When shooting couple’s portrait session outdoors, nothing beats the quality of the sunlight during the early morning or late afternoon just before sunset. But sometimes we don’t have that luxury and may have to shoot in the middle of the day when the sun is higher up and harsher. When shooting in a bright sunny condition, your best bet is to find a shaded area to shoot your couple and when shooting in shade, it is important to determine the direction of light in order to correctly pose the subjects. In this tutorial, we are going to give you a little quick tip on how you can use your hand to identify the direction of light.


When you’re shooting in the shade having the couple face the direction of the light will give you the softest and most flattering light. To test the direction of the light we like to use what we refer to as the “hand test”. To do this test, simply raise your hand with your palm facing you and observe the shadows on your palm. When your palm is lit from the side, or the back, you will see shadows under the bumps and crevices. Once you face into the direction of the light your hand should be evenly lit, and that’s the direction where you will get the most flattering light on your couples.


In the image above, the bottom of the palm is bright but there are some shadows near the bottom of the fingers. This is not an ideal direction to face the couple if we are aiming to achieve a soft and flattering look since the light is coming from the side. However, it might be a good direction if we want more of a dramatic look with a bit of light direction to the image.


In this image above we see that the light is coming into the camera, and this means that it is behind our subjects. So we can see that while the palm is lit fairly evenly, we have deep shadows in the crevices of the hand. For portraiture, this means heavy shadows under the eyes, nose, mouth and lines in the face. There will be times when you’ll want to shoot against the light in order to use the sun as a hair light, or perhaps simply because the background is better for the composition. In these cases, you should ideally use a reflector to help soften the shadows which we will demonstrate below.


In this final photo above we are shooting with the direction of the light. That means that the light is entering the subjects face from behind the camera. In this image, we see that we have the most even and flattering light. The palm is evenly lit, and there are no deep shadows anywhere. If the background and composition fits, you can shoot the subjects in this direction without the need for additional light modification.

For example, in the image below, while our scene is primarily back-lit, we have a strip of cement just in front and under the couple. The cement is acting as our fill light coming from behind the camera filling direct light into our subjects faces. When posing the clients and shooting in this direction, we can achieve a beautiful look without any additional light modification as you see in the image below.


Let’s move on and demonstrate how to use a reflector as a fill when you are unable to shoot with the light filling into the subjects faces.


As we discussed above, when shooting in non-front lit (when the light isn’t filling directly into the subjects faces) shade, there will be unappealing shadows underneath the eyes and nose. In these situations, we need to even out the lighting by using a reflector underneath the couple.


Be careful where using the reflector, not to reflect too much light upwards. This generally happen if direct light is falling on the silver side of the reflector. Uplighting, which we commonly call “campfire lighting,” is a very unflattering light for portraiture.

Here’s what the image looks like before and after this simple reflector modification.





Notice how much more light is filling into the subjects eyes, facial and smile lines, as well as the shadows underneath the face and neck. Adding the reflector modification gives us a much more flattering look right out of the camera.