Handling light: Diffusing harsh sun

When you first start taking photographs, you tend to greet a bright, sunny day with excitement, thinking this will be an ideal day for taking pictures.

Unless you happen to be Helmut Newton, and who is anymore, you’ll soon find you are mistaken.  Sort of.

All things being equal, a sunny day can be ideal IF you are looking for a very high-contrast look – bright whites and deep shadows, and very little gradation in between.  So your first definition is “contrast”which is a measure of the difference in intensity between the blackest and the whitest point in the image.

You may want this as a creative effect for a black and white image. High contrast is arguably not so satisfying in the more realistic esthetic of color images; you will probably want the subtle gradations in the colors to come through.

Have a look at this snapshot, taken on my balcony, of a rose _DSC0002_0044.jpgI’m growing this year:

I deliberately used the light “as is” to show a high-contrast image.  The 12 noon light¹ here is very harsh, and you can see over-exposure in the petals that have been rendered with a silvery tone.

(Confession:  I used the “recovery” slider in Camera Raw to pull back the blown out highlights, so this image is an improvement at least over “just out of the camera”.)

Beginning photographers end up with a lot of pics like this.  You have to train your eye, but first you have to know what you’re looking for and how to troubleshoot.

You can improve this situation by diffusing the light.

roseblooming-etal_0022.jpgThis is the principle that you can spread and soften the glare by arranging for the light on your subject to be shining through something translucent – in terms of pro equipment, a softbox, or umbrella for example.

If you are photo-walking, you can have your subject (if it’s human and not floral) stand just inside the shade thrown by a tree, or just inside a doorway.  Anywhere that’s not completely exposed to the unmitigated glare of sunlight.

With tongue in cheek, I simply grabbed a collapsible umbrella (the rain kind) and found a quick way to balance it so that it shaded the roses.  You don’t always need fancy equipment, and it’s good to be resourceful…!  Just be aware that if the umbrella had been brightly colored, that color cast would end up in the image.

Here’s the result: 

roseblooming-etal_0020.jpgI think it’s safe to say that this is an improvement.

Now we can actually see the subject without imagining we’re squinting; the colors are more subtly graduated.  You can see the luscious reds of the rose in a way that conveys their soft, velvety quality.

I rest my case.  Try this for yourself, if this idea is new to you, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

There really is no right or wrong way to do things, you know.  Once you get stuck in that groove, you may as well give your camera a subway token and send it out by itself, because you will have relinquished your creative control.

focal length :  50 mm
Spot metering on the red petals (to avoid rendering them too dark)
1/180 s at f 8
ISO 400

¹ (By the way, this problem is worst when the sun is high; the golden hours of dawn and dusk, with a low angle of rising or setting sun, are a different matter:  these times are traditionally exploited for gorgeous, soft lighting effects.  Get yourself up at 5 am in July and get thee to your favorite spot – and you’ll see why.)



David Roddis, “Love-tastrophes 1 and 2”/ 2016.

Mixed media.

(Original photographs produced as archival pigment prints; abraded; distressed with bleach and alcohol; toned with coffee; with addition of dried rose petals and [#2 only] artist’s blood.  Prints mounted on foam core and affixed to archival paper.)

Original pieces only, no edition.  Overall dimensions 19 x 13″, unframed.
©David Roddis, 2016.

1,900 CAD (for both pieces, framed.  Not sold separately)
Works will be framed in shadow-box format, with a depth of approx. 2 – 3″.

Enquiries:  david@davidroddis.com    /  1 437 580 3040

Am I running backwards in high heels?

Looking back at one’s own work is a – ahem – humbling experience, to put it mildly.  How sure one feels when one is just starting out with something!  And how red one’s face gets looking back at those pronouncements and assertions…

I spent some of tonight looking back back back through this blog.  I found the moment I acquired my Nikkor 105mm macro lens, my pride and joy – the lens that I sold 18 months ago to pay the rent.   That was a very sad, devastating day (yet if that’s what I consider devastation, I guess I’m pretty lucky…).

And when I look at what I’m doing now, and think about what I’m contemplating doing:

What I’m doing:

  • Changing hosting platforms from Wix to …?  well, I had hoped for The Grid, but they’re behind… and I’m looking at Big Cartel in the meantime.
  • Trying after 6 years to crack the code of online sales and wondering if it’s worth the effort
  • Creatively:  Using my images to layer, distort, stretch… new work at 5, 8, 10 feet wide, wall treatments and murals…
David Roddis, “Dahlia Multiverse”, 2016. Design for a wall treatment / mural. 3′ x 8′ approx. Available as an artist’s proof archival pigment print, from 12″ x 22″. ©David Roddis, 2016. All rights reserved.

What I’m thinking of doing:

  • Acquiring a film camera and working with those tanks full of murky chemicals
  •  Acquiring an antique plate camera and – god only knows
  • Seeing what paint might do for me…

If there’s a more difficult way to do something, I’m on it.  Which reminds me:

Ginger Rogers once remarked, with maybe just a tiny trace of bitterness, about her famous on-screen dance partnership:

“I did everything Fred Astaire did.  And I did it backwards, in high heels.”

I’m beginning to understand how she felt.  It’s a smart, sharp-witted remark and it speaks a whole Encyclopedia Britannica of volumes about laboring in the shadow of an A-list superstar.

Sometimes the world’s eyes are locked in place on the brightest light, with no peripheral vision possible.  Is it fair?  Of course not.  But Ginger Rogers didn’t have – it.

David Roddis, “Clandestine Movement in the Dandelion”, 2016. Design for a wall treatment / mural. 2′ x 6′ approx. Available as an artist’s proof archival pigment print, from 12″ x 22″. ©David Roddis, 2016. All rights reserved.


Think about it.  Fred Astaire was a slightly epicene, effete tap-dancer who exuded a creepy “get-my-uncle’s-hands-off-me” kind of sexual aura.  When I see him in “Funny Face”, where Audrey Hepburn, looking all of 18, falls in love with him, I almost can’t watch.

At a certain level, never mind how chaste it all is, it’s obscene.  This was a man who was born looking seventy-five years old and smelling like an old tin of Peek Freans biscuits.

He was also one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, jazz/tap dancer who ever existed, on or off the screen.  Baryshnikov envied him, for heaven’s sake!

Ginger Rogers, on the other hand, if not a drop-dead beauty at the level of a Hedy Lamarr or a Rita Hayworth, was a Hollywood-beautiful, wholesome, smart, hugely talented babe who could certainly fan the lust in the average red-blooded male, yet still be girl-next-door enough not to alienate women fans.

You could argue she had a head start in the popularity sweepstakes.  If she danced her life away backwards in high heels, it wasn’t for lack of talent or looks, she had plenty.

But you need so much more than talent and looks, gifts you’re born with.  You need perseverance, patience, a thick skin – and IT.  IT is charisma, star-quality, something you can’t put your finger on logically;  an “I know it when I see it” kind of thing.

If you can’t steal the limelight with all the assets at your disposal, there is something essential for that particular task that you lack, something that makes people stare, that enthralls them; something that makes people sit up and go YES; something that makes them long to be you at the same time as they realize they can never be you.

Now THAT’S given me something to think about.

Black-and-white: Strategies without the use of plug-ins

Although I’m a fan of Silver Efex Pro, you may not want to purchase a plug-in, and/or perhaps you rarely need or wish to produce black and white images.

The good news is that Photoshop is perfectly well equipped to make straightforward conversions from your color files.  There are at least four ways of going about this – here’s the first two, both of which employ non-destructive adjustment layers.

Other strategies for converting your image to black-and-white in the Photoshop digital workflow:

  1.  Adjustment layers:

black and white

Method A:

In Photoshop, » copy your image (the background layer) to a new layer; » add a black and white Adjustment layer over this copy.



detailed adjustments.PNG





This gives you six color channels with which to adjust the black and white tonalities; or you can simply use the “pointing finger” tool to click and drag right on the image to adjust more intuitively.¹



Method B

In Photoshop, » copy your image (the background layer) to a new layer; »  add a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer (this is NOT the gradient tool – you’ll find this in the Adjustment Layers palette).  If you end up with a black and white negative image, click on the adjustment layer and check the box labelled “reverse”.

(And if you ended up with a multicolored surprise – click on the adjustment layer and choose a black and white gradient!  Or embrace the result…)

You can then » edit the gradient to adjust the transitioning from black to white, which will map those new values to the colors of your image.  A less precise, less intentional method of achieving your conversion.¹

gradient map.PNG

Selective color:

As a bonus:  If you like that effect wherein some selected parts of the image are in color, simply select the MASK on the adjustment layer (in the image above, you’ll see the mask on the gradient map layer – it’s the white rectangle) and » use the brush tool to paint in BLACK right on the image (your image in its own window, not the layer) wherever you’d like the color to show through.

You can then » adjust the opacity of the adjustment layer if you want a more subtle effect.

It’s more difficult to describe than to perform…!


¹  Non-destructive :  you can make alterations without fear of affecting the original image.

A shaft of light is always welcome

David Roddis, (Untitled), 12 June, 2016. ©David Roddis, 2016.  All rights reserved.

For digital we shoot in color to capture maximum data.  We can then use numerous techniques to convert into black and white.  I use a plug-in called “Silver Efex Pro 2”.  Usually I hate plug-ins – even the word sounds vaguely alarming, as though something or someone is about to be probed by aliens – because I hate anything that decides for me, anything automatic, because choice is the essence of creativity.  (As in, choose what to throw out!)

When you look at an artwork, you have to come from the view that everything before you –  whether it’s on stage, in the print, in the paint, in the frame – everything is there by conscious choice of the artist.

(I always remember when someone once asked me, “Did you mean it to be blurry like that?”, in some ways a legitimate question, but ultimately one that conveyed to me the fact that the questioner thought of me as someone who had blundered, rather than someone who had chosen.)

But getting back to plug-ins – Silver Efex Pro gives you various pre-processing choices that you can use as starting points, then adjust to your heart’s content.  I really enjoy using it.

This image is very close to home:  A lot of shadow, the occasional shaft of light.  Maybe that’s all we can ask for, in life as in art.

Explore more strategies for converting your images to black-and-white in my next post.