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A Photographer's Secret about the Sun

March 3, 2017

 

The sun is bright. When you photograph people, have them face the sun so they'll be lit. It almost seems obvious, right?

 

What would you say if I told you that having people face the sun for photos is totally, completely, utterly wrong? Okay, maybe it's not that wrong.

 

But here's my secret: for portraits, I never have anyone face the sun.

 

First, the sun makes people squint. No one wants squinty photos. The sun also makes people hot and sweaty. We want our family, friends, and clients to be comfortable. Instead of facing the sun, have your subjects put their backs to the sun. Yes, that means you, the photographer, will be facing the sun, but that's okay. As long as you angle yourself appropriately (not directly into the sun itself--you'll blind yourself!), you'll take some amazing photos.

 

Be aware: now that backs are to the sun, your camera's light meter will be confused and won't take a properly exposed photo. Chances are that your camera will make the people too dark, losing all detail and dimension.

 

With backs to the sun, what you need to think about is exposing for skin tones. That usually means making your photo brighter than your camera's auto and semi-manual settings want. Whether you use exposure compensation or set the camera yourself, make sure you can see skin tones clearly. You might "blow out" the sky, but you'll have beautiful people, and that's what matters in portraits. (One reason photographers learn to shoot manual is to control the exposure of a back-lit scene.)

 

My favorite part about putting people's backs to the sun is the rim light you get on hair, shoulders, and the rest of their body's outline. First, that rim light separates them from the background, which provides dimension to your scene. And if you're shooting during "golden hour," that rim light will have a beautiful golden softness that is tough to beat.

 

One more bonus about putting backs to the sun is that depending on the time of day and how you orient yourself and your subject in relation to the sun, you can get creative with lens flare. Lens flare adds great interest to your photo--just be careful of the color, amount, and placement of the lens flare. Lens flare is great in moderation and positioned away from important features of your subject.

 

There you have it: a photographer's secret that shouldn't really be a secret at all. Change your habits. Tell your friends. Put everyone's backs to the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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