Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shooting with Natural Light - Full Sun

In this post we're learning all about full sun. Full sun is the most harsh (and evil) in the middle of the day. AKA when the sun is at the highest point in the sky. It's that time of day that the shade from your beach umbrella gets really tiny. When I sunburn in record time. During Texas summers, most local photographers tend to avoid full sun like the plague. It's just too crazy hot.

The biggest issue with full sun is that it is not flattering at all for portraits. Take a look at the example above - I'm a hot mess of light and shadow. My nose is super bright and there's a big shadow on my chest cast from my head. This kind of lighting for portraits is all kinds of bad.

Even so, we're often out and about during full sun - especially when we travel. So the light in the above photo isn't perfect and yes, we're wearing our sunglasses. You still want to capture these moments! Don't fret when you're on vacation and you want to shoot stuff and it's full sun.

However - do you want to take portraits?

My biggest tip is to not shoot someone's portraits during full sun if you want to utilize natural light. That being said: photographers can shoot great portraits in full sun, but they have to use things like reflectors, diffusers, and multiple external flash set-ups. I really hate using such things so I almost never use these techniques. Even so, here are a couple examples of how you can manipulate full sun lighting.

A reflector is used to reflect light back on a subject andto help fill in shadows. In this photo, note how the reflector helps brighten my face and remove some of the shadows, but not all the shadows are removed.

Diffusers diffuse the light falling on the subject, making it more even. The diffuser must be placed in the direction the light source is coming from (in this example, the sun is above me.) The diffuser provides a softer, more even light and the shadows are mostly eliminated.

In this photo, the lighting was far from mid-day sun, but the sun was still pretty high up there when we started this late afternoon shoot. We decided to have a little fun getting some shadows and playing with sunglasses. If you're shooting portraits, don't make all the photos like this, but there's nothing wrong with getting creative with harsh light for a series of pics.

So what's my best tip for shooting portraits when the sun is harsh? Look for even shade. Even shade is any shade that is cast by a solid object - this could be a building, carport, umbrella, etc.

In this photo you can see the location Brandon is shooting - the even shade is being cast by the building. Note that this is late afternoon, because the sun is quite low and behind the building. The sun at this time is still too harsh - so we looked for even shade.

And here are the beautiful results - gorgeous light!

If you seek out even shade when the sun is really harsh, you'll get rich colors, flattering skin-tones, and just gorgeous light. This light isn't guaranteed to be perfect, you'll still have to look for the best light in even shade locations, but once you find it, it's fantastic.

So the next time you go out to take pictures try to shoot in full sun, then try shooting in even shade. You'll get the most out of this post if you can take pictures of family and friends, pets or even product detail shots. The best quality natural light makes a huge impact for all types of photography, but when you're learning you'll notice the biggest difference with those subjects.