Photos by A. David
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The Newest Wrinkle

My fashion photography blog, featuring current fashion trends, and day-wear, photographed by A. David Holloway

How to take great portraits on a sunny day!

Shooting into the sun

We’ve all had a time when we’ve wanted to take a photo of someone on a bright sunny day. The biggest problem people encounter is where to position the sun in relation to the subject of your photo. If you have the subject face the sun so their face is well-lit, they have to squint into the bright light. If you face the sun, their faces are usually shrouded in shadows, or the background becomes so bright you can’t see any face details at all. Today’s blog will give you some tips and tricks to get the best shots on a sunny day.

If you’re shooting with a camera phone or a small point-and-shoot camera, your options might be limited, but there are still some things you can do.

Position the Sun Behind the Subject

Shoot with their back to the sun as much as possible, which will prevent them squinting into the light. As I already mentioned, this will probably cause the photo to be blown out in the sky and too dark in the face.You can minimise this by making sure your camera is reading the light reflecting of the subject, rather than the whole image. On a camera phone, it usually means touching the screen where your subject is located. This should make the camera adjust the light reading to that specific spot. Otherwise you can adjust the exposure manually - this differs from phone to phone and camera to camera, but you’ll either see a control labelled exp. Or perhaps a ‘sun’ symbol. Tapping this should open the controls to change the exposure of the photo. Some slight changes can be made later in apps like Photos or Instagram, but it’s always better to get the change made before you take the shot.

Similarly, if the sun is just far too bright and changing the exposure doesn’t give you any face details, you can put the subject side-on to the sun, so that neither the camera or the subject is in direct line with the sun. If this is the best option, try not to have the sun at 90 degrees to the camera as it will then cause uneven shadows on the face. Try putting the sun at about 45 degrees, or have the subject stand at 90 degrees and then turn their head a little bit back towards the sun so that the shadow caused by their nose is shortened. When the sun is hitting both their cheeks and their nose is making a shadow that ends just under their eye, you’ll be in the right spot. This lighting is sometimes called Rembrandt lighting because he utilised it quite a lot.

Use fill-flash

An easy way to fix the light problem is to use a fill-flash. If you’re using a camera phone, you can turn the flash on, however they don’t always have a lot of reach, so it might end up making little difference in the end anyway. If you have a point-and-shoot camera you might have a bit further that the light will go. Unfortunately, the fill-flash on automatic cameras is hard to control, and it’s harder to know what the camera will do when the flash is on. It might assume that the flash is the only light for the shot, and therefore underexpose the whole shot because the flash is not bright enough to light the scene by itself.

You Can Make Things

If you have a little more time on your hands, and you want to get a bit more of a professional look to your photos, you can make a bounce-card, reflector, or scrim.

Bounce-cards and Reflectors

These two items do what they say on the box: a bounce-card bounces light around, and a reflector, reflects. The main difference is that a bounce-card is usually softer, while a reflector is harder. Which one you want to use depends on the strength of light you need to counter. If you have a really clear sky and bright light, a reflector might be needed to counter the shadows caused by the sun, but you have to be careful that you don’t point the silver into the eyes of your models or you’ll get them squinting into the reflected light anyway.

This shot used a gold-coloured reflector to fill the shadows on his face and to give little highlights in the eyes

You can get a large piece of white card and use that as a bounce-card, cover one side in aluminium foil to make a reflector. You can buy ready-made portable reflectors online, but they tend to be expensive, and if you’re not shooting a lot or professionally, they may not be worth the cost. I use one that has 5 colour options and folds down into an easy to carry packet.

For this shot I used a gold reflector and fill flash to counter the strong golden light coming from the sun.

You can use it by leaning it against your leg or tripod or a bag etc. to bounce the sunlight back onto their face to minimise the sharpness of the shadows. Just watch where the shadows fall on the person's face, as they're hard to fix in post. If the sun is directly overhead you could put white card on the ground and bounce light straight back up, or even have the model hold it near their face for a closeup shot.

If you have an extra pair of hands on the shoot, and the light is really bright you can use a
you could buy or make a scrim or diffuser to block the light.. A scrim (usually black card or thick black fabric) blocks the light completely causing a shadow, or if you use white shower-curtain material the light will pass through it and it'll act as a diffuser, which will give you softer light causing less shadows. These can be good options if you have a small area to shoot in and it’s easier to just block or lessen the light rather than bounce it back. They’re harder to position as they need to be above the subject, in the light path, rather than on the ground pointing back to the subject.

No matter what you’re shooting, or the lighting conditions you have to work in, shooting should always be fun! Using these tips next time you’re out in the sun with your friends or family will help you get a more professional look to your images. Happy snapping!