Kitties, while your humans may think this photography tutorial is for them, it is really for you because the more effective your humans can be at taking photos of you, the less you have to endure. Because before I get into the technicalities of taking great sun puddle photos, I want to mention the most important Rule One.
Do not wake up the kitty!
Now onto the work that goes on behind the lens. Our humans often try to capture the joy we feel when we are napping or just relaxing in a sun puddle, but it’s hard to make the photos come out right. They are very contrasty and the pictures often wind up half washed out. But there is actually a way to fix that, by selectively using flash (otherwise known as flash fill). Since my human has already broken Rule One and rudely awakened me, I’ll show you how a properly exposed sun puddle shot might look.
You don’t need a really fancy camera to do this. You just need one that has a dial with letters on it like P, A, and M, plus a flash that you can adjust (check your manual if you don’t know where to adjust the flash, or find the manual online and look it up there). That’s right, I am going to tell you to take your camera off automatic and put it on M, meaning the manual setting. Don’t be scared! Playing around with digital cameras is way easy, and you can just delete the bad photos and try again.
This will work for most slightly advanced digital cameras. What you want to do is expose the photo for the brightly lit spots. Before you put the dial on M, set it on P to get a reading (sometimes the Automatic setting will tell you too). Point your camera right at the bright spots — the sunlit rug or floor, zoom on it to eliminate the shadows and push the shutter button halfway to see what the numbers say in the window at the back of the camera. You will see numbers like ISO, F-something, and fractions of a second. Manually adjust the ISO to 125 or 60 if you have it, because that is the number you want to use in sunlight. Put the F number to around 5.0 or 5.6 — this determines your depth of field, and it will make the subject sharp, but the background a little out of focus and less noticeable. Usually at ISO 125 and F5.6, the shutter speed for a sun puddle shot will be around 1/250 of a second. Go to the M setting and put in the ISO, F and shutter speed numbers that you saw when you had your camera set at P or Auto. Consider this a start, because you may want to change the shutter speed up or down after you take a test shot or two.
Now for the flash. If you do it right, when you are shooting in contrasty sunlight, the flash will fill in the shadows without overexposing the shot. But you don’t want to use full flash, because then the shadows will get washed out and the photo will look okay, but not that great. You still want nice, rich shadows like what you see above — but you also want to see facial details (like the annoyed expression I am displaying). So find out where you can adjust the flash on your particular camera, and reduce it at least 1 and maybe 2 stops. Again, you will want to test this out and make adjustments. I suggest using a stuffed animal as a stand-in so you don’t annoy your cat.
Note in the photo above that the sun is coming in behind me, giving me a slight halo and throwing that deep shadow in front of me. You are actually using the sun as your hairlight and the flash as your main light. In other words, you are using two lighting sources, like a pro photographer would! Its always best to have the sunlight coming in from the back or the side — having it in our faces makes us squint. Of course, if we are sleeping, this is not a big deal.
One thing you need to be careful of is hot spots! See how the hot spot by my paws in the above photo ruins the shot? Pro photographers use a histogram setting to find them, but you can pretty much just eyeball it. It shows up as a glare when you look in the window at the back of your camera.
The best way to fix hot spots is to move around the subject until the hot spot goes away. That is what my human did here. Also keep an eye out for interesting shadows. See how cool my ear shadow looks here? She cut it off in the first photo, so getting rid of the glare and re-composing the photo was a double win. Note that she did not move me, only herself. Moving the subject, if it is a cat, often results in a temper tantrum and often the model walks off the set.
Of course, you could just skip the flash altogether, and just expose for the sunlight to create a dramatic shadow shot. That is good too!
I hope this tutorial helps some of you humans! You will have to let me know if any of you try out these tips!