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How to Take Portraits on a Sunny Day

Updated on September 27, 2012
A young blonde in bright sunlight with a shadow cast on her face. Fill-in light techniques could be used to further eliminate the shadows even at the expense of the background. Nonetheless, the shadows are not much of a big deal in this photo.
A young blonde in bright sunlight with a shadow cast on her face. Fill-in light techniques could be used to further eliminate the shadows even at the expense of the background. Nonetheless, the shadows are not much of a big deal in this photo. | Source

Are sunny days perfect to take photos? Well, not necessarily -- especially in the middle of the day! You may have to deal with harsh shadows being formed on persons' faces due to the backlighting effect from the sun. When everything in your image is basically well exposed you have may have unwelcome shadows that underexpose your subjects’ faces -- not fun. Nonetheless, there are ways and means to get around this without using post processing software.

Fill-in Light Techniques

Well there are ways to deal with this issue, and in another post on Lighting, you would have come across the idea of fill-in light. This is one method of reducing the extent of the shadows, and typically requires the use of a pop-up flash or flashgun that you would point into the direction of the persons’ faces. You will have to use it at a low power to avoid overexposing your images. All you need is just a little extra light to highlight the faces. You may also do well with an connectiong cable between your flash unit and D-SLR so that you can raise your flashgun to point downwards in order to mimic a natural lighting effect. Softboxes and umbrellas are even other ways to fill-in light using extra lighting. Reflectors are inexpensive and can be quite useful in filling in light on faces. You may need an assistant in using them, or the person you’re photographing can help in the process as well.

Spot Metering

This method is all about using natural light, and is favored among Portrait and Wedding Photographers. It involves changing your metering mode to spot metering and using an Autofocus (AF) point to be a highlight of the person’s face. By doing this, the face of the person will be exposed well but the background may become overexposed. The effect will almost come across like a high pass image, but it’s really the background that is blown out while the person is properly exposed. This method may be of an additional benefit to a photographer when the background is noisy, or the colors are not necessarily desirable.

Simple Common Sense in Mobilizing 'Photographees'

Seeing that we have looked at ways to somewhat eliminate unsightly shadows from the faces of the people we photograph, then we must also take some simple common sense advice into consideration. For one thing, if you have the chance to have your ‘photographees’ in the shade or better yet in softer light, then this would be great! It will be easier for you to take images, and also this may remove the need for persons to do that ‘squint-eye-smile’ -- a gesture showing that ‘the sun is in my face’. Fill-in light and spot metering are recommended techniques to deal with harsh shadows, but of course one may suit you more than the other based on the vision of images you have. A blown out background isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but in many photographers book, the background doesn't really count anyway.

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