Utilizing Direct Sun To Photograph Details In (Ugly, Unflattering, Boring…) Places
Direct Sun and Details
Working with direct sun can be tough at first but it’s well worth it. How many times have you walked into a getting ready location only to find that it’s not as amazing as you imagined it in your head? It looks as though the room has been ransacked by what seems like a small army of 2-year-olds. The beautiful soft light you were looking forward to from the window is a strong beam of direct sunlight creating hotspots all over the place. Getting the picture yet?
Too often we fail to utilize the tools that are right in front of us to improve our shooting situation. Direct sun is feared by many in the same way that many are fearful of using flash. However, when used correctly, both direct sun and flash can help you create incredible images. In this article, I am concentrating on utilizing direct sun to shoot detail shots indoors. We primarily use a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro and the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 for our detail shots. Occasionally, we will throw in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art and the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art for a shot or two.
My Approach When Utilizing Direct Sun
When utilizing direct sun, I have found it best to use spot metering. Doing so allows me to expose the image for the brightest part of my subject or object I’m focusing on. I also try to find a dark background to shoot against. If the sun is shining through the window and creating defined lines on the floor, I get a little giddy. It’s crazy how great light, and use of that light, can even make carpet look cool.
One other thing to keep in mind is not to shoot from the direction the sun is coming from. I alway make sure I’m around 30-45 degrees from the object I’m shooting. This creates more dramatic highlights and shadows. In the image below I put the groom’s cigar holder on the floor and placed his cufflinks on top of it. You can see the sunspot on the floor was really defined. This image would not have been the same without the lines that were made by where the sun stopped drastically. It’s a super simple image, but it’s moody and dramatic, so it grabs your attention.
In the image below, my wife shot this floral crown on a normal window sill. She pulled the blinds down and opened them to create the streaks of light.
I love this image of the groom putting his shoes on. I shot this in the middle of a foyer. The sun was coming in through the window right around sunset which created this hot spot on the floor.
This is the foyer mentioned above. This was taken earlier in the day though so you don’t see the sun. It was shining through the small section of window behind the table on the left.
This is another example of pulling the blinds down and opening them so it creates this pattern of light.
For this image, the dark background really helps make the subject pop.
In this image, I placed the groom’s card from the bride on the floor with the sun shining through it from behind. This allows us to be able to see the text clearly. I love the mood it creates.
For this image, there was just a spot of sunlight coming in the window. It happened to be the perfect spot for the groom’s boutonnière.
Here you have a relatively boring floor that ends up really working with the shoes in black and white. You can see the lines from the sunlight creating a sharp falloff.
I really love how these types of images look in black and white. The angle that I am shooting this at makes the image what it is. The sun is coming in through the window 45 degrees to camera right. This creates super dramatic falloff between the highlights and the shadows.
Utilizing direct sun can drastically improve your shooting situation instantly. Don’t fear it! Learning to see light and how to shape it couldn’t be more important for us to learn as photographers. A great way to learn to see light is to photograph a person and then move 45 degrees and take another image of them. Keep circling around them taking images until you are back where you are started. Don’t move your subject while doing this exercise. This will show you the impact the direction of light has on your subject.
If you want to learn the foundations of light and how to use light to your advantage, check out our Natural Light Couple’s Workshop, Lighting 101 and Lighting 201. They are all 30% off for the holidays. Enter happyholidays30 at checkout.