Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

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Charley123 Senior Member • Posts: 1,100
Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

I'd like to share some old school photography techniques I learned in college 30 years ago and have used ever since. These techniques are from the film days. I later found they still work well with DSLR and mirrorless digital cameras too.

In high contrast scenes outdoors on sunny days, sometimes you may want to reduce the contrast of the scene to be within the dynamic range capabilities of your camera to record. I do this by using a linear polarizer with rubber lens shade screwed into polarizer and +0.3 EV exposure compensation.

I use the rubber lens hood to rotate my linear polarizer. My camera uses contrast detect AF, which works with linear polarizers. Linear polarizers works better than circular polarizers. However, phase detect AF does not work with circular polarizers. So if your camera has phase detect AF, use a circular polarizer. If you are using a circular polarizer, then you don't need a rubber lens hood screwed into polarizer. If you are using a circular polarizer you can use any type lens hood whether hood mounts to lens body or screws into polarizer. You do need a lens hood for best results.

The polarizer reduces glare, which tones down highlights so no highlight details are lost. Adding +0.3 EV brightens the shadow areas to increase details in shadow areas. This technique works very well for reducing the dynamic range of the scene to within what your camera can record.

Polarizing also increases color saturation, especially of the sky.

To take things a step further, I like to use exposure bracketing in 0.3 EV increments, 5 frames. This pretty much guarantees a perfect photo out of camera. Usually the +0.3 EV photo is perfect, but if not, one of the other 4 frames will be. I shoot jpg + raw. The raw is my security blanket backup plan in case needed, but it's rarely needed. These techniques work so well that usually one of the 5 jpg is perfect out of camera.

Also, I have my camera setup to size my jpg at 1280 x 960 OOC because that's the size I publish online. If I ever need larger, I have the raw to work from. I have my jpg compression quality setting on superfine (best quality jpg).

Your jpg size preferences may differ, or you may be shooting raw only. Regardless, using a polarizer, lens hood, +0.3 EV exp comp, and exposure bracketing is a winning combination to tame high contrast outdoor scenes.

I find the above techniques works so well that no post processing changes are needed for exposure, contrast, or color.

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Another old school technique is squinting while viewing the scene (before looking through camera). With an SLR or DSLR camera, this is the old fashioned live view. When you squint, the dynamic range your eyes see is reduced to (approx) the dynamic range of what film or a modern sensor can see. So this gives you a visual preview of what the photo would look like without a polarizer and 0 EV exp comp.

Squinting was very useful in my film and DSLR days. I no longer bother to squint at outdoor scenes because my mirrorless camera has live view, which is even better.

gordonpritchard Veteran Member • Posts: 4,833
Re: Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

I think that caveats and limitations of polariser use should be mentioned.

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OP Charley123 Senior Member • Posts: 1,100
Re: Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

gordonpritchard wrote:

I think that caveats and limitations of polariser use should be mentioned.

Please post your opinions regarding that. I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I may learn something new.

I've been using the techniques I mentioned mostly for outdoor archtitecure and landscape on sunny days, though I have also sucessfully used those techniques for outdoor people pics (when I didn't use fill flash instead).

gordonpritchard Veteran Member • Posts: 4,833
Re: Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

Charley123 wrote:

gordonpritchard wrote:

I think that caveats and limitations of polariser use should be mentioned.

Please post your opinions regarding that. I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I may learn something new.

I've been using the techniques I mentioned mostly for outdoor archtitecure and landscape on sunny days, though I have also sucessfully used those techniques for outdoor people pics (when I didn't use fill flash instead).

I'm not sure that removing reflections/glare with a polarizer is what would be considered as reducing a scene's contrast since it alters the appearance of highlight subject detail in the scene.

Be that as it may, using a polarizer can remove glare and reflections (e.g. glass and water) - but only when the light causing them is at a specific angle relative to the filter's angle. The most noticeable effect of a polarizing filter is when it’s rotated at a ninety-degree angle to the sun. At another angles it may have no effect - other than as a neutral density filter. And it may introduce glare/flare. Also, using a polarizer with a wide-angle lens can create some weird results because of the broad field of view.

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OP Charley123 Senior Member • Posts: 1,100
Re: Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

gordonpritchard wrote:

Charley123 wrote:

gordonpritchard wrote:

I think that caveats and limitations of polariser use should be mentioned.

Please post your opinions regarding that. I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I may learn something new.

I've been using the techniques I mentioned mostly for outdoor archtitecure and landscape on sunny days, though I have also sucessfully used those techniques for outdoor people pics (when I didn't use fill flash instead).

I'm not sure that removing reflections/glare with a polarizer is what would be considered as reducing a scene's contrast since it alters the appearance of highlight subject detail in the scene.

Be that as it may, using a polarizer can remove glare and reflections (e.g. glass and water) - but only when the light causing them is at a specific angle relative to the filter's angle. The most noticeable effect of a polarizing filter is when it’s rotated at a ninety-degree angle to the sun. At another angles it may have no effect - other than as a neutral density filter. And it may introduce glare/flare. Also, using a polarizer with a wide-angle lens can create some weird results because of the broad field of view.

I avoid using a polarizer with M43 lenses wider than 20mm.

I always use a lens hood and avoid shooting with light source in the frame. I've never had a flare with any lens. Well, not since 30+ years ago as a photography student who didn't yet own a lens hood.

Glare is not limited to glass and water. Roofing, siding, pavement, grass, plants, rocks, and most other things have varying amounts of glare that is removed or reduced by polarization. Polarizing (in strong sunlight) and resulting reduction in glare increases details in highlights and in many cases improves color saturation of entire scene.

The 90° to sun you mention is correct with regard to maximum polarization of sky. However, it works to varying extents at many other angles with regard to polarizing the sky. It works at all angles with regard to polarizing the scene below horizon. Though the angle to sun will affect how much it polarizes.

I learned these techniques 30 years ago from my older cousin who was a free lancer who often shot landscapes and architecture for Sunset Magazine. I used these techniques for decades as a staff landscspe, architecture, and real estate photographer for 3 real estate development companies, and also free lance.

Professionally I used the technique with 35mm film and later with ASP-C digital. I eventually moved on to being a free lance and corpoate software engineer because it paid/pays me better than photography.

Now I'm mostly retired and I've returned to photography in M43 form, mostly as a hobby now. The use of polarizer still works well.

I prefer a linear polarizer because it allows me more control over extent of polarization than circular would. Also, linear polarizers cost less than circular. The downside of linear polarizer is it doesn't play nice with phase detect AF, but my EM5ii camera has contrast detect AF.

Being able to use a linear polarizer is an often overlooked advantage of contrast detect AF. I freely admit that phase detect AF has advantages in other areas. Since my camera uses contrast detect AF, I happily use a linear polarizer and +0.3 EV exposure compensation. I'm very happy with the results.

For those with phase detect AF, use a circular polarizer. It won't polarize as strongly as a linear polarizer, but it should work adequately.

I've used Tiffen, Hoya, and Heliopan polarizers. Heliopan is my favorite, but Tiffen is also good and Tiffen is inexpensive. I do not like Hoya because they are difficult to keep clean and get clean.

Try the polarizing techniques I described before you knock it. It works excellent on sunny days, and good on partly sunny days. It works best around mid to late morning, and mid to late afternoon. You can't polarize the sky around noon (though things below the horizon can still polarize a little around noon). Never polarize on a cloudy day.

ThrillaMozilla Veteran Member • Posts: 5,903
Re: Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.
1

You have an interesting idea that might be useful under some conditions, but there are some things I don't think you understand.

Charley123 wrote:

I pref er a linear polarizer because it allows me more control over extent of polarization than circular would.

I used to teach polarized light microscopy, and I can't think of any reason why that would be true. And I can't think of any reason why you would think it's true. Either type of polarizer has the same range of adjustment, by rotation.

A circular polarizer is just a linear polarizer plus a quarter wave plate. The polarizer interacts with light from the subject. The quarter wave retarder has no visible effect, except to reduce interference with any mirrors or partial reflectors in the system. Mirrors tend to be part of the light meter and focusing mechanism, but they are not part of the optical system when the exposure system is made.

Also, linear polarizers cost less than circular. The downside of linear polarizer is it doesn't play nice with phase detect AF, but my EM5ii camera has contrast detect AF.

Being able to use a linear polarizer is an often overlooked advantage of contrast detect AF.

I can't think of any advantage except cost. Just read the directions and use a circular polarizer if your camera requires it. There is no disadvantage to using a circular polarizer on a camera that can use a linear polarizer, and you should get exactly the same results.

Since my camera uses contrast detect AF, I happily use a linear polarizer and +0.3 EV exposure compensation.

The quarter wave retarder does not absorb light or reduce transmission in any way. A built-in light meter should work the same way with or without a polarizing filter, as long as you use the right type of filter for your camera.

For those with phase detect AF, use a circular polarizer. It won't polarize as strongly as a linear polarizer, but it should work adequately.

You are mistaken. All commercially available polarizing filters for photography remove 100% of the light polarized in one vibration direction. There is essentially virtually no difference between them in the "strength" of the polarizer.

Try the polarizing techniques I described before you knock it. It works excellent on sunny days, and good on partly sunny days. It works best around mid to late morning, and mid to late afternoon.

The idea of using a polarizer to reduce strong reflections, e.g. in forest lighting, is interesting. Rather than specifying the time of day, it would be more accurate to say that polarization is complete at Brewster's angle. I have tried a polarizer myself for forest lighting -- with mixed success as I recall.

You can't polarize the sky around noon (though things below the horizon can still polarize a little around noon).

Nonsense. Polarization of the sky is strongest at a 90 degree angle, and you can get that at any time of day. At noon at the equator

Never polarize on a cloudy day.

I wouldn't overgeneralize. See Iceland spar.

On the other hand, you have to wonder if anyone tried detecting polarized light through clouds.  The OP is quite correct that clouds show polarization very weakly or not at all.

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