- Best Camera Settings for Portrait Photography
- Here's Why You Should Take Portraits in Landscape Orientation
Photo by pixelfit via iStock
Ask anyone that has much experience behind the lens and they'll tell you that the absolute worst time to take a portrait outdoors is during the middle of the day.
Midday sunlight is very harsh and casts shadows that, let's be honest, make people look bad. The deep contrast of the harsh highlights and dark shadows is simply not a good look for anyone.
However, there are a few workarounds you can employ to minimize the negative effects of midday light to create gorgeous portraits in harsh sunlight.
Taking Portraits in Harsh Sunlight: Find Some Shade
Photo by Art-Of-Photo via iStock
Perhaps the easiest thing you can do to tone done harsh sunlight is to find some shade.
Under a tree, next to a building...anywhere you can find shade will be better for your portraits than having your subjects stand out in the direct sun.
Not only does shooting in the shade get you much more even light, and therefore avoids the deep shadows that look so terrible, but if you can find a shady spot that faces a light-colored area, like a white wall, you'll get some soft reflected light as well.
Photo by PeopleImages via iStock
Quick Tip: If seeking shade under a tree, ensure that the shade is consistent, as shown above. Blotches of sunlight filtering through the leaves can leave distracting highlights on the model's face. In this case, the hint of sunlight on the model's cheek gives a little pop of warmth and helps define her cheekbone as well.
Shooting Portraits in Full Sun: Make Your Own Shade
Photo by Alina Demidenko via iStock
You won't always be able to find shade that's readily available, so if shooting portraits in full sun is unavoidable, you need a means by which you can create your own shade.
If you have a 5-in-1 reflector kit, you can use the diffuser to soften the light and shade your model's face. A scrim can be used for the same purpose, and is much larger in size so you can get that much more shade.
The difficulty with using diffusers and scrims to create shade is that you'll need at least one person to hold the diffuser (as shown above) and at least two people to hold the scrim. If you don't have helpers, these methods could prove to be difficult.
Learn how to use a diffuser to soften harsh midday lighting in the video above by Matt Granger.
Quick Tip: If you don't have a scrim or a diffuser, a plain, white sheet can also work to create shade. Again, you'll need helpers to hold the sheet tight to get the most pleasing light.
Taking Portraits in Bright Sunlight: Just Embrace It
Photo by recep-bg via iStock
Of course, another option for dealing with portraits in harsh sunlight is to simply embrace it and make it work.
On the one hand, you can use strong highlights and shadows to your advantage to create an artistic-looking portrait like the one above.
Notice that this image makes use of a lot of shade in the background to help tone down the brightness of the image. Doing so helps make the splash of sunlight on the model's face look that much more striking.
Quick Tip: When using highlights and shadows like this, it's not just important to get the camera settings right, but you also need to be dialed in with the composition. In this case, the manner in which the sunlight splits the model's face is quite compelling. Seek ways to use highlights and shadows in a way that draws more attention to the model and makes them a stronger subject in the frame.
Photo by CoffeeAndMilk via iStock
Another trick you can use to manage harsh sunlight in portraits is to convert the image to black and white.
Black and white images benefit from strong contrast, and since that's precisely what you get when taking portraits in bright sunlight, it's a match made in heaven.
Above, you can see how the harshness of the sunlight illuminates the model's hair while also creating shadows in the hair to give it better definition.
When using this technique, have the model face away from the sun - it will help keep their face in shadow and prevents squinting as well.
Black and white portraits - well, any great portrait, really - can also benefit from being printed in a way that adds drama to the shot.
I'm a huge fan of canvas prints, and as I explored in my canvas print shootout earlier this year, there are lots of good options for getting a high-quality print.
CanvasHQ won that shootout thanks to a combination of factors like high-quality materials, excellent craftsmanship, a fantastic warranty, and fast shipping, just to name a few.
Personally, I like the texture of canvas and how it gives a classic feel to a portrait.
When there's a lot of contrast in the shot (like in a black and white portrait taken at midday), that texture adds so much depth and character to the photo. They really look like a million bucks!
Something else that I appreciate about CanvasHQ is that it's a family-run business, and they treat you like a member of the family.
If you have a question or problem, a real, live, actual person helps you. If there's an issue with an order, they work quickly to rectify it.
I know that not all portraits you take will be ones you want to have made into a big black and white print.
However, once you get the hang of shooting portraits in harsh sunlight, trust me, you'll want your best portraits printed by CanvasHQ!