Sun is NOT Always Best…Part 2

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Welcome back, happy shooters! I hope you found the first installment of “Sun is NOT Always Best” insightful. As promised, I would love to share some more info about lighting types, reflectors, and more to help you get the best images possible!

Light Qualities: Direct Light

summertime fun on the beach in direct light
Ex. Direct Light

Whether or not you’ve paid attention, you’ve noticed the different types of light around you. On bright, sunny days you get strong contrast, meaning you could trace a shadow with your finger or chalk like the days on the playground. This light is DIRECT LIGHT.

While it is the strongest type of light, it’s not generally the most flattering for people, especially when they’re facing the sun or the sun is directly overhead, creating the dreaded raccoon eyes.

Light Qualities: Direct-Diffused Light

Happy couple posing in a church using flash for direct-diffused lighting
Ex. Direct-Diffused Light

If you want to be able to know which direction the light is coming from while still having pleasing light on your subjects, then aim for DIRECT-DIFFUSED LIGHT.

Direct-Diffused light simply means there is something translucent (think like a curtain sheer or light layer of clouds) between your light source (ex. sun or flash) and your subject. The light becomes filtered so the rays are no longer traveling in a straight line, but scattering out to soften the light.

Here’s a great diagram to help bring back memories of your education in case you’re a visual learner like myself.

light travel directions
Ex. Light rays passing through a translucent material bend or refract in different directions to help soften the light and encourage light to hit at different angles

By scattering the light, the light filters out and softens the shadows to where you can no longer trace their outlines. This provides a much more pleasing light on your subjects than that of direct light.

Light Qualities: Diffused Light

Happy couple doing a dip-kiss in front of the chapel in diffused lighting using a natural reflector
Ex. Diffused Light

The last light quality I teach my students is DIFFUSED light. This is my favorite light for shooting people as it provides soft, even lighting wherever you go. No more worries about raccoon eyes or being blinded by the sun inside your camera lens.

The easiest way to achieve this type of light is on a cloudy day or in SOLID, OPEN shade such as on the side of a building. Did I lose you at “open shade”? Let me explain.

On warm, sunny days we often look for the shade of a big old tree for cooler temps. When you’re sitting underneath the branches of a tree, you’re not in open shade, meaning you cannot see the uninterrupted sky above. If you were sitting in the shade of a tree, such as late afternoon where the sun’s angle is no longer directly overhead, you could be in OPEN SHADE where you can see the sky above. By being in open shade, this prevents anything from blocking light above your subjects that can often create a darker upper image as compared to the bottom. Yes, you can fix it to a point in post-production (aka editing), but why not get it right from the start?

Whew! Are you still with me? I sure hope so because I have more to share!

Reflectors: DIY

Ambient light with dark shadows
Ex. No Fill Light

If you’re new to photography, you may not know what reflectors are, so here we go. There are times in photography where your subject may have some less-than-flattering shadows and that’s where reflectors come in handy. These can be as simple as using the ground (aka natural reflector), a silver car windshield reflector for the hot & sunny summer days, or a piece of white, silver, or gold poster board underneath your subject to help bounce light back up into the shadows. This is what we call FILL LIGHT because it is filling the shadows with light.

fill light with gold reflector
Ex. Fill light with a gold reflector

When I placed the gold reflector just in front of and to the left of my daughter (because the light was coming from the window on the right) it helped bounce some light into the shadows. (NOTE: I only used the gold because she asked for it and it helped bounce warmth AND light on our gloomy, snowy / cold day. I normally use a silver or white reflector to match my light source, simply out of preference.)

Reflectors: Natural

Did you catch that I used a gold reflector vs white or silver? That brings up another great point to discuss. Reflectors will throw colors onto our subjects that might not be pleasing. If you place a subject near a red, green, or any other colored wall or floor (especially close to grass), your subject will likely get that color reflected on to their faces.

Springtime fun with dandelions using the wrong kind of natural reflectors
Ex. Colored light reflecting on my daughter’s face from her jacket

It might be a little hard to see, but in this photo of my youngest with the dandelion, there is a bunch of reddish-pink light on her face due to the bright sun bouncing light off the jacket onto her face in the shadows. I could probably get rid of the color cast, but the photo is too cute to bother messing with it. I just want to bring awareness to what can happen with non-neutral colors near our subjects.

Couple in front of a fountain using natural reflectors
Example of placing your subjects on a sidewalk to help reflect neutral light on to the subjects

Another thing to keep in mind is grass WILL reflect GREEN onto your subjects if you’re not careful. To minimize this effect, have their faces further from the ground so there’s more distance from the bright green to allow other environmental colors to factor in (hopefully pleasingly). Another tool you can use to help reflect neutrally toned light is to place your subjects on a sidewalk or light blanket (white or neutrals work best). I know I’m most often flying solo on a shoot, so there’s no one to help hold a reflector where I need it, so being able to use readily-available objects makes it much easier.


That’s a lot to learn about lighting! Naturally, there’s always more, so in Part 3 I’ll explain more about night photography and flash photography, both during the daytime and at night.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve learned a little more on how to improve your own photography. Stay tuned for Part 3 and if you want to refresh (or missed) what I explained in Part 1, you can read it HERE!

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