Over the years I’ve spent in the photography industry, one thing I hear so many photographers groan about, is shooting in full sun. They hate it. The ideal time and conditions to shoot in are referred to as “golden hour” which is 2 hours after sun rise, and 2 hours before sunset. I often see and hear other photographers say they never book sessions during full sun which usually happens at 1pm.
However, at times we have no choice. Especially during weddings, which have a pretty precise timeline which may end up leaving us as photographers our only window to shoot our bride and groom, during the dreaded full sun.
I must admit, I used to be petrified when a client would request a session close to this time. I had no Idea how to work around it and I always heard “Open shade! You gotta find open shade!” but sometimes that’s a lot easier said than done.
Until I learned a few very simple tricks, and since then, I’ve actually grown to love it!
Now you can still be limited when shooting in full sun even when you follow these basic tips, but you will notice how easy it really can be to shoot at any time of the day once you get the hang of it!
Set a low ISO
I like to shoot with a low ISO any time I can because it results in less noise in your images, but it’s especially important to shoot with a low ISO in full sun. 100 or 200 will be the best. Shooting within this range will prevent your photos from being blown out. I also like to shoot with a wide aperture to get a nice blurry bokeh in my backgrounds. So I crank up my shutter speed to its fastest to keep my photos exposed properly. Even with my shutter speed at its fastest and my ISO at its lowest, I do have to raise my aperture a stop or two to keep that balance.
Have your subject turn their back on the sun
Or even just their face. The key is to watch their face to make sure there are no hot spots, or areas where the direct sunlight hits them, on their faces. Direct your subject. Sometimes even just asking them to tilt their chin or forehead down just a tiny bit can make all difference. Or asking your female model to move her hair to one side where it will block the sun from hitting her face. As long as the back of their head is to the sun, their face will be in even light. In this photo you can see that both subjects’ faces are in even light. You can see that the sunlight is directly hitting the tops of their heads and their backs.
Using a reflector or diffuser
I bring my reflector/diffuser to every single portrait session. Most of the time I don’t end up using it, but I’m always so grateful when I do have it! I have more possibilities to use it when I have an assistant with me to hold it, but that isn’t always the case. So if I’m close enough to my subject, I can balance the reflector on my leg or hold it with my left hand. I LOVE having an assistant hold the diffuser because it opens you up to shoot in any direction during full sun, but I have been able to hold it up myself while simultaneously shooting. This was shot while I held the diffuser in my left hand. It isn’t exactly the easiest to hold it with only one hand, heck, I’ve had assistants who had difficulty holding it with TWO hands when the wind picks up! But it can be done.
If you have it, use it. Right? Shooting in open shade can help you achieve evenly exposed photos, but I always had trouble finding it. I used to expect open shade to mean a large section of shade. Like in the shadow of a building. This session took place at a small beach access road sandwiched between private beaches, so we didn’t have a lot of room to move around and find a large area of open shade. This photo was taken in the shadow of a small tree right at the end of the road. That’s all we needed but as you can see, it was enough to get an evenly lit photo.
So if you are just starting out or venturing into shooting in full sun, consider each of these tips before you click the shutter. Pick one to practice and when you master it, move on to the next!