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Any tips for back-lit action shots (shooting into the sun) please?

Hali 7 44 Scotland
18 Sep 2012 8:29AM
Hi there.

One of my passions is working dogs and I spend some of my free time at sheepdog trials.

Mostly (living in Scotland) the sun isn't a problem and I'm usually moaning about the lack of light, but every now and then we'll get a sunny day. The problem with this is that I'm not free to move whevever I want in order to get the best shots and its s*ds law that when the sun does shine, its behind the dogs & sheep that I'm trying to photograph (albeit the sun isn't usually in the frame).

The resulting photos are often very contrasty and colours saturated. Of course it doesn't help that I'm trying to photograph black and white subjects in the same shot.

I've tried searching for tips about shooting towards the sun but mostly all I've found is advice for landscapes or impractical advice for my situation - such as 'put your subject in the shade' or 'use fill-in flash'.

I tend to shoot in Apperture Priority at 0ve (but I know this will vary depending on whether I'm focusing on the dog, the sheep or the grass between them) - would it help if I over exposed? Is there anything else I can do? (I do shoot in RAW and have photoelements 10, but I'm also not sure of the best way to try and process the shots to try and correct the problems).

Any help greatly appreciated.

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sausage Plus
13 502 United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 8:57AM
You could dial in some exposure compensation.

I would shoot manual shutter and aperture. You cannot control the camera otherwise - it will do it's own thing!

monkeygrip 9 574 6 England
18 Sep 2012 9:43AM
I am rubbish at action shots but I sometimes shoot portraits/weddings with the sun directly behind the subjects ok they are not moving but I would presume the principles remain the same.

Firstly to keep some control of the background light and avoid producing silohuettes there has to be some injection of light to fill the shadows.

If this is not possible then I adopt the attitude that what you want people to see is what you expose for so I spot meter for the detail and tend not to worry about the uncontrollable.

Check your meter mode and control both aperture and shutter speed to achieve the best results but I think in that situation you will always have to compromise.
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
18 Sep 2012 10:20AM
Why is fill-in flash impractical? It is amazing how far (for fill-in purposes) a powerful flash will be effective. A cheap model like Yongnuo used at full power should certainly help up to about 20 metres.

Failing that, the new highlights/shadows controls in Lightroom and ACR are far better at pulling detail out of shadows than their predecessors were. Expose for the highlights and then process for the shadows.

Finally. an ND8 grad filter can help a lot when shooting into the light as it is usually the sky that causes underexposure of the foreground.

lemmy 11 2.7k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 12:11PM
You can: Use fill in flash/ use spot metering/ dial in a 1.5 to 2 stops plus exposure compensation.

The problem with fill in is that depending on the camera, it may limit your shutter speed. If it does, use shutter priority at the maximum your flash sync will work at. Flash sync gives the best technical result, widest range of tones etc but can look a bit unnatural if overdone. It can also limit how fast you can take pictures (while it recharges) and, of course, if the animal is moving around fast (when is a sheepdog not?), may not operate at a fast enough speed to prevent blurring. If you are photographing action, it is unlikely that you will be close enough for fill-in flash anyway.

The problem with adding plus exposure compensation is that when the dog is not backlit you have a very over-exposed frame which will limit your quality to less than optimum. Maybe you can set a function button to toggle exposure compensation on and off? You can on my Panasonic GH2, certainly.

Personally, I would opt for spot metering. It should bring your exposures within the reasonably correctable range of your RAW files but of course you will need to make sure the spot is on the dog when you press the shutter release. Only experience will tell you when the the spot results need a little correction overall. A dog with a white chest or a black chest could skew the exposures a bit. Or black or white flanks. None the less, spot metering is designed for these circumstances. Add a bit of experience or intuition from the photographer and you should get some good results.

I'm assuming that you are intending to more or less fill the frame with the dog. In shots that include the sheep, switch to normal metering, of course. Just to add, if you are doing portraits of some of the dogs, set up stuff, fill in flash against the light would work nicely, done with care.

My family had a border collie when I was a kid. I'm not a dog lover particularly but I love those dogs. So bright and eager. I could watch them at the trials for hours.
puertouk 6 1.1k 17 United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 4:34PM
I would have thought using a flash to take action shots of animals would be rather foolish. Sheep at the best of times get spooked, so, with a flash going as well, the poor girl would have the sheep and dog going in every direction! Use your spot metering, then put it into Photoshop and adjust it accordingly. Do not over expose the shot as you will most probably loose detail. A image under exposed is better than one that is over exposed. You will also find taking shots with the sun in the background, you can get some spectacular shots, but it's all trial and error.
lemmy 11 2.7k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 5:26PM

Quote:I would have thought using a flash to take action shots of animals would be rather foolish.

When someone asks for advice, I like to give them all the options I know. Whether it is wise to use them or not is a matter for their judgement, not mine.

Not having, unlike you, any great experience of sheep dog trials I can't say whether it would spook the sheep or not. I have taken pictures of my daughter with some sheep using a fill in flash (getting a nice halo effect all round the animals) and they reacted to the flash not at all. Obviously you would know better than me whether they react differently when being herded.

I dis say, in fact, that fill in would be better kept for static pix of the dogs.
colin beeley Plus
15 1.2k 10 England
18 Sep 2012 10:42PM
i see you use canon so you should try canon's DPP you will get better Expose tools to bring out detail in the shadow's and bring back the burnt out high lights i find it better than photoshop Wink
Paul Morgan 17 19.1k 6 England
19 Sep 2012 12:02AM

Quote:I tend to shoot in Apperture Priority

I think you will find spot metering highly impracticable photographing working dogs running around.

I would stick to AP and compensate when necessary, practice lots snapping silly things with varying degrees of back lighting, you will soon learn what levels of compensation work best.
Paul Morgan 17 19.1k 6 England
19 Sep 2012 12:13AM

Quote:I would shoot manual shutter and aperture. You cannot control the camera otherwise - it will do it's own thing!

No, not if you know how to over ride settings.
Hali 7 44 Scotland
21 Sep 2012 7:39AM
Sorry I haven't replied sooner - bit of a hectic week (we had a buyer for our house who's own sale was due to complete in 5 weeks so we've been rushing around to try and find somewhere to rent or buy - only to hear yesterday that our buyer's buyer had withdrawn due to sudden serious illness)

Anyay, thank you all for your comments and suggestions.

Flash isn't practical because of the distances, the shutter speed needed, time betweenshots and the possible effects on the sheep and dogs. Whilst its quite possible that it won't startle most sheep, you do get the odd flighty ones that are scared of everything. But of equal concern is the distraction to the dog - a slit second loss of concentration at the wrong time can be disasterous. The trials, although generally a friendly atmoshere, are a serious competition and I'd certainly not be welcomed back if I did anything that might disturb the dog or the sheep.

As suggested, I'll try different methods (next time the sun shines!)

thanks again.
Paintman Plus
11 1.2k 177 United Kingdom
21 Sep 2012 8:04AM
When I photograph New Forest ponies against the light I use Aperture Priority, average metering mode and check the histogram. I do a couple of test shots to see if I need to dial in exposure compensation and it's pretty much plain sailing from then on. I try to expose to the right on the histogram and shoot RAW so I have the maximum latitude to control the highlights and shadows in PS. Works for me. I haven't used flash at all in these circumstances, but it can be a good option if the subject is close enough. Also, you can set your flash to high speed flash and it should synchronize at all shutter speeds. Mine does.

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