Backlighting at Polynesian Cultural Center

April 11, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

During my recent trip to Hawaii, I enjoyed capturing photographs at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). The PCC is very photographer friendly. They permitted me to carry all kinds of gear--including my massive 500mm lens. They also allowed me to shoot from a tripod at all locations, including the various shows. The only event that was off limits was the "Ha: Breath of Life" live performance evening show.

My only problem while shooting at the PCC was the sun! I visited the Center on three separate days, and each day the sky was clear. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. This might sound ideal for the ordinary visitor. But, this direct sun is a photographer's nightmare. The lighting is very harsh. Shadows go black and highlights get blown out. It's particularly unappealing when taking pictures of people--and people were my primary subjects at that location.

During my first visit, I selected a location where I could capture pictures of the Canoe Pageant with a clean background. However, the sunlight was so harsh and the shadows so dark that most of my pictures weren't worth the time to process them. I returned for a second time in hope of some cloud cover. Earlier that day, the sky was cloudy and the light was soft and diffused. But about 15 minutes before the Canoe Pageant started (it starts at 2:30 PM every day), the clouds cleared and the sun once again made the light impossible to manage. My approach was to only take photographs during the brief time that a canoe entered some shade cover. This severely limited my photo opportunities.

Following is one of the images that was captured in this unappealing light:

Polynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural Center at 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie, Hawaii on January 26, 2017

On my third visit, I used a very different approach. This is an approach that most portrait photographers would probably have thought of to begin with! My approach was to set up in a location where I was shooting directly into the sun. That way, the light would be even on the faces and people wouldn't be squinting while looking toward the bright light. This approach worked well for me.

Here are a couple of examples of how I used backlighting to create more appealing images in the same conditions that the above picture was taken:

Polynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural Center at 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie, Hawaii on January 28, 2017 Polynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural Center at 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie, Hawaii on January 28, 2017

This solution worked for me. I only wish I had thought of it sooner.


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