Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shoot Into The Sun For Great People Pictures—02/07/11

DPMag Published in Tip Of The Week
Shoot Into The Sun For Great People Pictures—02/07/11

This Article Features Photo Zoom

I spend a lot of time working in the studio, positioning lights and deliberately trying to craft precise lighting for my portrait subjects. Sometimes, though, I venture out into the world and shoot without any artificial lights at all. It’s liberating. It’s also a bit scary. So I choose to sacrifice perfection in favor of mood. In the outdoors, I want that to be a natural mood that builds the feeling of spontaneity. I do that by shooting directly into the sun.

Shooting into the light is the opposite approach most of us were taught—putting the sun at our backs to ensure that the subject is well illuminated and not cast in a shadow. That’s all well and good advice, but it’s also a little bit boring. With the subject staring into the sun, the light is often flat and the subject is likely to be squinting. But with the sun at the subject’s back, they probably won’t squint and they will definitely be set apart from the background. That illusion of depth is a great way to keep the lighting from being boring.

Shooting directly into the sun, however, does put you at one disadvantage. The subject will reside in their own shadow. This gives you two options: open up with a wider aperture or slower shutter speed to overexpose the background and expose correctly for your shady subject, or you can expose correctly for the background and use a fill light—from a subtle flash or just a reflector—to bring up the shadows.

In the outdoors, this technique works really well because a white or silver reflector can bounce a lot of fill light from the bright sun into the shadows of your subject. It works even from a long distance, allowing you to put the reflector far from the subject, helping to minimize squinting. That really is a big deal in portraits. Nobody looks good squinting.

Another way that I really like to backlight my subject is to put them on the edge of open shade under a tree or in a doorway (with me inside shooting out into the brightness). This creates a nice soft light from the open shade. You still need to open up the lens or fill with a reflector or flash, but it’s a great way to create a backlight effect without being too overly contrasty or dramatic.

Usually, though, I go for the drama. You can throw out all the rules of ratios and fill lights and flare and plain old point your camera directly at the sun and watch the magic happen. You’ll need to shoot a lot and alter your approach as you go, but when you find those magic moments where the light and the mood and the subject come together just right, you’ll create amazing images by breaking this most basic lighting rule.
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