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I’m a minimalist gal when it comes to most things, and photography equipment is no exception. I know that some people love equipment and gear; the more the better. But when I think about lugging lights, reflectors, and flashes around, my creativity takes a nosedive. My favorite light source, hands down, is the sun. In the words of John Denver, sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy!
I’d love to share some dos (because who likes to be told what NOT to do?) to help you harness the power of the giant lamp in the sky. Hopefully you’ll gain a new appreciation for this natural light source, whether or not you hate lugging equipment around like I do.
One thing I love about the sun is that it is never the same. Although having an unpredictable light source can be a big challenge, I love that every day, every shoot, every photo, is unique and special. I couldn’t recreate any given day’s exact lighting even if I wanted to. Some days everything works together like magic, and I call that a gift.
I see many amateur photographers take photos like the one above, with harsh light and shadows on the face. Most of the time they are paying more attention to a pretty background than the lighting. If the sunlight is very bright, such as midday, or early afternoon, this can be a big problem.
Sunlight is a beautiful light source, but you have to work with it, and position your subject in the correct place, since try as you might, you’re not going to be able to move the sun (unless you want to wait a couple of hours, and let it move itself).
This means that the sun is behind your subject, facing you. This method of using the sun is my absolute favorite, because it makes your subject just glow. There are a few things to keep in mind as you try backlighting:
There are lots of great advantages to this type of lighting, including the beautiful sky captured in the photo. When you backlight, your sky is usually washed out in order to have your subjects properly exposed. You can add a sky in post-processing, but when you shoot with the sun behind you, and toward your subjects, you can expose for both at the same time. A few more tips for front lighting using the sun:
When the light is soft, either when it’s almost down, or with a few clouds over it, you can light your subject from the side to get dimension. You can get dramatic moody portraits, soft flattering portraits, fun happy portraits…the sky is the limit!
I can’t talk to someone without noticing how the light falls on their face. I look at how shadows fall at different times of the day. I study the quality of the light constantly, and take photographs with my mind all day long. The more you know about how the sun works, and how you can work with the sun, the better your photos will get.
DON’T be discouraged if the sun is hiding behind clouds. If you’re lucky, they’re thin clouds, and you can still harness a bit of that magical sunny glow. If it’s overcast, just remember that you’re still using the sun as your light source, and be grateful for the ease of using the whole sky as a giant soft light. Don’t forget; in the words of Annie, the sun will come out tomorrow!