Tips For Shooting In Harsh Light

23/06/2017 10:53 am


Shooting on location can often be a bit of a struggle, especially in this unpredictable Australian weather. Natural light can be harsh and can easily make or break a photo shoot.

Sunny days, in particular, are difficult to work with as harsh light and dark shadows can be tricky to capture. In saying this, the sun can also produce the most beautiful lighting - and it's completely free! The trick is learning how to use this light to your advantage and knowing how to capture it properly.

Here are some of my top tips to help improve your natural light portraits, particularly when shooting on a harsh sunny day.



1: Find Some Shade


My number one tip for shooting on a sunny day is to try and find a location that has some shaded areas. Whether that be a tree or a building, make sure you have the option to move into the shade if the sun is too harsh. Shooting in the shade will also help prevent the model from squinting in all of your images, which often happens when the model has to look into the sun when shooting.


The images below were both taken in the shade using nothing but natural light. The first image (left) was taken on a very sunny day at noon when the sun was at its brightest. I had planned to shoot at other areas of the beach but the sun was too bright. Instead, I decided to move the model into the shade cast by one of the beach houses. This allowed the lighting to be even across the entire model, meaning no unattractive shadows caused by the sun.


The second image (right) was taken in similar lighting, the sun was very bright on this day too, so it meant that it was difficult to shoot on the pier as I had planned. Luckily I was able to find a nearby ferry shelter which was painted white. The small roof of the shelter blocked the sun from directly hitting the model, allowing me to fake soft winter lighting on a sunny summer day.




2: Make Your Own Shade

Another option is to make your own shade. I would recommend purchasing a scrim and bringing along an assistant to hold it above the model to diffuse the sunlight. Most reflectors come with a diffuser, which can also be used as a scrim in bright lighting. Another great (and cheaper) alternative to block out harsh rays is by using fabric or everyday items to create a similar effect. I find that a plain umbrella or a piece of cardboard do a great job at shading the model. I have also used a piece of fabric to make a makeshift wall to block out the light. Use these to block the sun from the model and then expose for the models face to ensure that she/he isn’t too dark.


3: Turn Your Model Away From The Light

This is probably the simplest option to eliminate harsh shadows on the models face. Turning your model away from the sun will ensure that the light is even across the front of their body, eliminating any uneven lighting issues. The sun will also illuminate the edges of the models body creating a halo, which can add a dreaminess to the image.
Also be careful when posing a model with their back turned to the sun, if the light is hitting them on an angle this can cause the side of the models face or body to become bright and overexposed. You want to aim to make the light across the model as even as possible.


4: Bounce The Light

If you are finding that there is too much shadow in your image, try adding in a reflector to lighten these shadows. A white reflector is perfect for subtly lightening dark areas, or you could use a silver reflector to create a more dramatic effect. The below image was taken with a white reflector positioned to the right side. I placed the reflector just out of frame and at a slight upwards angle to ensure that the light was even and fairly natural looking. You can play around with the distance and angle you hold your reflector on to see what works best for you.


5: Change The Shoot Time

If all else fails, another easy way to get better quality natural light is to shoot later in the day. Avoid going out into the sun in the middle of the day. The sun is at it highest at this time, often resulting in harsh unflattering shadows underneath your subjects eyes and chin. To avoid this, try shooting in the late afternoon, just before the sun sets. The sun will be at a much more flattering angle and you will be able to achieve a much softer lighting effect. The warmer colours also look great on camera.

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