dark. With the ND filter on the lens, the noon time glare looks like night through the lens and the sun to some may look more like the moon. Then it was just a matter of setting my flash to expose the subject close to the camera properly. The result is a photograph that looks, I hope, moody and more fitting to the story.

See ya on the sidelines,

Peter

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