I heard an established photographer during a presentation say “I don’t believe in bad light. I just think the photographer is not inspired!”

I have to say, I’m with that photographer. Though the first time I was forced to do a shoot in the bright sunlight, it was a disaster! So I was a little gun-shy after that. But now, lots of experience makes me much more confident when in that situation.

Diffusor or the Shade

Model Devon Standing in the Church Courtyard

Model Devon Standing in the Church Courtyard

The problem I have with using a diffusor is that the diffusor can cast a shadow or not allow you to get the angle you want in the shoot. Unless you have an absolutely huge diffusor that doesn’t cause any of these problems. And since I usually shoot solo, I need to set up the diffusor or have someone who came to the shoot hold it.

With the model Devon, I simply shot in-between two large buildings. But I also had her close to where the sun was shining as you can see the sun is hitting her hair giving a nice highlight.

Shade. If I’m shooting in town, I’m totally okay with that. Plenty of shade and great backdrops. And the bigger the city, the better! Tall, interesting looking buildings can make great backdrops. Bring almost any kind of flash/lighting and you can add some great dimension to the image.

Asian Model Lara Ann <cr>Leaning on a Boulder

Asian Model Lara Ann Leaning on a Boulder

Shooting under trees might be the easy way out you think. But as I learned on my second ever photoshoot, you got to keep an eye open for leaf shadows. I was feeling a bit cocky after my first photoshoot. “Hey, I shot out in the open sun last time and the images came out great!”. Well, that was with the overcast. Which is totally different than a clear and bright sky! Plus I was using a much better lens which really brought out details much more. And I hadn’t developed that ‘photographer eye’ yet which notices things like that. I was mortified when I saw the images on my monitor at home! I saved a few. But definitely didn’t get the images I wanted! This image with Allison works because the leaf-shadows are okay. But this was just a handful of images that turned out well.

As you see here, the shadows and patches of light look fine on Lara Ann. But there were lots of shots where it wasn’t.

Shoot in the Bare Sun

Model Brooke Against the Wall in the Sun

Model Brooke Against the Wall in the Sun

I can’t tell you how critical it is to position the person just right in direct sunlight. The shadows are so unforgiving with direct sunlight. But taking your time and making sure the person is positioned correctly. Striking and dramatic. Honestly, it helps if the model has big eyes and really interesting and good facial features. Otherwise the sun washes out the eyes. And please, don’t ask the model to look to close to the sun!

The image here was done just this way. Model Brooke has incredible eyes and great facial features. It was taken against a wall with the sun shining on it. Totally spontaneous shot. Later we both told each other we thought “Hey, how about that wall?” Awesome when everyone is looking for a great shot!

Flower Girl Nikki on the Beach

Flower Girl Nikki on the Beach

Learn Your Tools

My first beach shoot wasn’t initially going to be a beach shoot. Originally we were going to shoot on an abandoned military base. But we couldn’t find the exact location we saw online. So we changed locations at the last minute. I thought the beach was a great idea. Until I got there and saw how much the sun was reflecting off the water!

Speeding up my shutter to kill the ambient/reflection helped a bit. But my lights weren’t strong to counter the sun. So I chose a lighting-median that would kill the ambient a bit, but give me a decent amount of light on my subject. I was able to fix the exposure in post.

Here is flower-girl Nikki. Took some work but I’m happy with the end result. Colors are vibrant and the look is a bit surreal.

Inspiration and some creativity.

So while photographing out in the bare sun certainly has its challenges, it’s not as precarious as you think. ¬†It’s always about practice,experience and creativity!

About the author

Ricardo Gomez is a Fashion Photographer based in New York City.

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