Soft, pretty back-lit photos are like heaven to me. I love using this lighting method so much that at times I feel a bit creatively “stuck”. It wasn’t long before I realized that while the back lighting I use is charming and consistent, my camera craves adventure from time to time. And so do I! I have realized that simply turning my subject to the sun gives me a gorgeous and unexpected light source to use during my sessions. I call this the “unexpected light source” because it often goes overlooked by photographers!
If back lighting is soft and sweet, direct lighting is bold and dramatic. There is something intriguing and mysterious about direct sunlight. It is beautiful, artistic, and demands attention.
Here are 7 tips to get you started using direct light from the sun:
I tend to avoid shooting with direct light during the middle hours of the day unless I am able to have the light filtered through trees. The sun is at its highest during the noon hour, and your subject will end up with ugly dark shadows in the eyes. In the earlier hours of the day and in the later afternoon, the sun will be angled at your subject in a way that will decrease these harsh shadows.
2. The Last Hour
My favorite time to use direct sunlight is during the last hour of daylight. As the sun lowers to meets the horizon it softens and spreads, which will cast a beautiful warm glow on your subject, and the light will also be easier to look into (see tip 3!).
3. Protect the Eyes!
Direct light from the sun is constant and bright, and you will find that people have different tolerance levels to the brightness. Be sure to communicate to your subject and make sure they are comfortable. I will often have my subjects keep their eyes closed and then have them open them briefly while I shoot. I will also make sure we take breaks from using the direct light by taking the subject into the shade or turning their back to the light.
4. Use shadows creatively.
Playing with direct lighting will really open up your eye to the world of shadows, which will pop up everywhere! You can create and use interesting shadows to your advantage, but keep in mind that the shadows change quickly.
5. Watch for the ”loop”. When using the sun as your light source, you will be able to create different lighting patterns, such as split lighting, beauty, rembrandt, or loop. My favorite lighting pattern is loop lighting, when a small loop of light falls of the far side of the nose. Studying up on lighting patterns will greatly enhance your ability to use direct lighting.
6. Expose for the skin!
I should first say that you should be shooting in manual! If you are not shooting in manual, you should switch right away, and expose for your subject’s skin. I will look at my image on the back of my camera to ensure that my exposure is in range, and that my skintones are not too bright.
7. Be brave! Direct lighting takes practice and panache. At some point you just have to go for it and explore the sun! Adding direct lighting into your sessions will give variety to the emotion and creativity of your images, as well as strengthen your ability to see and understand light and shadows.
Jamie Rae is a natural light photographer in Portland, Oregon.
She loves helping women tell their unique story of beauty through photographs and does so through portrait and wedding photography.
She lives for learning, lovely light, and the occasional daily chocolate.
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