So You Like Sun? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

So You Like Sun?

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This captive plover was photographed in bright sun at a tourist attraction that shall go un-named. I used the handheld Canon 400mm IS DO lens, a 1.4X teleconverter, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 200. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/640 sec. at f/7.1.

So, do you like the sun for your nature photography? I do, in early mornings and on late afternoons, but during the midday hours on clear days the sun is not what I want. In the image above the contrast in the image is high and the dark shadow in the eye socket is dis-pleasing (even though I pointed my shadow at the subject. The bright, high-in-the sky sun was the culprit. (Note: I could make the image look somewhat better with some Photoshop work but I would never be really happy with it.)

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Here I used ETTL flash at +1 stop. Again, ISO 200. Evaluative metering at zero: stop: 1/640 sec. at f/7.1.

To create the image immediately above, I turned on my flash and set the flash compensation to +1 stop in ETTL mode. This told the flash to put out an additional stop of light, one stop more than it would normally need to properly light the subject. Why did I tell the flash to use extra light? So that it would reduce the hard shadows, especially those in the eye socket. (I learned this technique through experimentation.) It gotta say that it worked pretty well. Do understand that even though I used the flash at +1 stop I was using “Flash as Fill” not “Flash as Main Light” techniques.

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This image was created when the sun ducked behind the clouds with the flash set to -1 1/3 stops. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/160 sec. at f/7.1.

Just before I created this image, a cloud drifted in front of the sun (much to my delight). I set the flash to -1 1/3 stops so that it acted as traditional Fill Flash. None of the three images in this blog post have been processed. They were extracted using Breezebrowser Pro and sharpened via my e-mail JPEG action.

Which of the three images do you like best? I know that when I process each of them that the third image, the one made when the sun went behind a cloud, will be my favorite. To sum up: if you must photograph in bright sun during the midday, use lots of flash. If a cloud covers the sun or if your subject ventures into a shaded area, you have the option of using traditional Fill Flash.

Be sure to note the different exposure compensations used when the sun was out versus when the sun was in. If they confuse you, and/or if you do not understand the difference between Flash as Fill and Flash as Main Light, you will want to get yourself a copy of “The Art of Bird Photography II” (916 pages on CD only):

23 comments to So You Like Sun?

  • avatar Elizabeth Lodwick

    I realize that these photos are demonstrating difference exposures but I like the third image for a more basic reason. Head angle and the eye, there is only a miniscule difference but it makes the picture.

  • avatar birdsasart

    M. Bruce,


    I suspect I’m going to have to dig a little deeper and do as you suggest to reliably capture those whites.

    It’s all in Digital Basics and there is tons of great info on saving the whites (and the reds and the yellows) in the tutorial and how-to forum on BPN.

  • avatar Alan Lillich

    Artie: I’ve been listening to Scott’s podcasts for a long time. I asked about his radio background and he regaled us with the full midwest auto dealer add. Pat and I were in SW FLA the same week as your IPT, with Scott in the middle of the week. Next year we’re hoping to do the other extreme, from private to group, and do your SW FLA IPT if the dates work out. I’ve got a business conflict Feb 8-11, so you have 2 votes for the official President’s Week (Feb 20?).

  • I like the first image because it shows the bird’s natural response to bright light – squinting. Notice its furrowed brow? The greater color saturation is also attractive. To me the first image has a more natural feel; the others seem pale. I’ll admit the first image does not reveal that beautiful blue eye to it’s full brightness but over all it is still my favorite.

    Thanks for the chance to comment. Your work is a daily inspiration.

    • avatar birdsasart

      Thanks for your kind words. As for the 2nd and especially the 3rd image looking light and less saturated, you will need to read the rest of the comments 🙂

  • avatar Gayle

    The last will take a bit of work for you to bring out that rich detail in the whites and bring back a little color in it but it’s the best. I do like the rich detail of the first, Artie. You don’t have the head position there that you would like and I don’t care for the shadow across the eyes.

    • avatar birdsasart

      Hi Gayle,


      The last will take a bit of work for you to bring out that rich detail in the whites and bring back a little color in it


      but it’s the best.


      I do like the rich detail of the first, Artie. You don’t have the head position there that you would like and I don’t care for the shadow across the eyes.

      Same for me. Thanks for stopping by.

  • avatar Alan Lillich

    I mostly really like the new blog look. My 58 year old eyes though would appreciate a larger default text size. If I use command-plus to zoom everything gets bigger, including the images, which is not really what I want.

    Today’s plover shots showing harsh lighting are great. My wife and I spent a couple of days in Florida with Scott Bourne in February. He gave me a dope slap (figuratively) a few times about high harsh sun versus low sun or clouds. I’ve been working on that, and now I really get it!

    To me the 3rd, cloudy light shot is by far the best. Especially the complex catch light in the eye. The middle flash shot feels flat and under saturated to me.

    thanks for your tireless teaching,

    • avatar birdsasart

      Alan, If only we could please everyone with font size and colors… The great majority like the look and the read so you will be zooming a bit. Did Scott do his radio voice for you? We do agree on the third one 🙂

  • avatar M. Bruce

    I suspect I’m going to have to dig a little deeper and do as you suggest to reliably capture those whites. Even though you asked which of the three images we liked best, I was aware that post processing would be a different story.

  • avatar M. Bruce

    Does anyone need a contrarian in the room? I though not – and since this is the first time I have made a comment here, I know I’m not being very bright doing it now, but like so many of your photographs, the first image actually took my breath away. The richness and detail, especially in the white feathers, makes me want to give up.

    Around the same time you were getting those stunning images on Midway I was shooting some of the same birds at the Kilauea Lighthouse and always straining for detail in those white feathers that you seem to have in hand.

    So please forgive me for voting for image number one, and to make matters worse, I almost like the shadow across the eye – seems to add an interesting mood for me, but I have worked in the graphics industry long enough to know that ten people looking at an image guarantees at least a dozen pesky opinions.

    But thanks so much for sharing your marvelous work – you are the benchmark I strive for.

    • avatar birdsasart

      Contrarians are always welcome so long as their purposes are pure (as yours are). Thanks for your kind words. If you have ABP II (916 pages on CD only) and Digital Basics, study them, and apply the lessons, maintaining detail in the whites is child’s play. I may wind up processing all three images. I may do that and not tell anyone which is which Lastly, you are most welcome.

  • When I first opened the blog and saw the top Image, I thot ” Wow ” … because I do not know the bird, and the Image was sharp with a lot of ” character, ” helped by contrast … I like the look of ” warmth.” In the second Image, the flash took away the ” character ” for me … and some of the ” warmth.” I hope you will show us the third Image processed because the head angle is terrific [ prouder ] and maybe it will be a little ” warmer.” The Plover is some ” dude ” … makes me wonder how he came to be.

    I am not a flash user, yet … and I will take a further look at my ABP II some more.

    Great lesson, Artie.

    • avatar birdsasart

      What many folks are forgetting–not reading the comments I guess–is that the posted images are as they look right out of the camera… They have not been processed. And because I (properly) expose to the right, the 2nd and third images do look flat…. I will process one or two of them and post them for your consideration.

  • avatar Jim Kranick

    Reminds me of a fairy tale. Too dark, too light, just right.

    Actually, the third one should look even better with some post

  • I like the last one the best, but on my screen the colors seem a bit washed out. How about running Curves, set the black eyedropper on the crown and then do a little reverse S on the layer? That seemed to make it pop a little more.


  • avatar Monte Brown


    Like the third one,no shadow on the eye but the yellow on the bill is a bit more subdued.


    • avatar birdsasart

      Remember Monte, none of these has been optimized yet later and love and see you on the bear boat in September! I just sent you the Kodiak flight info.

  • avatar Vince

    I like the third one best I think, did you use the Better Beamer or did you just use straight flash?

    • avatar birdsasart

      Me too. No Beamer at a tourist attraction Was trying to keep things simple. Also, it is not needed at really close range.