What to do when there's too much light? :: Digital Photo Secrets

What to do when there's too much light?

by David Peterson 2 comments

Light. It’s everywhere. It’s what we use to create images on the camera. If there were no such thing as light, photography simply wouldn’t be possible. But there are times when there is so much available light that it can destroy the color in your photos. If you don’t take steps to limit the amount of light coming into the camera, you won’t be able to create the images that work. Here are a few things you can do to keep excessive light in check.

Increase your camera’s shutter speed

Shutter speed is the rate at which your camera opens and closes the shutter to let light inside and form an image on the image sensor. If your camera’s shutter is open for a long period of time, more light will come into your camera. If it is open for a shorter period of time, much less light will enter your camera. By increasing your camera’s shutter speed, you are allowing less light into your camera, resulting in a darker image.

Shutter speeds can vary by quite a lot. Most cameras include shutter speeds as slow as 5 seconds and as fast as 1/2000 of a second. Imagine how much information you could gather by opening your eyes for 5 seconds. Now imagine how much you could see if you only had 1/2000 of a second to take a quick look. When you think of it this way, it’s no wonder your images are dark when you pick fast shutter speeds.

Increasing your shutter speed is the quickest and easiest way to solve the problem of too much light. There are other ways to do it, as we will soon learn, but they all affect the quality of your photo in one way or another. A simple change in shutter speed only affects the amount of light hitting the sensor on the back. It’s the tamper-free solution.

Switch your camera to “sunny day” mode

This is if you have a point and shoot camera. You might not be able to increase your camera’s shutter speed, but you can definitely switch to your camera’s built-in “sunny day” mode. You can find the setting either on your camera’s top dial or in the main menu. It’s usually represented by a little sun icon. Just switch over to it and start snapping.

When you switch to this setting, you’re basically telling your camera that there is a lot of light outside. To compensate for all that light, your point-and-shoot does the equivalent of increasing the shutter speed. As a result, you get a more even and balanced image.

Close your camera’s aperture

(a.k.a. increase the f-number)

Your camera’s aperture is kind of like the pupil of your eye. As your pupils dilate, they let in more light. As they close up, they let in less light. Your eyes are uniquely adapted to sense changes in light and to open and close to allow the perfect amount of light in.

At lower f-numbers, your camera’s aperture is wide open. It’s like having dilated pupils when you’re inside. At higher f-numbers, your camera’s aperture is much more closed, meaning it allows less light inside. If you want to decrease the amount of light that gets into your camera, you need only increase your the f-number of your aperture.

What’s a high-valued f-number? At f-22, your pictures will be significantly darker. Of course, it all depends on the shutter speed you’ve picked. If you’re still using a slow shutter speed, it won’t matter how much you’ve increased your f-number. Your pictures will still be too bright.

There’s another factor at play when you increase your f-number. An increase in f-number makes the whoel of your photo a lot sharper (rather than just your subject) by increasing the depth of field (the area of the photo that’s in-focus). In most cases, this is a very good thing. Sharpness adds contrast and makes photos pop. However, it can be a bad thing if you’re looking for a very specific photographic effect. You wouldn’t want to use a large f-number if you were taking a macro image of a flower, and you didn’t want the viewer to see the background in focus.

That’s what I meant earlier when I talked about how a change in shutter speed is really all you need in order to control an overly bright situation. Shutter speed doesn’t affect sharpness (unless your subject is moving), and it doesn’t affect depth of field. When you change your shutter speed, you are simply reducing the amount of light that gets into your camera. That’s it.

So, before you try anything else, just keep increasing your shutter speed until your photo isn’t too bright anymore. Once you don’t have any more options, try changing your aperture. And if you have any questions, I’m always here to help. Just leave a comment below or send me an email.

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  1. Jannie Taljard says:

    Very Informative, thank you, much appreciated. I do always read, learn and enjoy your articles every time. Regards, Jannie

  2. Teddy Fayne says:

    Hello David!

    Thanks for the info! I have a question, what type of lens would I need for candid shots? I have a Nikon D5100 and I purchased a 35mm f1.8 lens for this purpose. So I need "Lens Explanation for Dummies."

    f number -
    apeture -
    shutter speed -

    I thought lowering your f number increased your shutter speed. I'm now experiencing too much light when taking pictures outside. I need to find the "Sunny Day" mode you were speaking of.

    Please help...thanks!

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.