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3 Tips for Shooting Portraits in Bright Sunshine

Image: Fill Flash with the Sun Behind the Subject Creates Nice Backlighting but a Well Lit Face (the...

Fill Flash with the Sun Behind the Subject Creates Nice Backlighting but a Well Lit Face (the hat helped shade the face too) - Image by Cayusa

It’s a bright sunny day and you’re out with friends making the most of the good weather. You decide to take your camera – after all what better day to shoot some portraits of your friends than a sunny day – bright light = great shots doesn’t it?

Unfortunately lots of light doesn’t always equal great shots – in fact sometimes when you’re shooting portraits in bright sunshine you can run into real problems.

For starters shooting in bright midday sun where light is coming from directly above is going to mean that your subject can have some pretty heavy shadows cast on parts of their face.

Not only that, if you’ve ever posed for someone taking a picture in bright sunlight you’ll know just how difficult it can sometimes be to look natural and not end up looking like you’re grimacing in pain while you squint to keep the sun out of your eyes.

So what’s one to do?

Here’s three simple tips for shooting portraits in bright sun light. I’ve kept them pretty basic for those of you who are out and about and don’t want to haul an outdoor studio along with you!

1. Fill Flash

It seems a little odd switching the flash on in bright sunlight but it’s one of the best times to do it. Those heavy shadows cast on your subjects face (particularly under the eyes) by the midday sun can be a thing of the past with a little extra light from your camera’s popup flash.

Many cameras will allow you to control the intensity of the flash output with their flash compensation function so don’t be satisfied with your first shot – dial it up or back a little once you’ve taken a first test shot until you get a nice natural light.

Image: Shot in open shade and using a reflector - Image by christianyves

Shot in open shade and using a reflector - Image by christianyves

The bonus of using a little fill flash is that it will often darken your background a little which can give your shot a little more punch and make your subject stand out a little from their background. Fill flash will also create a little catchlight in the eyes of your subject, giving their eyes that little extra sparkle!

Sometimes using fill flash will also allow you to shoot with the sun behind your subject – this means their face has no direct sunlight on them but that they have a little back light falling upon their hair and shoulders which can create a nice impact.

2. Shoot in the Shade

Another easy way to stop the shadows on the face of your subject is to simple move them (and yourself) into a much bigger shadow and to shoot in the shade.

The key is to find a spot where they’re not in the dark but have a nice even light falling on them. So avoid dappled light under some trees a tree or you’ll get spots on their face but go for something with a nice even coverage.

If you’re going for a tight head shot you might even be able to get away with having someone hold up an umbrella or some other object to create some shade over their face (as long as the other person is out of shot).

3. Find a Reflector

Image: A combination of shooting in shade and using a reflector gives this portrait an even lighting...

A combination of shooting in shade and using a reflector gives this portrait an even lighting - Image by JesseBarker

It’s unlikely that you’ll be hauling a proper reflector around with you (although I know some dPS readers always travel with a small foldable reflector in their camera bag) but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the same principle to bounce a little light into the face of your subject to help light up some of those shadowy areas.

Pretty much any white (or light) surface can act as a reflector of light and held at the right angle you can use it give your subject a little extra light.

One photographer we talked to a while back swore by always wearing a white t-shirt for this but you could get a similar result by positioning your subject by a white wall or positioning many white objects just out of frame to reflect light. I’ve even seen one photographer friend take aluminium foil from a picnic and using it to help make a reflector (although it did create a little ‘dappled’ light on his subject.

Bonus Tip: Get Creative

Once you’ve taken a few nice portraits with the above tips, why not try a few experiments and use the bright light to see if you can inject a little creativity into your shots. You might just take one with the WOW factor. For try creating some lens flare by shooting into the sun (just be careful not to burn your eyes looking directly into it). Alternatively you might try some silhouette shots for portraits with a little mystery and drama.

What other tips would you give someone looking to shoot portraits in bright sunlight?

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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