How to Defeat the Sun

RF EG Shoot

We’ve all been there if we’ve stood behind the viewfinder long enough: the sun is beating down from directly overhead and making your subject look terrible. And what’s worse, you won’t get another chance at the shot, because the client needs it done today! Is it a hopeless situation?

Far from it! There are ways to deal even with the nastiest lighting conditions. Here’s a quick example for your consideration.

Hard Light Portrait
Before – Hard Light
Soft Light Portrait
After – Soft Light

The photo to the far left was taken in that harshest of light, bright overhead sunlight. Notice the pronounced contrasts and overexposed highlights across the skin. Compare this with the photo to the immediate left, which is much more desirable. What made the difference?

The key to defeating this lighting scenario lies in understanding the nature of light. Natural light such as the sun can be very flattering but only under certain conditions. An apparently small but very bright light source, such as the sun, creates “hard light,” a kind of light that shines bright and harsh beams that can bring out imperfections in your subject’s skin.

DiffuserTo make the skin look softer, create “soft light,” a kind of light that comes from an apparently large and/or close light source. In a studio, umbrellas, softboxes and special bulbs can create soft light, but the sun’s light can also be changed by means of a hand held diffuser placed between the subject and the light source. If you don’t have a diffuser handy, have your subject stand in a shaded area.

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