by Jamie Harrison
Often the worse place to position the subject is facing the sun, with the sun behind the photographer. While the subject is getting plenty of illumination, they are also squinting, which is not the most flattering facial expression. That said, with the right conditions, you can use shadow to your advantage to provide an edgier look, or add shadow below cheekbones and accentuate bone structure. Position the subject’s face to catch where the light is most flattering or dramatic.
Go against convention and place the subject with the sun behind them. This will place them in a natural shade. Then use a reflector to bounce the light back on them, or add exposure compensation of +1 to brighten up the skin tones. This positioning will also add a natural flattering hair light – a lovely glow around the perimeter of the subject’s hair – and often provides slimming highlights around the edge of subject’s face.
If the sun is bright use natural shady areas to take your portraits, where the light is diffused by trees or the shade of buildings. This will automatically soften the deep shadows caused by hard sunlight and give a more flattering result. Similarly, clouds reduce the harsh glare of the sun, and cloudy days are often better for portraits than bright sunny days.
Reflectors are inexpensive photographic tools made of highly white, silver or gold reflective fabric that, when positioned properly, reflect sunlight back onto the subject and reduce shadows. Position them close or at mid range from the subject to increase or decrease the amount of reflected light. Hold them to the side of the subject or below to bounce light in to shadow areas.
You’ll probably need to enlist a friend to hold the reflector for you while you operate the camera and direct your subject. The result of the reflector can easily be seen, so direct your assistant to position the reflector until you can see the desired result.
Like reflectors, diffusers are inexpensive and replicate the effect of shade. The light is filtered and softened through a translucent fabric to even out the harsh sun rays and produce a more flattering result.
You’ll need an extra pair of hands to hold the reflector, which are usually held above the subject to diffuse the sun’s rays.
Look out for multi use reflectors, which include a choice of fabrics in different colours as well as diffusion materials.
LOCATION & TIMING
Be aware of the surroundings and backgrounds. Use backgrounds that are complimentary to the subject’s clothes, or that are opposite for a more dynamic splash of colour. Colours stand out on bright days, so use them to add harmony or drama.
Messy backgrounds can be blurred with a wide aperture to throw them out of focus, but still be aware of any jarring colours or objects that may stand out – and always avoid the tree growing out of the head!
In the summer the sun is high in the sky and bright, and this can cause harsh shadows on your subject’s face, in the eye sockets and under the nose. For great results shoot early or late in the day when the sun is lower and produces a more flattering light. Dawn and dusk, the so-called golden hours, can produce romantic and flattering light, when the harshness of the sun is softened by directional lighting and haze. Most weather apps indicate sunrise and sunset times, the golden hours are around one to one and half hours after sunrise and before the sunset.