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News & Insight

Five Tips for Shooting Better Portraits in Harsh Midday Sun

By Brittany Smith on December 20th 2017

Natural light has always been a favorite light source among portrait photographers, especially during golden hour. The hour before sunset and after sunrise is also desirable for the even spread of harsh light as is a near perfect diffused natural light scenario. These are relatively ideal situations because they provide a sense of a controlled environment and are easily manipulated.

It is the unpredictability of the midday harsh light in an outdoors setting that can be intimidating for many. Embracing the imperfections of these scenarios can create a new dimension of interest that is highly sought after in fashion and beauty photography when it is done well. Australian photographer Kayleigh June shares some of her favorite techniques that she often utilizes on many of her photoshoots.

Gear

1) Make the lighting as even as possible

It is important to utilize the light and shadows in a way that flatter the model’s face. Begin by placing the model in the path of the sun and assess how it wraps around the subject. Verbal cues such as tilting the chin up toward the sun and other subtleties such as a slight tilt of the head in either direction will aid in directing the model to a workable starting point.

Before and after finding a flattering angle with the light.

2) Use a Reflector

Reflectors are an excellent piece of inexpensive equipment to fill in the shadows without the use of a portable light and works very well in backlit situations.

Left: Backlight only. Right: Backlight with reflector as fill.

3) Create your own shade

Shade is always a usable option outdoors and sometimes it isn’t as abundant as it should be. Using a reflector to block the light can create a very even and diffused, if not somewhat flat, lighting source.

*The diffusion panel found in standard 5-in-1 reflectors may be a better source for those who want a little more gradation and subtle contrast.

Using a reflector to create even shade.

4) Shoot in Raw and underexpose

Highlights are easily blown when working in harsh mid-day sun and underexposing slightly helps retain them. The information captured in the Raw image makes it easy to decrease the shadows and bring out more detail.

5) Count the model in

This goes hand in hand with the first tip when shooting in direct sun. Counting down from “3, 2, 1” allows the model to keep a natural expression on their face without looking pained. This same method can be useful to shield a model’s eyes when the mood calls for a more powerful expression as the result of looking toward the sun.

The following video is a very quick watch and provides some great BTS footage of Kayleigh putting these tips into action. You can subscribe to her YouTube Channel here for more fashion photography resources and check out her Instagram feed to see more of Kayleigh June’s works capturing the essence of mid-day light.

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Brittany is a fashion and beauty photographer who works between NYC, Montana and LA. She photographs the way she has always wanted to feel and believes in the power of raw simplicity. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local coffeeshop, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, or baking something fabulous in the kitchen.
Instagram: @brittanysmithphoto

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