Creating portraits outdoors in harsh sunlight is a pain. It’s why people tell you to not go out and do it during a bright sunny day, and to wait until golden hour. Personally, I love it, although I’m often doing it with flash or reflectors but it can be done without those, too.
David’s first shot easily illustrates why most photos shot in bright daylight aren’t that great, and why so many people suggest not doing it in the first place. I see so many mobile phone shots scrolling up my feed every day that look like this, and it can be very simple to fix.
A few simple tricks and techniques can turn things around to get a more pleasing and flattering shot whether you’re using a DSLR or your phone.
Simply turning them around and having the sun behind them is a quick and easy solution. It takes the harsh direct light off your subject’s face, and backlights their hair, creating some separation from the background.
That’s the technique I prefer to use when I’m forced to shoot in super bright conditions, but it can also have its problems, especially when you have somebody in front of your lens with very light hair. Even dark hair can blow out quite easily on the highlights, as you can see here. Sometimes that’s the look you’re going for, but sometimes it’s not.
One solution is to have a softbox or reflector in front of your subject to put some brighter soft light back into the face so you can reduce the ambient exposure and control those highlights on the hair.
The other option is to simply bring them into the shade.
This is often described as “open shade”, which you can see illustrated in the image above. One side of her face is slightly brighter than the other, and this is the side that’s facing the brighter part of the environment, and getting more ambient light from the sky creeping through (but not direct sunlight).
This light creeping through is also giving a subtle highlight to the hair. It’s very soft, but directional lighting.
It’s not going to give you the same look as if you’d use a reflector or a softbox, but it’s a lot more flattering than the image David started with.
What other tips do you have for shooting in bright sunny conditions? Do you prefer to use a flash or reflector? Or do you just backlight or look for open shade? Let us know in the comments.