When recording video outside, special considerations should be made to account for weather, sunlight, wind, pedestrians, and ambient environmental noise. Over the next few newsletters, we will discuss each of the major issues with recording outside and provide potential solutions. In this first installment, we will discuss strategies for dealing with excess sunlight. While it is appealing to record outside in pleasant weather, doing so on a mostly sunny or partially cloudy day can be a challenge due to the changing intensity of sunlight. While photography and videography require ample light to produce quality images, too much light can be a problem as overexposed images are very difficult to fix in post-production. The issue at hand is that most modern digital cameras are designed to enhance their low-light, indoor capabilities. In a situation with a lot of sunlight, there are two main in-camera solutions and two techniques that are available, depending on what the desired outcome is.

The easiest solution is not always the most practical, which is to position the camera between the subject and the sun. This may not be possible due to the particulars of what needs to be recorded.  However, when there are options positioning the camera between the sun and subject, allow the sun to act as a key light on the subject rather than a competing element of the composition. Combined with a reflector or bounce card, this technique can be utilized to ensure even lighting.

Sometimes, even if the camera is placed between the sun and the subject, the image can still be overexposed. If that is the case, the next thing to consider is the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings. Lowering the ISO or gain reduces the amount of low-light compensation the camera creates, mimicking the way lower ISO film is less sensitive to light. Lowering the ISO has the added benefit of generating less grain or digital artifacts in the image. Increasing the shutter speed will reduce the amount of light that reaches the sensor; however, it will have an impact on the look and feel of the footage. Higher shutter speeds are useful for capturing sports or action sequences, as there is less motion blur. An example of this would be filming water coming out of a watering can. At low shutter speeds, it will appear as a solid stream of water, while at high shutter speeds, it will appear as individual droplets. Finally, the camera’s aperture can be manipulated to let in less light. This can have unintended consequences, however, since closing the camera’s aperture increases the depth of field captured by the camera. For a primer on depth of field, watch this video. The short answer is that if a shallow depth of field with a blurred background is the desired effect, the aperture will need to be as open as possible.

To achieve proper exposure in sunlight without changing the ISO, shutter speed, or aperture, neutral density filters will need to be applied. On some cameras, such as most of the camcorders available at the ISS Loan Centers, the neutral density or ND filters are built in. For most DSLR cameras, filters will need to be attached to the end of the lens. An excellent primer on the use of ND filters in photography can be found here and in videography here. An added benefit of using ND filters is that they can increase the vibrancy of the sky, often allowing cameras to capture cloud formations as well as reducing glare on reflective surfaces like glass.

If you would like to learn more about videography or would like assistance with planning an upcoming recording, you can request a one-on-one consultation with one of our Production Assistants in the ISS Media Center by emailing lsa-iss-media@umich.edu