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By Erin Manning |

Shooting Portraits at High Noon? Don't Sweat It

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Early morning and late afternoon are great times to shoot portraits outdoors. The sun is low in the sky, which results in soft, beautiful lighting.

But what if you don’t have the time or the luxury of shooting at the most beautiful time of day? Are your chances of capturing a flattering portrait—well, shot?

Not at all! It’s easy to capture great portraits at high noon. You just have to know what to look for.

Open shade

Placing your subject in harsh, direct sunlight often results in hard-edged shadows and squinty eyes. There’s a quick fix for this problem and it’s easier than you might think: Move your subjects into “open shade.”

Open shade can be found almost anywhere on a sunny day: beneath a tree, under the porch of a house, in a doorway, under an umbrella, or beneath the shade of a building.

The sweet spot is located just inside the shade with your subject facing the light; this positioning results in soft, even light on your subject’s face and a lively catch light in the eyes.

As the photographer, you can be standing in full sun to get the shot, if necessary, as long as the subject is in open shade, facing the light. In this setup, you can photograph at almost any time of the day and not have to worry about the timing of the early morning or late afternoon light.

Look at the examples below. The first photo was taken in direct overhead sunlight. Notice how the harsh light creates shadows across his face, and the glare makes it hard for him to open his eyes.

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In the second shot, I moved him into the shade. See how nice and even the indirect lighting is on his face? There are no harsh shadows and you can see his beautiful blue eyes.

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As the photographer, you can be standing in full sun to get the shot, if necessary—as long as the subject is in open shade, facing the light. In this setup, you can photograph at almost any time of the day and not have to worry about the timing of the early morning or late afternoon light.

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When looking for shade, consider doorways. Whenever I travel, I look for an interesting doorway to provide the open shade that produces soft, even lighting on my subjects’ faces. They also make an interesting frame around your subject—so don’t miss the whole picture. Be sure to step back and take it all in.

In the photos below, I asked my friend to stand in the open doorway while I framed the shot, then I zoomed in closer with my telephoto lens to capture her portrait.

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Trees obviously provide shade, and serve as a nice, natural backdrop—but if you’re shooting portraits beneath a tree, be sure to avoid the dappled light that leaks through between the leaves; it can result in a botched exposure with overexposed highlights.

Instead, look for an area with even “open shade” and position your subjects in this light.

In the photo below, the open shade of a tree produced even lighting on the subject’s face, with no dapples of light.

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Need more light?

If you’re shooting in an automatic or semi-automatic setting, you can quickly adjust your exposure without manually adjusting your shutter speed or aperture with Exposure Compensation.

Access it by pressing a button located on the back or top of your camera. It’s a quick way to adjust how the camera records light in your scene. Check out your camera guide to find the Exposure Compensation button on your camera and the dial or buttons to control it.

Exposure Compensation is also a good way to override the camera’s internal reflective light meter when shooting a bright, white scene or black surfaces.

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Above, I’ve increased the Exposure Compensation by one stop to brighten the scene.

Harsh, unflattering shadows are a thing of the past now that you know the secret for capturing beautiful portraits on a sunny day. Ready to get outside, look for those open-shade “sweet spots” and create some amazing portraits?

To see these tips in action, watch my course Up and Running with Lighting: Natural Light on lynda.com—including the free videos Making the most of good light and Working with the light and diffusion.

Or check out

 

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