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Tips & Tricks

A Simple Tip to Turning ‘Bad’ Light Into ‘Good’ Light | Cliff Mautner

By Hanssie on November 7th 2014

It took a while for me in my photography journey to not be scared of harsh light. Only scheduling photo shoots during the early morning hours, golden hour or always running for the nearest open shade, I would count my blessings when the day was overcast and the clouds shielded the evil midday sun. Thankfully, that fear didn’t last long as I had lovely mentors to guide me through working with ‘bad’ lighting conditions. Open shade and golden hour will always be ideal conditions to work in, but as a photographer (especially a wedding photographer), you don’t always have the choice.


In the following 3 minute video, Nikon ambassador Cliff Mautner gives us a simple tip to shoot in a challenging lighting situation to turn ‘bad’ light into ‘good’ light. It’s nothing new or earth shattering, but it’s one of those things that we all learn (and hopefully learn early) in our photographic journey. The tip is this (spoiler alert): place your subject(s) between yourself and the sun. This will help you create a beautiful backlight, even lighting on their faces and a beautiful rim light on her veil.


He lists his gear in the video (after all, it is a video sponsored by Nikon), so if you’re interested, Cliff used a Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G and Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G for the shoot and of course, having a stunning couple in the shot doesn’t hurt one bit.

Watch Nikon Behind the Scenes: Turning Harsh Light into Good Light

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Anastasia Borisyuk

    I find myself doing this intuitively a lot when we get to an engagement session and the sun is still pretty high up, before the beautiful golden light sets in I do some backlit shots and bounce some light with a reflector if I have an assistant, always beautiful results.

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  2. Mi Guel

    It may not be a bounce in the traditional sense. By turn the couple’s back to the sun, now their faces are illuminated by the sun bouncing off the grass, that is why you see a reflection, it is greenish in color.

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  3. Hank Palan

    Slight bit mis-leading as he is additionally using a large bounce to get those shots. You can tell by the light that is coming up from below the eye line, but more importantly you can see the bounce in the bride’s eyes…just saying.

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    • Greg Avant

      I think you are right.

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    • christophe parroco

      I’m not sure if you’re right, but I’d like to know too. On him he’s definitely using a big reflector, his catchlight is really big and it’s just pretty obvious. On them, during the video at some point he isn’t using one because they have green bounce from the grass on the face then it sorts of disappear (but could mean sun wasn’t as bright or different angle) at 2.11. I do see what seems to be a little catchlight so it’d be a bounce from far away or just something white in the background, I don’t think it’s a bounce because if it is it’s a poor job since their faces are still green. (Personally I do think a bounce is needed or something on the floor that would be black). Can you tell at which moment of the video that you think you can tell he’s using one just to be sure?

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  4. christophe parroco

    What he’s not saying is that it’s not Noon, so you don’t have to go for open shades because the sun is still slightly directional like it was maybe 10 am or 2 pm (you can see where the shadow of the photographer is at 1.53 and of the couple at 2.03), but at noon I think you would have had to “run” for open shade because there’s no “having subject between you and the sun” if the sun is exactly above them.
    Otherwise IT IS cool to see the difference that switching position 180 degrees can do.

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    • Duc Hong

      totally agree with you, no wonder most of time we love shoot early in the morning or 1-2 hours before sunset, that’s magic hour

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  5. Laura Tenney

    Using this technique, would you all use spot metering on the bride/groom or matrix metering? Thanks!

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  6. Marc Avice

    Great tips! I had this pb every summer :-)
    I found the composition of the picture at 2:32 quite cool. I believe the camera is tilted giving the impression that the groom is going to kiss the bride. Are you guys using this technique as well?

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  7. Brandon Dewey

    Great tips from one of the best wedding photographers

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  8. Duc Hong

    thanks for sharing a nice tip for us, one thing I notice on this one is, choosing the direction for a dark background also plays a key factor in this situation, usually it will works when we shoot behind the tree, or a big building which doesn’t have white wall, otherwise the photo will easily get overexposure. Correct me if I’m wrong
    once again, great tip !!!

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    • Jamie Hosmer

      I second the tip about also having a dark background with this technique. Without a dark background the highlights are blown out very easily.

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    • christophe parroco

      Yes I noticed that too, and yes you’re right

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