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“The best way out is always through.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Handle a White Sky Background

This summer I had the opportunity to photograph high-wire artist Tino Wallenda again outdoors at a country fair. I've photographed Tino several times and I'm always hoping for a nice blue sky because it provides such a brilliant and colorful background. This year the weather didn't cooperate and just as Tino took to the wire a white sky slid in behind him--ughhh! I got more than a little annoyed, but there wasn't much I could do and so I had to figure out a way to use the white sky and to expose correctly for it. I knew that the only way to keep him correctly exposed would be to meter directly from his face (or the gray part of his vest--either would have worked), so I put my Nikon D90 in the spot-metering mode and took a reading just from his face. In that mode the camera is only metering a tiny area of about 3mm of the viewfinder. If I had exposed for the normal matrix metering pattern then the camera would have exposed for the sky area and turned Tino into a silhouette. Also, normally would I would add a stop of exposure (using exposure compensation) to a face reading to expose it correctly but since I was shooting in RAW (as I do 100% of the time now), I knew I could tweak the exposure in editing.

When I processed the images I was pleasantly surprised by how surreal and interesting the background looked. Tino doesn't usually perform in such an outlandish costume, but this year it was part of the show and that, along with the white background, adds some nice color to the shot. By the way, you really can' see it in this shot, but Tino is about 40' or more off of the ground and working without a net--as usual (he never works with a net). I've photographed him at more than twice that height, but it's still a scary feat. And he did a headstand on the chair during the performance--something I'll never get used to seeing.

 Incidentally, a quick editing note: Since the background of the blog and the background in the shot were white, I added a thin black line around the frame in Photoshop. That's easy to do: just use the rectangular marquis selection tool to outline the shot, then go to Edit>Stroke and select a pixel width for the stroke (outline). I used a black 3 pixel stroke here--otherwise the shot would have just faded into the page.
Photo Note: Shot with a Nikon D90 with a 70-300mm Nikkor lens. Exposure was 1/160 second at f/7.1. The shot was recorded in RAW and white balance was set to cloudy day (to warm up the shot a bit).
Exposure Book: There is an entire chapter on exposing for difficult subjects in my new book Exposure Photo Workshop, 2nd Edition. It's available on Amazon and at most bookstores. The original edition of the book has been translated to Spanish, Polish, Chinese and both editions are available on Kindle or Fire (you can read both on your iPad with a free app). 

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