During these short winter days, the lighting can sometimes be wonderful, but it can sometimes hinder photography. It’s the overcast days where it can hinder. The reason is the much higher level of brightness that an overcast sky has compared to the brightness of the foreground. Your camera tries hard to average out the scene’s brightness and the result is a dull foreground.
Her’s an example. It’s of something that’s really interesting to an aviation enthusiast; the fuselage of a Consolidated Catalina flying boat. Anoraky types will notice it’s an amphibious version… The sky was bright so the camera has underexposed the foreground, leading to loss of detail. So how do we get round this? Your camera will probably have a control that can help. It’s called the Exposure Compensation control. There may be a dedicated button identified with a +/- symbol, but it may be in a menu.
Here it is in action. I’ve dialled up +1 unit of Exposure Compensation. + numbers add brightness, – numbers reduce brightness. You can see that there is more detail visible in the fuselage, and the sky has gone much brighter. If all we want is the detail in the foreground we’re done, but if we still want detail in the sky we need to get it back.
One way to get it back is using an accessory called a “graduated grey neutral density filter”. It’s a piece of plastic (or if you’re very posh it’s glass), that’s grey near the top and gradually goes clear towards the bottom. The grey top reduces the exposure at the top of the image, so it gets darker. Being plain grey it adds no extra colour. The clear part lets all the light through, so the exposure for that part stays the same. It gives you the best of both worlds; good foreground detail and still some sky detail. You can see from this image that we’ve got the detail we want all over the image.
Put one on your Christmas list (along with a photography training gift voucher…).