Direct Sunlight

Shooting in direct sunlight can be perilous. In fact, most photographers are taught to avoid shooting in direct sunlight because the light is harsh, the shadows are deep, and it is hard for the subject not to squint. Typically, the light is not flattering, and it's just a pain to shoot in.

But if you look at the pages of high-fashion magazines, photographers regularly shoot in direct sunlight. It has taken on an edgy feel because it breaks traditional photographic rules. Photographers use the harshness of the light to really shape the face and body and to create a certain mood.

For example, Figure 8.2 was achieved using direct sunlight filtering through the trees. Although I usually avoid direct sunlight because of its harshness, here the light illuminating the subject's face made the scene more dramatic and mimicked the light illuminating the background roots. The direct sunlight gives shape and dimension to this particular image.

Direct Sunlight Photography

Figure 8.2

Direct sunlight can be a tool to create dramatic lighting. Although you should use it carefully, it can add dimension and shape to a scene and subject.

Figure 8.2

Direct sunlight can be a tool to create dramatic lighting. Although you should use it carefully, it can add dimension and shape to a scene and subject.

If you shoot in direct sunlight, I have two general recommendations. First, watch the light. Really see how it shapes the subject's face or interacts with the environment. Make it look like you chose to shoot in direct sunlight, not like you had no other choice. Second, try to shoot earlier or later in the day. If you shoot more toward sunrise or sunset, the sun will be at a lower angle in the sky.

These angles of light are more flattering and give definition to your subject. Figure 8.3 was taken near sunset, so the light was rich and golden while shaping the face.

It's easier to shoot in direct sunlight with men because their faces typically can handle the harsh light, although you can use this lighting for both genders.

This lighting technique is surreal and cinematic. In the next dramatic or romantic movie you watch, see how many times you come across this lighting scenario. The light is flattering and creates a feeling of perfection and fantasy. That's why it's popular with my clients. Figure 8.4 was shot using this technique. Notice the mood of fantasy and nostalgia it creates.

Simply put the sun to the subject's back, and use a reflector to bounce light back into her face. This creates almost a glowing halo around the head and nice crisp light on the face. I typically use a 30-inch 3-in-1 or 5-in-1 reflector. The 5-in-1 reflector I'm using has a silver side, a gold side, a silver-gold mix, and a white diffuser in the center. I almost always use the silver or silver-gold mix; however, I wanted a warm and golden look in Figure 8.5, so a gold reflector was appropriate to capture this image.

Direct Light Fashion Photography

Figure 8.3

When shooting in direct sunlight, consider shooting earlier in the day or later in the day when the sun is at a lower angle. This low angle creates an interesting mood and a more flattering effect on the face.

Figure 8.3

When shooting in direct sunlight, consider shooting earlier in the day or later in the day when the sun is at a lower angle. This low angle creates an interesting mood and a more flattering effect on the face.

Sunlight Photography

Figure 8.4

Here, the backlight on the bride's hair makes the scene more romantic and fairytale-like.

Figure 8.4

Here, the backlight on the bride's hair makes the scene more romantic and fairytale-like.

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