Should the sun be behind the subject or should the sun be behind the photographer?
Where should the sun be when taking pictures?
Do you even think about light and where the sun is before you take a picture?
If you do, great! If you don’t, then I’m glad you’re here. This post is for you.
You heard me say a few times that one of my goals is show you that having expensive gear doesn’t make you a better photographer.
Understanding light is the key to improving your photography skills.
If you don’t understand lighting, expensive equipment won’t help you.
Lighting should be the first thing you think about before you take a picture, so we should dig deeper.
Let’s begin with one of the most challenging lighting situations – taking pictures in the sun. I’m talking about bright midday sun. You can go hide under the shade, but I want to show you that you can use the sun to your advantage also.
Here are 3 tips for taking pictures in the bright sun. I think about these three things whenever I’m outside taking pictures, so I hope you find these tips helpful.
1) Avoid having the sunlight come directly from the side
There are creative ways to create photos using this type of light, but if you’re looking to get a flattering, clean portrait of people then sunlight directly hitting the side of your subject’s face creates harsh shadows, resulting in an unflattering portrait.
One side of the face is going to be bright and the other side is going to be in the shadow. Or the person closer to the sun will block the light and one person will be in harsh light and the other person will be in shadow. Not a good portrait.
Check out this photo I took of my son and wife. The lighting is terrible. The sunlight is hitting them from the side. Exactly what I’m saying to avoid;)
I knew the lighting wasn’t ideal but I was more concerned about the moment, so I took a picture anyway. If I were to move them into better lighting, the moment would have been gone. I break rules all the time :).
2) Keep the sun behind you
Embrace the sun! Keeping the sun behind you is a great way to show off the blue sky. However, keeping the sun behind you means the subject will be facing the sun. I don’t recommend doing this for portraits because when the sun is high up in the middle of the afternoon, your subject will squint or the sunlight will create dark shadows on the eyes.
Keeping the sun behind you works for landscapes or if you’re getting candid shots, or action shots where the subject isn’t necessarily looking at the camera. I use this to showcase beautiful blue skies, clouds or scenery.
Remember, if you want to showcase both your subject and the scenery, keep your subject and your scenery under the same lighting condition.
(Above Photo: Straight Out Of the Camera: Shot in Manual Mode with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon 24-70mm 2.8 L lens, ISO: 100, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/1250)
And here are some examples from weddings I shot using this tip. By the way, I would like to clarify that the wedding photos I’m posting here were processed with Adobe Lightroom and are not straight out of the camera shots. However, I want to share them with you because sun was the only light source and I used the tips I’m sharing here.
3) Keep the sun in front of you / behind the subject
Also known as back-lighting. I love doing this, and so I use back-lighting all the time. When the light hits the subject from behind it creates what’s called a rim light around the subject, as long as the background behind your subject is darker than the backlight. This lighting separates the subject from the background and it’s pleasing to the eyes. I love it. Here’s an example of a photo from a wedding using this tip. Do you see the rim light around the bride and groom’s head and down his neck?
(Disclaimer: Above wedding photo was processed with Adobe Lightroom and is not a straight out of the camera shot. However, I wanted to share it with you because sun was the only light source and I used the tips I’m sharing here)
Do you see the rim light around my son’s head and along his right arm? That’s what you’re looking for.
(Above photo: Straight Out Of the Camera: Shot in Manual Mode with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon 24-70mm 2.8 L lens, ISO: 100, Aperture: 4.0, Shutter Speed: 1/250)
Train your eyes to see this without a camera. Next time you’re walking outside in the sun, look for rim light around people’s heads.
You can apply this tip whether it’s midday when the sun is high or during sunset, and whether you shoot in “Auto”, “P”, “Aperture Priority(A or AV)” or “Manual Mode(M)”.
When the sun is in front of you be sure to move around and place yourself in a position to avoid the sunlight shining directly into your camera lens. It makes it difficult for the camera to auto focus, and unless you’re in the right position it’ll also create a massive lens flare or overexpose the image.
Before you take your next picture, look around and see where the sun is. Move around and position yourself, or move the subject according to what type of look you want for your image.
Look at the subject before you bring the camera up to your face and see how the light is hitting the subject. You’ll see it if the shadows are too harsh on their faces. You’ll see a rim light if that’s what you want.
Below is a video of me explaining everything you just read.
Are you thinking about light now? I hope so.
Go experiment and practice! Challenge yourself to shoot in the bright sun, instead of running to shade. It’ll help you understand light better.
If this post was helpful, I’d love to know.
Feel free to leave a comment below or join the PTC facebook page.
Also, please share this post with anyone who you think will benefit from this. Thanks!
*Be sure to check below for more articles and resources that will help you:
–Window Light Photography Tips – Use the same concept and tips on positioning the light source and subject indoors.
Portraits: Making the Shot
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CLICK!: How to take gorgeous photos of your kids
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