How to shoot outdoor portraits in harsh, overhead sun

How to shoot outdoor portraits in harsh sun: fill in the shadows

How to shoot outdoor portraits in harsh, overhead sun: learn how to deal with harsh shadows to ensure stunning portraits

Midday, mid-summer sunshine creates very harsh light that results in high contrast and problems with deep shadows that contain little or no detail. Taking outdoor portraits in these conditions, and with the sun behind you, will inevitably lead to disappointing shots with heavy shadows under your subject’s eyes and nose, and they’ll probably be squinting awkwardly in the bright light too.

How to shoot outdoor portraits in harsh, overhead sun

Your subject won’t thank you for an unflattering portrait, so here’s how to rescue the situation by using reflectors and/or flash to banish unwanted shadows and portray your family and friends in the best possible light.

Three ways to deal with harsh shadows from overhead sun

 

How to shoot outdoor portraits in harsh sun: move out of the sun

Move out of the sun
In bright overhead sunlight, either move your subject into the shade where the lighting will be much softer with less contrast, or position them with their back to the sun to create a backlighting effect. Expose by taking a Spot meter reading from your subject’s face, to get good skin detail.

 

How to shoot outdoor portraits in harsh sun: fill in the shadows

Fill-in the shadows
Use a reflector to bounce light back onto your subject. This will fill in the shadows and reveal detail in skin tones and hair. Alternatively, use fill-flash. Set your built-in or hotshoe flash to its auto mode and dial in -1 flash compensation for a more natural-looking result.

 

How to shoot outdoor portraits in harsh sun: shoot raw

Shoot in raw format
Images with blocked shadows can to a degree be rescued using Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, so shoot in raw format for the best results and use the Fill Light slider to reveal shadow detail. Further detail can be rescued using a Shadows/Highlights adjustment in the main Photoshop editor.

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