How to shoot outdoors on sunny days.

How to shoot outdoors on sunny days.

Earlier this week I had a portrait session on a sunny day. For most photographers, this can be a nightmare! Last year, I would have rescheduled those sunny shoots, but lets be real – you can’t live your life around the cloud’s schedule. Although sunny days are lovely to be outside in, the direct sun makes for harsh light when shooting portrait photography. Clouds filter the light like a large softbox which creates a soft, beautiful light to shoot in.

I am a minimalist when shooting and don’t shoot with lights outdoors – just my camera and lenses, and possibly a reflector. It’s less to carry around and expensive lighting equipment is sensitive to the elements. Here are my tips to shooting on a sunny day with only a little gear.

Tip #1: Shoot into the sun, rather than with the sun at your back

I’d like you to meet Jenn, she was my subject for this session, and I’ll going to use her to show my tips. She recently cut her hair short and wanted some photos to celebrate the change. I loved her new hair and her porcelain skin tone. She really reminds me of a modern day Snow White. She’s a very beautiful girl.

Fun side effects of the glaring sun are harsh shadows cast on the face/body and squinting models/clients. Not the best look… you miss their beautiful eyes, which are the key point most portrait photographers focus on.  By shooting into the sun, your subject has the sun at their back, meaning their face is in the shade and evenly lit and they are less likely to squint.  On top of that, the sun can give beautiful rim lighting on the hair and shoulders and maybe a lens flare, if you want.


Tip #2: Schedule your shoot in the mornings or evenings when the sun isn’t directly overhead

As the sun sets, the intensity of light is weaker and shadows elongate, giving you more spots that are shaded. If you shoot as the sun is setting, you enter into golden hour which is one the best times to shoot because of the warm tones created by the setting sun’s golden glow. It’s very pretty. There are only two times in the day you can get this effect – sunrise and sunset. Many landscape photographers only shoot at these times because they are at the mercy of natural light. I mean, you can’t light a landscape with a strobe. It would be very challenging.


Tip #3: Pick spots in the shade to shoot, and use a reflector.

All these photos were taken in a shaded spot, but close to an unshaded spot. The trick is to have an assistant help reflect some extra light onto the subject with the light available.  Avoid reflecting direct sunlight, as it is too harsh and can blind your subject. Reflecting just a little light using a reflector in the shade works wonders for even lighting. Vince, my super supportive boyfriend, assisted me with this shoot (I bribed him with burgers to drive me and assist downtown – he hates driving downtown due to the traffic and the limited parking). If you don’t have an assistant, you could bring a stand with a reflector holder or be super creative with balancing the reflector.

When shooting in full shaded spots, you may need to up your ISO. Digital cameras these days have such great technology to assist in all different environments. ISO is your camera’s way of adding light to the photo. I know thats not the correct terminology but I am a simple gal and thats how I understand it. Why complicate things with big words. We are creating art here not writing a thesis! Upping your ISO adds some grain to the photos (which ranges in each camera – more advanced/expensive cameras have less grain than lower end cameras).  You can reduce grain later in post editing (both in photoshop and Lightroom).

These photos were taken at the Art Gallery. As you can see there is some light spill on the sides but otherwise they are completely shielded from the sun. PERFECT!!! Pump that ISO up a little and if you can us a reflector do so and you will get photos similar to this. To give you an idea, I’ll give you my settings for the three photos above: ISO 1000, f/4, 1/125 secs exposure. I was using my 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon lens.

There are also filters you could invest in to shoot with like Polarizing filters, which can darken blue skies. I only use these when I travel and take landscapes. The polarizing filter has a blue hue which is gorgeous. I am sure there are other tricks that you can do, but these are the ones I live by. If you have any other suggestions please comment below. We can all learn together. Thank you Jenn, for letting me use your photos for this blog! xoxo


No Comments

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: