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How to Shoot Portraits in Direct Sunlight

If you must shoot portraits in direct sunlight or you're trying to experiment with something new, here's our best advice on ways to make that bright sun above work in your favor. Read below!

You've read the best photography quotes that will inspire you to take more photos and are ready to take some pics. But when you get outside you discover that you’re forced to shoot portraits in direct sunlight, which you quickly discover is not an easy task. When shooting in direct sunlight, the sun is obviously very bright. The lighting situation will not be ideal, and your subject’s faces will be exposed to harsh shadows, raccoon eyes, and very bright glare that bounces light into the eyes. As opposed to the natural lighting you get when the sun is lower in the sky, direct overhead sunlight produces blown out highlights on the face and, overall, just isn’t ideal for anyone. However, sometimes timing and lighting are not in your favor, and you must make do with what you have. If you must shoot portraits in direct sunlight, here are the best tips to make it work.

Zoom out.

The bright sun is going to highlight any imperfections on your subject’s face and skin tone. That is one of the negative effects of shooting portraits in direct sunlight. And while you may know tips and tricks for retouching skin in photoshop make your portraits more appealing in bright sunlight, you can also just zoom out in your photos. By having a wider angle, the white balance from the natural lighting will seem more artistic and less harsh. Use can also use a lens hood and adjust your shutter speed to minimize lens flare when taking these wide-angle shots.

Use filters.

Filters can help minimize white balance and direct overhead light when shooting in direct sunlight. Try using the polarizing filter or the neutral density filter, which will help minimize light getting into your camera lens. While this won’t completely improve your lighting situation while you shoot portraits in direct sunlight, it may help improve your shots.

Create shade.

If you want to get creative when you shoot portraits in direct sunlight, consider creating your own shade with props. Make your own aluminum foil reflector, use an umbrella, a piece of fabric, or even hide a piece of cardboard to create open shade so that your subject’s face does not bounce light from direct overhead light. This may help you avoid such harsh shadows and get a more natural lighting look as opposed to the very bright sun and blown out highlights.

Move into the shade.

Also, if you’re not in a huge empty field, it's possible that there is natural shade nearby. Whether that be under a tree, inside, or even near a building. Move into the shade or into a shadow, if possible, to get better lighting so that you don’t have to shoot portraits in direct sunlight. Only shoot in direct sunlight if it is your last resort or if you want to take on the challenge. It isn’t the most desirable situation, because the bright sun coming from directly overhead doesn’t create flattering angles!

Capture the silhouette.

If you want to shoot a portrait in direct sunlight, it may make sense to get artsy with it and try and capture the silhouette of your subject. If this is the look you are going for, try to focus your camera on the sunlight itself so that your subject is as dark as possible. Make sure your subject’s body is angled correctly so that the silhouette looks nice against the sunlight. When shooting in direct sunlight, this can be a great way to avoid the harshness of the bright sun and work around it.

Use the fill flash feature.

Sometimes using fill flash when you shoot portraits in direct sunlight can be helpful. You would think using flash and adding extra light on top of direct sunlight would not be helpful but when shooting in direct sunlight, your subject’s face can create awkward harsh shadows from the nose or other clothing accessories because they are facing the sun. By adding fill flash, the extra light from the camera flash will eliminate these shadows, and will add full light to the face as opposed to awkward smaller shadows from the bright sun from overhead.

Put the sun behind you.

You can try to put the sun behind you or your subject when you shoot portraits in direct sunlight. Moving around and trying different positions may change the way the sunlight hits your camera and the subject in the photo. While the sunlight will remain overhead no matter what, every specific angle will make a difference in how your picture turns out. You may not be able to reposition the sun, but you can always reposition yourself.

Adjust the exposure.

By matching the exposure of your background to the exposure of your subject’s skin tone, it can lessen the effect of the sunlight overhead. To do this when you shoot portraits in direct sunlight, try focusing on the location in which you shoot as opposed to the tim of day. Use light backgrounds with light skin tones and/or outfits, etc.

Edit after.

Thankfully, we have amazing photo editing tools in our world today, so even if you shoot portraits in direct sunlight, you can greatly improve the way your photos look after the fact. Minimize brightness and exposure, increase the contrast and shadows, and add color to your photos to decrease the look of the bright sun. With professional editing tools on the computer, your photos can change drastically and the original lighting situation will seem less significant in the long run.

Wait it out.

The last possible solution for when you must shoot portraits in direct sunlight is simply to wait it out. Thankfully, the sun is only directly overhead for a short amount of time and for the rest of the day the sun can provide us with great angles for natural lighting photography. If you simply wait it out for just a short amount of time, your photos may end up turning into something special. So, depending on your situation and timing, waiting it out may be your best option.

If you’re shooting portraits in direct sunlight, consider some of these tips and tricks. The situation may not be ideal but photography is art, and there’s always a solution to make your photos look interesting. Remember, you can learn how to become a professional photographer without school. You just need to get out there and start experimenting!

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