Sun is NOT Always Best…Part 1

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Hey friends! Welcome back and I hope everyone is having a good start to the new year!

As much as I’ve enjoyed the holiday break with my family, it’s time to get back to business, so to speak. I’ve been busy reading posts in my various Facebook photographer groups lately and one topic struck me as something you could benefit from as budding (or seasoned) photographers…Using sunlight for great photos.

Believe it or not, shooting portraits on a bright, sunny day is NOT always best. So many people out there think “hey, the sun is out so we have great light for photos!” What most people do not realize is the sun can actually produce some less flattering images, especially when your subject is in direct sunlight.

To illustrate my point, think to yourself how many times you had to look in the sun’s general direction when someone is attempting to get a photo of you. I don’t know about you, but that hurts my eyes, makes me squint (which we know is not a flattering look), and sometimes makes me sneeze (a unique genetic condition affecting a wide array of people…sneezing when the eyes are introduced to bright light…Read more here!).

Direct Light

Direct Sunlight
Example of Harsh Sunlight in Portraiture

When photographing living beings in daylight, human or otherwise, the most flattering and gentlest light for your subjects is to place the light BEHIND your subject at an angle to the camera unless you’re lucky enough to be photographing around sunrise or sunset. Either way, backlighting helps create a more dreamy and flattering light on your subjects. If you’re seriously wanting the strong contrast from the sun, go for it! There’s no right or wrong as it’s all subjective. In this example of my daughter at the beach, the harsh sunlight creates the dreaded raccoon eyes and bright spots on her face. She’s still cute, but it’s not the best lighting.

Sun Flares & Image Haze

Family posing in a sunflower field with backlighting, sun flare, and haze
Example of backlighting, sun flare, and haze

Another thing to think about when photographing in daylight is how the angle of light filters into your camera’s lens. This is often much more of an issue when using a mobile phone camera as the lens is flush with the body of the phone and more subjective to lens flare (bright circles in the image) and image haze (look at the faces and how “gray” they look). One way to help combat those effects is to use your free hand (hopefully you have one) to shade your camera’s lens. In this example, if the lens had been shaded on the right side, the flares could’ve been eliminated.

Open Shade & Backlighting

Two more tips for soft, even lighting on bright, sunny days: Place your subjects at the EDGE of the shade and make sure your subject is in OPEN shade. If I just lost you, let me clarify.

When you look at the ground on a sunny day and see where the sun and shade meet, place your subjects (if that’s an option) on the line with the SHADE in FRONT of them. This means the sunlight behind them helps light up the background while keeping your subjects in great light. (Note: This doesn’t work as well with dappled light such as that coming through trees and leaves).

Open Shade & Backlighting
Example of Open Shade & Where Shade Meets Sun

In the photo of my two oldest daughters playing in the sprinkler, they’re standing at the edge of the shade from the tree where it meets the sunlight. This gives them a nice soft light on their faces and a beautiful glow behind them, accentuating the sprinkler’s crazy fun.

As for OPEN shade, this is making sure there’s nothing ABOVE your subjects like an awning, tree branches, etc. By doing this, it ensures the light hitting your subject is at its maximum even if it’s not direct light. This helps minimize shadows on your subject’s faces as well, leading to more flattering photos and happier people. In the final example of my oldest at the Christmas Tree Farm near our home, the sun is angled behind her with her face in shade and no trees etc above her.

Up Next…

Angled Backlighting
Example of Angled Backlighting

Coming up in Part 2 of “Sun is NOT Always Best”, I’ll discuss more lighting techniques on a budget, how to identify types of light (beyond bright, dark, cloudy, or sunset / sunrise), along with ways to work with ANY lighting you may encounter.

I hope you enjoyed this post and if you haven’t already read my previous posts, check them out here!

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