Knowing how to make the most out of sunlight in your outdoor photographs can be daunting, particularly at midday when the bright sunshine threatens your subject with hard shadows and squinty eyes! I decided to go on a little sunlight odyssey with my lovely model, Amy, from midday to sunset to show you some great tips to master the sunshine.
NB: Doesn’t Amy look amazing in her $8.00 op-shop dress! For those of you who love to budget, full outfit and props for this session came to a very tidy $60!
Midday sun tips
How to place the sun to your subject
Ignore the old Irish blessing for your midday photographs; at this time of day don’t let the sun warm your subjects face! The only exception to this rule is if your subjects chin is tilted upwards towards the sun with their eyes closed – this can be a truly spectacular pose. In all other circumstances, the best place for the sun is on your subjects back or slightly to their left or right – imagine the sun as a lovely convenient hair light.
With a strong hair light around your subject your camera’s auto metering will most likely underexpose your subject (depending of course on how you set up your cameras metering – I mainly use matrix metering). To give your subject’s skin tones the right exposure, dial in a few stops of overexposure and keep experimenting until you get the look you like. You could also use your cameras ‘spot metering’ setting and select your subjects skin.
Use fill flash
Pop in a bit of fill flash, either on or off camera, to boost your subject. Sometimes I love the addition of a little flash, but other times I prefer the more bleached background look of a photograph.
Look for natural reflectors
A white or light grey surface can help add some fill to your back lit subjects. This could be a path, building, even sand!
Make the most of the shade
Shade is your friend, even and diffused – You cannot go wrong with the shade 🙂
Carefully place your subject in streaks of sunshine
My favourite thing to do is find patchy shade and place my subject so that their front is in shade with their back in a streak of sunshine. If the background has patches of sunlight and shadow it adds more backdrop to your photo instead of the ‘blown out background’ look.
Blow out under eye shadows with flash
It is possible to use flash to blast away your subjects pesky under eye shadows if the sun is directly overhead, but its not always practical. If it is at all possible, I would generally avoid having to do this – often the subjects expression isn’t ideal under these light conditions. The majority of the time you can just move your subject so the sun is slightly to their back, side or find a patch of shade.
Late afternoon through to sunset tips
We all love the golden hour, but the light preceding this can be pretty powerful, so knowing how to harness it is a useful art!
Fill flash like a champ
Be it remote or on camera – even flash, against this intensive light may only make a bit of a dent. But it can make a wonderful difference.
As with the midday sun, at anytime of the day you can place the sun behind your subject or slightly to the left or right and get your overexposure on!
Imagine the sun is a studio spotlight
Maybe its because I began my passion for photography in a studio, but I tend to imagine the sun as a powerful single tungsten light. While the sun is on these lovely late afternoon angles you can move your model to create some dramatic portrait lighting. You may need to slightly underexpose your cameras auto metering with this setup.
Create your own shade
Either ask a friend to jump in with a reflector to create some shade or experiment with posing your model to create their own.
Have fun with silhouettes
As the sun sets, shooting against the sun with no change to your cameras auto metering will create some lovely silhouettes.
Run free during the golden hour
With this soft light, its pretty hard to go wrong at any angle. The light can fall directly onto your subject, or to their side to create some lovely images. I usually over expose a little to keep them bright and airy.
No need for explanation, this light is some of my very favourite. Don’t forget to keep checking your exposures – it gets dark super quick.
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