Shooting in direct sunlight can be challenging. It can cause harsh shadows, blown out highlights, uneven light on faces, and dark patches under the eyes that look great on a raccoon but not your subject. Most photographers wait and shoot earlier or later in the day to avoid these problems. But sometimes you can’t wait and you’re forced to shoot during this horrible time of day. Here’s how to embrace this challenge so you can shoot in direct sunlight.
Softening harsh light
A simple solution is to use a diffuser. A diffuser is a translucent piece of material that broadens and softens the light. It’s part of a 5 in 1 Reflector Kit and are available in different sizes. A larger diffuser will spread light across a broader surface. Positioning the diffuser closer to the subject will produce a softer light.
Bounce light back onto the subject
In some cases, you may need to use a reflector in combination with a diffuser to bounce light back onto the subject. This style is called clamshell lighting due to resembling a clamshell. Any reflective surface or material can be used — a sidewalk, white sand or even water. Keep in mind, the bounced light may inherit the color of the reflective material.
Backlight and fill flash
Position the subject’s back to the sun. This will keep the harsh light off your subject’s face. This may fix one problem, but it will cause another one. The subject’s face — and body — will be too dark. You could expose for the subject but then the background would be blown out and unrecognizable. To solve this, add a flash to properly expose the subject’s face and fill in shadows. Think of this as a two light setup. Since you can’t change the power of the sun at that very moment, set your exposure to make the background look properly exposed. Now balance the flash by changing its’ power to make the subject look properly exposed. Using a light meter would really help. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to eyeball it.
So the next time you’re challenged to shoot in direct sunlight embrace it by using these simple tips.