Shooting in Bright Sun for Action Soccer Photography

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Everyone talks about how the "Golden Hour" is great for portrait photography. It's orangey lighting create luscious skin tones and gorgeous "just before sunset" tones. But unlike portrait photography, for soccer photography, the best possible weather you could ask for is total overcast sky and no precipitation.

Overcast skies make for even lighting and no harsh shadows on the field, the players, and the faces of players. When shooting in the Fall and depending on where you live, you may even get a perfect day of overcast skies and beautiful fall foliage int he background. But with action soccer photography you do not have much choice in weather. Unless you are shooting at the professional level in a domed stadium under controlled lighting, managing different weather conditions will be the difference between an ok photo and a great one.

In this class I will discuss how to shoot soccer in the bright sun. Games played in bright sunny weather causes a number of challenges.

1. Sun from up above may give you more flexibility around the field as you will never shoot directly into sunlight but it causes harsh contrast shadows on faces and on the field.

2. Sun from up above can also create shadows from the ball that show up on the field or on other players.

3. Sun from up above also creates an overall brightness that can mute out colors and definitions within the face.

Here's how to best manage bright sunny soccer field conditions.

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While light is important to grab great photos, too much light creates glare. Always make sure to use your lens hood and if available to you, shoot under an umbrella or covering. Not only will this keep you comfortable from the sun, you could position the umbrella to shield from unnecessary glare like sun off of roofs, bleachers, or cars. I use a "Joe Shade" which has a tripod base, telescopic stem and a tilt-able umbrella.

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The 2 biggest things you can do to combat harsh sunlight in your soccer photographs are in your camera settings. As we discussed in the Manual Mode class, you will want to shoot with your aperture wide open, let's say f/2.4 and will keep your ISO on AUTO. If it is bright sunlight your ISO will hover around the 100-200 range in Auto Mode. The real issue is if you set your shutter speed to 1/1000s you will no doubt see your light meter show a reading right down the middle. This is great right? Well, it's complicated.

The light meter will show an accurate reading because it will indeed interpret your settings will be ideally exposed. But an ideal exposure here is technically what you want in these situations. In fact in these cases you will want to default to be a little underexposed to ensure you don't run the risk of over exposure. This is because an overexposed image will wipe out any color or definition within the brightest parts of the image. You will want to have as much color and definition captured on your settings as possible. The trick here is to up your shutter speed to 1/5000s instead. You will most likely see that even by cranking your shutter speed up, the light meter will still read as properly exposed but your images will come out with way more tone and color.

In super bright conditions with a lot of reflection, even this may not be enough. This is also true if you are playing in bright sunshine but the ground is wet or there is snow on the ground. The water and snow will reflect excess light back onto your sensor. In this case, adjust your exposure compensation setting to -0.3 or -0.6. This will basically take the readings in your camera's exposure gauge and drop it down. In general, negative numbers make the shot darker and positive makes the picture brighter.

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Ok, now let's say that you get your pictures home and see that they are still very "hot" with bright highlights or harsh contrasty shadows. Again, your goal if forced into a choice, is to underexpose the image not overexpose it. If that is the case, you can adjust your "Levels" and process the image more appropriately. See my class on "Fixing Washed Out Levels".

If that doesn't yield you the results you want you will need to make adjustments to Highlights and Shadows. Both are adjustment settings that can be achieved in Lightroom or Photoshop. 

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These are the tactics that I use when shooting in bright sunlight. As you shoot more games in various conditions you will find settings and adjustments that work for your style of shooting, your equipment, and your workflow.

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