Shoot into the Sun

Avoid Squintface

When shooting photos outdoors, portraits or otherwise, most people have their subjects face the sun so the photo can brighten the face. The problem with this is that the sun makes people squint, so the faces are well lit, but they’re squinting into the camera.

Meet Squinty McSqintface!

No outside photos at lunchtime

It’s also a problem when the noon-day sun is straight above your subject because it will create what photogs call “raccoon eyes”.  Unless you have a flash-fill, avoid taking photos at noon.

Hey there. Rocky!

Expose for skin

Now, if you just shoot into the sun with auto exposure, the camera will expose for the the bright areas, in this case the sky.   In this case, we have a nicely exposed sky but our subject is in silhouette.

This is great if your subject is in the Witness Protection Program.

More light can lose detail

We need to keep detail in the sky and light up the subject without having them squint and without over exposing the sky.  Opening the iris (f-stop) is a solution but you can lose detail in the background.

Sky is exposed well in the left shot but subject is dark. Opening your iris lets more light in so that the model is now lit well, but now the sky is overexposed and we are losing the beautiful blue gradient in the sky and detail in the mountain in the background.

Turn your back to the sun

The quick solution is to have the sun at your subject’s back, expose for the sky and use flash-fill.  Forget using an iPhone.  The flash on the iPhone can not compete with the sun unless you are three feet away from your subject and sometimes it still isn’t enough.  You can use the built-in flash on the camera, or better yet, use an external.

Having the sun behind your subjects at 45º angle creates texture and a rim of separation as seen in the model’s hair above and the family portrait below. Ideally the best time of day is right after sunrise or just before a sunset.  Production people call this “magic hour”.  It’s when the sun is at 45º, adding a warm, rich light.

When I took the photo below during a family reunion in Montréal this past summer, my relatives were confused as to why I told them to face away from the sun.  I used a flash and told them to trust me.  See anyone squinting?  Look at that separation in my younger brother’s crazy fro!

More examples at magic hour. Sun is at 45 degrees to the left and external flash set to just fill the subjects.

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